Therapeutic and other hoaxes
10 more current suspected hoaxes
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:
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
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.
- 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
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
multiple personality disorder. He notes that some of
EMDR's major endorsers were previously promoting these earlier, now discredited,
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.
- The Facilitated Communication Institute at Syracuse University (Syracuse NY)
has a home page at: http://soeweb.syr.edu/
- "CRYSTALINKS" has a home page on Therapeutic Touch at: http://www.crystalinks.com/
- Emily Rosa, "An Experimental Analysis of Therapeutic Touch", Skeptic
News, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1997, Page 27.
- Hundreds of homeopathic journals are listed at: http://www.med.uni-muenchen.de/
- Homeopathics FAQ is at: http://community.net/
- "Possession, multiple-personality disorder", at: http://www.physics.wisc.edu/
- Bennett G. Braun, Ed., "Treatment Of Multiple Personality Disorder"
- 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/
- "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:
- "House Condemns Rebirthing Therapy," Associated Press, 2002-SEP-17.
- Dr. Arthur Janov, "The Primal Scream," Delta Book Co., (1970). This book is Out of
used copies can sometimes be purchased from Amazon.com online book store
- Arthur Janov, "The New Primal Scream," Trafalgar Square, (2000). Read
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
- Martin Gardner, "Primal Scream: A persistent New-Age therapy,"
Skeptical Inquirer, 2001-MAY/JUN.
- Carol Milstone, "The finger-wagging cure," Saturday Night Magazine,
- Francine Shapiro, "Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing:
Principles, Protocols, and Procedures,"
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
- 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.
- Scott Lilienfeld, "EMDR Treatment: Less than meets the eye,"
Skeptical Inquirer, Volume 20, #1, 1996-JAN-FEB.
- Laura Donnelly, "Homeopathy is witchcraft, say doctors," Telegraph (UK), 2010-MAY-15, at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
Copyright © 1997 to 2010 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Written on: 1997-SEP-05
Latest update: 2010-MAY-19
Author: B.A. Robinson