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Therapeutic and other hoaxes

10 more current suspected hoaxes

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Some of the belief and therapy systems that we suspect to be hoaxes (or partial hoaxes) are listed below. Please read our disclaimer before going further:

  1. Facilitated Communication: (FC) This is a communication technique which originated in Australia as a method of helping autistic children, and others with major speech disabilities. In its most common initial form, a facilitator holds the autistic person's hand with a finger extended. The facilitator and user's hands move down towards a keyboard until a key is hit. The hands are then retracted. This is repeated until a message is entered. Later, the facilitator will attempt to guide the user by placing their hand on the user's wrist, then forearm, then elbow and finally, shoulder. FC was shown on 20-20 and Frontline; both TV programs did a bit of a hatchet job on FC.

    People who have studied FC appear to divide into two groups, which we call the believers and the skeptics. Initially, we supported the skeptics, and agreed with them that FC is a hoax. It seemed impossible for a person with autism, who is often staring at the ceiling or around the room, to play any part in the selection of a key on the keyboard. But some studies seem to have proven the concept to be a useful method of communication in a small minority of cases. We attended a FC conference in Syracuse NY on 1998-MAY, sponsored by the Facilitated Communication Institute at Syracuse NY. 1 Our current belief is that both the believers and the skeptics have serious flaws in their studies. We believe that FC has great promise, but only for a very small minority of persons with autism. It is useless for the great majority of persons who suffer from that disorder (and their families). In fact, it has done great harm.
     
  2. Therapeutic Touch: (TT) Practitioners believe that there is a Universal Life Force Energy that flows freely through the body when a person is healthy. Illness, pain, injury etc is seen as interrupting or unbalancing this life force. A skilled practitioner can detect these fluctuations and equalize them. Typically, they pass their hands a few inches above the patient, and scan the latter's body. The practitioner will "actually 'feel' various energy sensations like: tingling, heat, cold, heaviness, and a drawing feeling, to name a few." This allows them to determine the "type of imbalance is present..loose congestion, tight congestion, localized imbalance, or an energy deficit/void." 2 Ms. Emily Rosa performed a series of studies to determine whether TT has any validity. Therapists were asked to attempt to detect the energy radiated from Emily's hand inside a box. Her hand was in the box half the time; it was removed for the other half. TT therapists were unable to see the hand; they had to detect whether it was there by passing their hands over the box. Two series of tests with a total of 21 therapists gave results slightly less accurate than random chance. The therapists were correct 44% of the time. 3 Emily was an elementary school student at the time of the test. This technique is often practiced by nurses, who could undoubtedly spend their time more profitably performing other tasks.
     
  3. Homeopathic Medicine: This involves the preparation of medication by successive dilution. A natural chemical (e.g. a poison such as arsenicum or phosphorous) is selected - one "which at pharmacologic or toxic doses [will] cause symptoms that mimic those which are the subject of treatment." The chemical is diluted and re-diluted several hundred times. The result is a solution that is so dilute that few if any of the molecules of the original substance are present. The patient then drinks what is actually or close to being pure distilled water. Amazing cures are common. Unfortunately, patients who can be easily cured by traditional medicine are diverted to this worthless technique. 4,5

    During 2010-MAY, the British Medical Association (BMA) passed a motion denouncing the use of homeopathy and critical of remedies that have no scientific support. The BMA previously recommended that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence examine the evidence base and make a definitive ruling about the use of such remedies in the National Health Service. The BMA's conference of junior doctors overwhelmingly supported a ban on homeopathy and an end to placements of trainee doctors who teach homeopathic principles. 18

  4. Cattle Mutilations: In the late 1970's many people in the American south-west believed that secret underground cults, or visitors from outer space were killing cattle on the open range, surgically removing organs, draining the body of blood and disappearing without leaving tire tracks or other evidence of their presence. It turned out that the individuals who were circulating these stories had very little experience with cattle raising. When experienced ranch hands studied the carcasses, they concluded that the animals had been killed by natural predators.
     
  5. Reparative Therapy: This refers to any form of therapy, which attempts to convert individuals with a homosexual orientation, to heterosexuality. Electric shocks, frontal lobotomies, and castration have been used in the past; we use more humane methods today. Rather than messing around with victim's bodies, therapists mess with their heads. But the results are still the same. It appears to be almost a totally useless form of therapy. It has been condemned by all the major mental health professional associations in the U.S. No article in support of reparative therapy has ever been published in a peer-reviewed journal. There is anecdotal evidence that many gays and lesbians who leave therapy unchanged become profoundly depressed; some commit suicide. However, it is still being promoted by very conservative Christian ministries and therapists.
     
  6. Multiple Personality Disorder/Dissociative Identity Disorder: Two novels, presented as documentaries, described women who were believed to have multiple personalities: Sybil and the Three Faces of Eve. These books caught the attention of the public and a number of therapists. The belief grew that children can dissociate in response to severe abuse, so that as adults they function as two or more personalities in the same brain. These alters (alternative personalities) "may present themselves as differing from the body in age, appearance, sex, language and even species. Some therapists claim to have uncovered vegetable and even inanimate personalities." 6 According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-IV, the client is under the control of one personality or alter at a time; she/he cannot recall events that happened when the other alters were in control. The result is that there are great gaps of unaccounted for time in the past. Different personalities exhibit different speech patterns, mannerisms, attitudes, thoughts, and gender. Alters may differ in allergies, handedness, eyeglass prescription or even the presence or absence of diabetes.

    MPD/DID appears to be an iatrogenic (physician induced) disorder. Many mental-health professionals believe that MPR/DID does not exist naturally, but has to be created with the co-operation of a physician and patient. The therapist trains the patient to act as if she/he has multiple alters in their brain. This is done without either being aware of the process.

    This belief is a major financial gift to psychiatric hospitals, because such patients need very long term care. 7 Fortunately, most patients' health insurance finally ends, and the patients are released. Being isolated from the therapists, they often work their way back to mental health. Others commit suicide. This psychological fad appears to have peaked in the early 1990s, and is now in rapid decline. All of the DID clinics in mental hospitals have been closed down or converted to less dangerous methods of therapy. Some private therapists who continue DID therapy continue to harm their patients

    A remake of the film Sybil was released in mid-2008. It does not seem to have given MPD/DID a new lease on life.

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  7. Compression Therapy: This is a form of therapy that is intended to improve the bonding between the patient and their parent. The patient, typically a child, lies in the fetal position and is wrapped tightly in a sheet. Pressure is applied to the child's body in order to simulate the forces of birth. Unfortunately, there is a narrow gap between the pressure needed to simulate the birth process and the pressure which will asphyxiate the child. Compression Therapy is sometimes referred to as "rebirthing therapy." However, the latter only involves deep breathing exercises and is not dangerous, Fatalities have been reported in the past from compression therapy. However, it was the death of a ten year old girl, Candace Newmaker, in Evergreen,CO on 2000-APR-18 which brought this experimental and dangerous treatment to public attention. According to a media account, 8 "Candace's adoptive mother, Jeane Newmaker of Durham, N.C., brought her daughter to Colorado for therapy for what she believed was an attachment disorder. Newmaker has said that Candace was belligerent to the point of violence at home and that the girl wouldn't bond with her." Therapists Connell Watkins, 54, and Julie Ponder, 40, were charged with child abuse resulting in death. The trial was heavily covered in the media, starting in 2001-MAR. On 2001-APR-9, Dr. Kurt Stenmark, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital, testified that Candice, "lying under four adults, couldn't take deep breaths, progressively lost oxygen and fell unconscious before her heart stopped beating..." He said that the girl died from a lack of oxygen to the brain, which finally induced cardiac arrest. It appears that elementary precautions, like a blood-oxygen monitor, were not employed during therapy.

    Candace herself seems to have had a much better grasp on reality than either her mother or the therapists. She said that the therapy was "stupid" and that "I can't talk when you're on top of me."

    On 2001-APR-20, Connell Watkins and Julie Ponder were found guilty of child abuse resulting in death. They face mandatory jail terms of 16 to 48 years. Candace's mother, Ms. Jeane Newmaker received a suspended sentence. She must serve 400 hours of community service during the next four years, and undergo grief counseling.

    To their credit, the American Psychiatric Association issued a position statement in 2002-JUL which concluded: "There is no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of coercive holding therapies, or so-called "re-birthing techniques," said the American Psychiatric Association in a position statement on Reactive Attachment Disorder. The position statement was approved by the APA Board of Trustees in late June." 9 It was too late to save the life of Candice, but it may prevent other children from harm.

    On 2002-SEP-17, the House approved a resolution (H.Con. Res. 435) condemning compression therapy as dangerous and harmful by a vote of 397 to 0. They urged every state to enact laws banning the practice. The resolution mentioned that a total of five children have died in the U.S. during "attachment therapy." Representative Sue Myrick, (R-NC), the sponsor of the resolution, said: "I encourage all states to outlaw this voodoo science and prevent another tragedy from happening." Rep. Myrick is probably using the term "voodoo" as a universal snarl word, without directly referring to the religion of Vodun. 10
     

  8. Primal Scream therapy: This was invented and promoted by Dr. Arthur Janov, a psychologist in Los Angeles. His first book, published in 1970, The Primal Scream became a best-seller. 11 He has since written "The New Primal Scream." 12 The rationale behind this therapy is that all of a persons "neuroses, psychoses and psychosomatic ills derive from repressed memories of childhood traumas, particularly the trauma of being born." In therapy, the patient is age-regressed back into childhood. Repressed memories seem to emerge, leading eventually to memories of the person's birth. "When patients recover their lost memories of early trauma, especially the trauma of birth, they often writhe on the floor, sobbing and screaming with rage at whatever was done to them or at the violence of their birth." 13 With these memories restored, the patient's emotional problems are believed to disappear; their aging processes slows, and their resistance to disease increases. In opposition to Primal Therapy is the near-consensus among memory researchers that infants cannot retain memories of events in their life. A person's earliest memories typically are from 42 months of age or later; retained memories prior to 24 months are unheard of.
     
  9. Exorcism: This is a religious ritual that is intended to clear a person from indwelling demonic spirits. During New Testament times, medical science was in its infancy. Many physical and mental diseases and disorders were blamed on demonic possession. Jesus is recorded as having performed exorcisms on many people, successfully driving from one to a thousand evil spirits from their bodies. Therapists, with the exception of some who are conservative Christians, now realize that the source of physical and mental illnesses are bacteria, viruses, emotional disturbances, etc -- not indwelling demons. Yet exorcisms continue. In fact, they appear to be growing in frequency within the Roman Catholic church in Africa, where beliefs in demons and evil Witches are common. Amateur exorcists often beat their victims to drive off demons. About once a year in North America, a person dies from abuse during an exorcism.
     
  10. Rapid eye movement therapy: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1988. 14,15,16 Her academic background is primarily in English literature. She has a doctorate in clinical psychology by the Professional School of Psychological Studies in San Diego, CA, and unaccredited organization. 40,000 therapists have since been trained in EMDR in 55 countries. It is claimed to cure almost any emotional problem in a few visit to the therapist. It "usually consists of a therapist sitting before the patient and waving two fingers...from left to right. The patient is asked to focus hard on the traumatic event while watching the fingers." After about 30 seconds, the movement is stopped and the patient is asked to blank out the distressing thoughts and memories. The entire process is repeated two or three dozen times. Variations of EMDR exist, using tapping of the client's shoulder, or beeping sounds in alternating ears from earphones. The therapy has been said to cure or treat anorexia, bulimia, children's behavioral problems, chronic fatigue syndrome, learning disabilities, multiple-personality disorder, Parkinson's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, sleep disorders, etc. Unfortunately, only individuals who have paid US$ 435 and attended the ENDR workshops are shown the details of the technique. Dr. Harold Merskey is professor emeritus at the University of Western Ontario, and is a skeptic of miracle cures and fad therapies. He has criticized recovered memory therapy, therapy recovering satanic abuse "memories," and multiple personality disorder. He notes that some of EMDR's major endorsers were previously promoting these earlier, now discredited, therapies. 17

More hoaxes

References:

The following information sources were used to prepare the above essay in 1997 and update it more recently. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The Facilitated Communication Institute at Syracuse University (Syracuse NY) has a home page at: http://soeweb.syr.edu/
  2. "CRYSTALINKS" has a home page on Therapeutic Touch at: http://www.crystalinks.com/
  3. Emily Rosa, "An Experimental Analysis of Therapeutic Touch", Skeptic News, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1997, Page 27.
  4. Hundreds of homeopathic journals are listed at: http://www.med.uni-muenchen.de/
  5. Homeopathics FAQ is at: http://community.net/
  6. "Possession, multiple-personality disorder", at: http://www.physics.wisc.edu/
  7. Bennett G. Braun, Ed., "Treatment Of Multiple Personality Disorder" at: http://www.dhearts.org/
  8. Peggy Lowe, "Girl unconscious as heart quit: Doctor says adults' weight 'detrimental' to Candace's breathing during 'rebirthing'," 2001-APR-10. See: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/
  9. "Reactive Attachment Disorder: Position Statement," American Psychiatric Association, at: http://www.psych.org/archives/ You need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:
  10. "House Condemns Rebirthing Therapy," Associated Press, 2002-SEP-17.
  11. Dr. Arthur Janov, "The Primal Scream," Delta Book Co., (1970). This book is Out of print, but used copies can sometimes be purchased from Amazon.com online book store
  12. Arthur Janov, "The New Primal Scream," Trafalgar Square, (2000). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  13. Martin Gardner, "Primal Scream: A persistent New-Age therapy," Skeptical Inquirer, 2001-MAY/JUN.
  14. Carol Milstone, "The finger-wagging cure," Saturday Night Magazine, 2001-AUG-18.
  15. Francine Shapiro, "Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Principles, Protocols, and Procedures," Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
  16. G.J. Devilly, "Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: A chronology of its development and scientific standing," Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 2002 1 (2) Pages 113 to 138.
  17. Scott Lilienfeld, "EMDR Treatment: Less than meets the eye," Skeptical Inquirer, Volume 20, #1, 1996-JAN-FEB.
  18. Laura Donnelly, "Homeopathy is witchcraft, say doctors," Telegraph (UK), 2010-MAY-15, at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Written on: 1997-SEP-05
Latest update: 2010-MAY-19
Author: B.A. Robinson

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