The latest Callahan blog posting announces that a team of TFT therapists and trainers will be deployed to Haiti. Click here to read details. I have nothing against people going to Haiti and helping others. Although many of my colleagues think that I am being far too kind, I operate on the assumption that most TFT proponents have good intentions. However, what I do object to is people descending upon the scene of a disaster and imposing therapies such as TFT, that have no scientific evidence that they will truly help such people. Good intentions or not, this is taking advantage of vulnerable people. First, it was the Scientologists, now TFT proponents follow suit. TFT and Scientology touch assists are in pretty much the same category where lack of evidence is concerned.
Note that the Callahans have blocked me from accessing this page from my own computer, but there are other people who send me links to keep me updated. The person putting this altogether is Dr. Carolle Jean Murat. According to her website, Dr. Carolle also offers “intuitive consultations” by telephone and describes herself as “a medical intuitive, board-certified gynecologist and holistic practitioner.” For those unfamiliar with the term, Wikipedia states that:
A Medical Intuitive is an alternative medicine practitioner who uses their intuition to attempt to find the cause of a physical or emotional condition. Making a formal medical diagnosis is not in the scope of practice for many Medical Intuitives, but some medical intuitives are also M.D.s.
I will leave it to the readers to decide whether they think this practice is something that is appropriate for an MD to be engaging in. Whether she and her TFT team will also bring medical intuition to Haiti remains to be seen, but to date, there is no valid evidence that Thought Field Therapy is an effective treatment for PTSD or other after-effects of trauma although many TFT proponents claim (without basis) that it is superior to existing empirically supported treatments which is highly misleading and could dissuade people from trying treatments that do have strong research support. To date, there are no published randomized clinical trials demonstrating this, but of course there are many testimonials and anecdotes.
People ask, where’s the harm in tapping, which doesn’t in and of itself harm anyone? While true enough that, in my opinion, it’s not even in the same ballpark as some of the coercive restraint therapies I have been criticizing, there are a number of indirect ways proponents making unsupported claims can do harm. First, as I’ve already mentioned it could dissuade people from using treatments that do have strong support and this could prevent people from getting help while, as the woman on the NPR program, they continue to tap while their symptoms continue. Second, as illustrated by the woman on the NPR program, they could blame themselves for the treatment not working, thus adding to their emotional pain. Third, people could end up spending money that could better be used for something else. While of course, TFT proponents are not charging the recipients in Haiti for their treatment, they are doing quite an aggressive fund raising campaign and will inevitably need to use the resources of a country that is already depleted, while there, even if they do pay for them. People who have nothing of proven value to offer a country such as Haiti, ought to stay away and step aside for people who are properly trained and do have something to offer. Tapping and then trumpeting to the world how altruistic they are (Callahan’s wife is great at that), all the while continuing to charge people in the US outrageous fees. VT with Roger Callahan costs a minimum of 5 hours @ $600 per hour and other VT practitioners have been known to charge up to $400 per hour for a practice that has no controlled studies to support it and my own published study showed that the VT did no better than random sequences costing nothing to produce.
There are people who have been in VT therapy for years and years and keep having their “toxins” checked on a regular basis when their problems keep coming back, rather than realizing that all they had was very temporary placebo relief and sometimes not even that. Here is what I wrote about potential for harm in a 2005 article, published in The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice (for full article, click here – CTTFT stands for Callahan Techniques TFT; IET stands for Individual Energy Toxin):
Clinicians should consider the potential adverse effects of such advice, especially with people who are already suffering from such conditions as eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, or panic disorder. For instance, the declaration by a therapist that a common food in the patient’s diet is “toxic” and is causing panic attacks to recur could create new cues and triggers, thereby becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is at least one reported case (Buryani & Takasaki, 1999; Callahan, 1999) in which an anorexic patient was advised by Callahan to stay away from certain foods (although wisely, the attending psychiatrist overruled this advice). The harmful effects of telling an anorexic patient already obsessed with food avoidance that certain foods are “toxic” should be obvious.
It has been my experience and that of many other CTTFT practitioners that most patients do not comply with Callahan’s advice to avoid certain foods. However, a charismatic therapist could persuade the patient to comply, potentially resulting in harmful dietary restriction. I am aware of cases in which clients have become obsessed with finding IETs to the extent that they were checking with their CTTFT therapist before almost every meal. These are examples of potential negative effects, which are inherent dangers of using treatment approaches that have not been adequately studied.
Callahan’s test for IETs is highly questionable, as he has never formally tested his procedures for inter-rater reliability. This omission raises concern about conflicting results and conflicting dietary advice among practitioners (Craig, 1998).
Just to explain a bit more about the lack of inter-rater reliability, what this means is that two VT therapists can be testing someone’s voice at the same time and coming up with different meridian point sequences or even more troubling, coming up with different results on the so-called “toxin” testing. Gary Craig and his colleague who was also trained in VT reported having this happen. In my own experience practicing VT with a partner, we frequently got different results for the same client with “toxin” testing, which was one of the things that lead me to begin to question the reliability and validity of VT. When I suggested to Callahan that systematic testing be done where two VT therapists test the same person at the same time on the phone, while not being aware of one another’s results, he declared this to be a very bad idea. My partner chose to believe him and refrained from such testing. I did not. I suppose it would be a bad idea for him, especially if it exposed the unreliability of VT and also a bad idea for people who went into debt paying the $100,000 to train in VT. For people trained in VT that still honestly believe in it, though, I would highly recommend getting a colleague or two and trying this experiment. See if you can do better than chance in getting the same results for toxin testing or the same treatment sequences.
So yes, there are plenty of ways practices such as TFT can indirectly harm others. Think of that before opening up your wallet, either to make a donation for their trauma tourism or for treatment/training here in the US.
Note: This blog entry was updated after I received a comment from someone castigating me for criticizing anyone who would go to Haiti and asking where’s the harm? I chose not to post the comment because it was also full of personal attacks on me and I refused to be targeted on my own blogs with these kinds of malicious comments — there are plenty of those elsewhere, if people enjoy reading that sort of thing. I am, however, responding to issues she raised that many people seem to have misconceptions about. I welcome comments and questions about the issues being discussed. Please be forewarned, however, that personal attacks are not welcome here.