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Oprah is holding open auditions for someone to get their own TV show on Oprah’s upcoming new channel. The way it works is that people post an audition video on Oprah’s website and people can vote on it. The five people with the highest votes are the winners.

Long-time TFT/Energy Psychology proponent Mary Sise, LCSW, is trying out for the show. You can see her video by clicking here and then you can post your comments. However, it appears that critical comments are not getting posted because I know for a fact that at least two people have tried two days ago and the comments have not shown up whereas other later, positive comments have. So I am calling Oprah’s producers out on not posting critical comments about what is in fact a highly controversial therapy that does not have adequate research evidence to support its claims for curing a wide variety of different types of conditions.

Mary’s Proposal is:

Beliefs create your reality, and most beliefs are formed under the age of 7. Beliefs have energy stuck in them – shame, anger, guilt, fear – and by using your own meridian system you can learn how to release the stuck energy and replace your negative beliefs with positive ones. I’ve done this thousands of times with my clients and more importantly, with myself. The show I envision would have different participants who are unhappy with something in their life. I would teach you how to figure out what childhood belief is causing it, and more importantly how to release that and reprogram yourself. Everyone watching at home could participate and we would be able to release fear, shame, and lack on a global scale.

This statement is so packed with myths, it is difficult to know where to begin. To start with the most obvious one, “beliefs create your reality”. Oh really, Mary? How about the “reality” of 9/11? How about the reality of Rwandan orphans who witnessed and experienced hideous trauma and are unhappy with that? Did they create that with their beliefs?

Mary also appears to buy into the myth, soundly debunked in Scott Lilienfeld’s book on the 50 most common myths in psychology, that if someone is unhappy with something in their life, it comes from something in their childhood, particularly a belief. Does she seriously believe that? Obviously, there are all kinds of reasons why a person could be unhappy with something in their life, having nothing whatsoever to do with their childhood. For example, if Mary were to get her wish and get her show, how would she respond if a mother came forward who was grieving due to the loss of a child to cancer? Would that unhappiness be coming from something in her childhood that Mary would then have her tap away? That is just one of countless examples where her presumption would be utterly absurd. Get real, Mary. Do you have any idea how much bad therapy that at best wastes a person’s time and money and at worst, does harm, is done because of the belief that everything that makes a person unhappy comes from childhood? Maybe she needs to tap that one away.

Her last sentence seems to imply that people can even tap away “lack” on a global scale. Does she mean eliminate poverty through tapping? Quite possibly because everything, from her point of view, seems to come from beliefs that have “energy stuck in them” — whatever that means. I could see a naive young person falling for something like this but when these words come from a 58-year old licensed mental health professional, that is downright embarrassing.

There doesn’t seem to be much of a chance, however, for Mary to get her show. She only has 4,785 votes so far, while the front runners have over a million votes. Dr. Phyllis, a teacher from Tampa, FL, who is proposing a teacher reality show, has over 8 million votes and Zach, a young man with cerebral palsy and a great sense of humor from Austin, Texas has over 9 million votes.

On March 1, 2010, I celebrated my 6th anniversary of being clean and sober from pseudoscience. I severed my ties with Thought Field Therapy and related associations on March 1, 2004. Since that time, I have authored numerous publications related to pseudoscience and critiques of interventions that make unsupported claims. The result has been that I have been the target of personal attacks. Most of these attacks have been not from TFT proponents, but rather, from proponents of so-called attachment therapies and therapies that employ coercive restraints or questionable parenting methods with children. These interventions lack evidence to support their efficacy and yet make claims of superiority to existing interventions that do have evidence.

An analogy occurred to me. Suppose there was someone who had an alcohol abuse and dependency problem who managed to remain clean and sober for more than six years. Now, suppose that a person who currently has a serious problem with alcohol abuse and dependency, while in a drunken stupor, begins to attack the clean and sober person, put blogs up about that person and repeatedly attack that person for being an “alcoholic” neglecting to mention their own current problem and neglecting to mention that the person they are attacking has been clean and sober for six years. Any rational person would immediately see how ridiculous that would be.

Something very similar to this is happening with me, having nothing to do with drugs or alcohol, to which I have never felt any particular attraction. Although, I do not consider the practice of pseudoscience to be an addiction, the fact is that I have not practiced or endorsed any form of pseudoscience for over six years. Clean and sober is an appropriate description because refraining from the lure and highs one can get from pseudoscientific placebos indicate a sort of sobriety and clean, honest, critical thought. Yet there are malicious blog postings being spread all over the internet, playing up my association with Thought Field Therapy, which I have not practiced for over six years. The people doing these postings have current involvement in pseudoscientific practices that like TFT, pretend to be based on scientific theories, yet actually have no scientific evidence to support their efficacy and have no more evidence than TFT does. Having my past so excessively focused on by people who are currently practicing unsupported therapies would be like a drunk, raging person staggering over to his computer and posting blog after blog about someone who has been clean and sober for six years, calling them a drunk. It is all too obvious who has the real problem.

Instead of twelve-step programs (which are actually controversial for alcohol problems, but that would be a topic for a different blog entry), the way to become clean and sober from pseudoscience is to learn all about science and evidence-based practice and why it is important to do well-designed, randomized controlled studies rather than to rely solely on anecdotes from personal and/or clinical experience. Understanding cognitive biases that all human beings have is key. My aha moment came after increasing doubts, while reading the book, Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology and coming to realize that TFT proponents, including myself, were engaging in confirmation bias, focusing on successes and explaining away failures, not because we were being dishonest, but because we were unaware of the tendency all human beings have to do this. As Paul Meehl pointed out, therapists are vulnerable to the same kinds of biases all human beings are and thus have to move beyond their own experience into rigorous testing in order to know whether what they are doing is effective.

I have been clean and sober from pseudoscience for six years. My critics, unfortunately cannot validly claim the same although they are probably only at the first stage of Prochaska’s levels of change, pre-contemplation. In other words, they don’t even know they have a problem.

In memory of Martin Gardner (1914-2010), he wrote a prescient essay  in 1950, entitled “The Hermit Scientist”. What comes to mind for me is a memory I have of a conversation with Roger Callahan in the early 2000s, where he told me he felt nobody, not even the people who studied with him, truly understood his work. He informed me that he thought that I came closest of anyone who had studied with him (at the time of his remark, of course, not anymore), but after something I had said he did not agree with, he informed me that not even I, completely understood his work.

I will present a quote from Michael Shermer’s synopsis in his Scientific American column, of the essay without further comment, since the reason it is relevant to this blog, speaks for itself.

How can we tell if someone is a scientific crank? Gardner offers this advice: (1) “First and most important of these traits is that cranks work in almost total isolation from their colleagues.” Cranks typically do not understand how the scientific process operates — that they need to try out their ideas on colleagues, attend conferences and publish their hypotheses in peer-reviewed journals before announcing to the world their startling discovery. Of course, when you explain this to them they say that their ideas are too radical for the conservative scientific establishment to accept. (2) “A second characteristic of the pseudo-scientist, which greatly strengthens his isolation,is a tendency toward paranoia,” which manifests
itself in several ways:

  1. He considers himself a genius.
  2. He regards his colleagues, without exception, as ignorant blockheads …
  3. He believes himself unjustly persecuted and discriminated against. The recognized societies refuse to let him lecture. The journals reject his papers and either ignore his books or assign them to “enemies” for review. It is all part of a dastardly plot. It never occurs to the crank that this opposition may be due to error in his work …
  4. He has strong compulsions to focus his attacks on the greatest scientists and the best-established theories. When Newton was the outstanding name in physics, eccentric works in that science were violently anti-Newton. Today, with Einstein the father symbol
    of authority, a crank theory of physics is likely to attack Einstein …
  5. He often has a tendency to write in a complex jargon, in many
    cases making use of terms and phrases he himself has coined.

We should keep these criteria in mind when we explore controversial ideas on the borderlands of science. “If the present trend continues,” Gardner concludes, “we can expect a wide variety of these men, with theories yet unimaginable, to put in their appearance in the years immediately ahead. They will write impressive books, give inspiring lectures, organize exciting cults. They may achieve a following of one — or one million. In any case, it will be well for ourselves and for society if we are on our guard against them.” So we still are, Martin. That is what skeptics do, and in tribute for all you have done, we shall continue to honor your founding command.

Here is the link to the full text of my article published in 2005 in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, Callahan Fails to Meet the Burden of Proof for Thought Field Therapy’s Claims. Please note that no one else has the rights to post this article. The author agreement with the journal is that only authors can post articles on their own websites. This is also the reason I am not able to post Roger Callahan’s article, so people who are interested in reading it will have to request it from him.

Here is the link to my article that retracted the earlier 2001 article I co-authored with Dr. Mark Steinberg, which was misrepresented on the now-defunct Axis of Quackery blog.

I hope that reading these articles will help explain to people who are wondering, why I changed my mind about Thought Field Therapy.

Update: WordPress has just informed me that they suspended the Axis of Quackery blog and have told me that it is gone, permanently. Thank you, WordPress, for not tolerating cyber abuse of his sort.

Another wordpress blog, Axis of Quackery has been deliberately misrepresented an article that I co-authored with Dr. Mark Steinberg in the October 2001 issue of The Journal of Clinical Psychology (JClP) and have since retracted. Click here to read the abstract of the retraction. I say this is deliberate because I have informed them of this, yet they still post about it, neglecting to mention the fact of its retraction, presenting a highly misleading picture of me that essentially amounts to defamation and if they post more of it and go beyond the limits of fair use, they will also be infringing on copyright laws. The journal owns the copyrights and they allow authors of the articles to post them on their own websites, but nowhere else.

I have to add that Dr. Steinberg is also violating an agreement that authors of these 2001 articles made with the journal to publish a disclaimer that they were not peer reviewed. Click here to read about the details of the special circumstances under which these articles were published. While authors of JClP articles do have the right to publish them on their own websites, the agreement was to post the disclaimer along with the articles. I drew this to his attention years ago, but he adamantly refused to post the disclaimer, saying, in essence, that he felt entitled to post it the way it is. Since that time, in 2005, I published a retraction of the article and TFT proponents have also neglected to mention this. This creates a highly misleading impression of TFT, that these were peer reviewed articles. The JClP would normally only publish peer reviewed articles so that is the assumption people would make, reading the articles without the disclaimers.

I find the postings on Axis of Quackery to be disingenuous. If they were sincerely concerned about debunking TFT, they would be supporting me as someone who has been TFT’s most highly published critic over the last five years. Instead, they do nothing but attack me and seem to be completely ignoring what current TFT proponents are doing, unless it has some relation to my activities.  Obviously, they believe that this will discredit me, although if they were even remotely familiar with my recent writings, they would see that I have been completely up front and above board about my past associations with TFT, which I completely repudiated and I have published a formal retraction of this article, something that the real critics of TFT have told me they highly respect me for doing. What is their real motivation? Their beef with me has nothing to do with TFT and everything to do with the scholarly criticism I have published on the therapies they promote, coercive restraint therapies and other abusive forms of so-called “attachment” therapies.

It has come to my attention that TFT proponents have started their own “peer review” journal. I put “peer review” in scare quotes because the “peers” as far as I can tell are all proponents of TFT so of course all the studies will be ones with favorable outcomes and based on the abstracts I have seen, appear to have the lack of rigor that’s been a longstanding pattern.

Just in case TFT proponents think that publishing in their own journal will qualify them as an “empirically supported treatment”, it won’t. It isn’t as simple as just publishing two controlled studies, and bingo, you’re an EST.  That problem with the APA guidelines, which previously did not address study quality, was caught in the early 2000s. The APA has recently revised their standards which include a careful review of the rigor and methodology of the studies and they need to be up to current standards of rigor to qualify.

Peer review means independent peer review, not review by other believers. Anyone can create a vanity journal. What isn’t so easy is going through a peer review by someone who has no vested interest in the outcome. The attitude of TFT proponents appears to be that they already “know” it is effective and they are doing the studies as a mere formality to prove it to others so they will be accepted. That is not the way real scientists work. Real scientists, in the words of Richard Feynman, bend over backwards to prove themselves wrong.

For TFT “bending over backwards”, would mean stepping up to the plate and instead of comparing TFT to a no treatment control group which does not rule out placebo effect, compare TFT tapping to sham TFT (tapping on non-meridian points or tapping with random sequences).  That is the kind of rigor that is needed. Even comparing TFT to a supportive treatment control group is not enough, because there is enthusiasm conveyed by proponents and those they train for the procedure itself. What would really test TFT would be to do a double-blind controlled study with a sham treatment group and also a no treatment control group. People unfamiliar with TFT could be trained with actual TFT points and sham points and not be told which is which and then they could carry out the treatments on others.

Instead of always doing studies with highly vulnerable, traumatized people in other cultures, they should first be done with people in our own culture. Going to a place such as Africa where the people who are carrying out the treatment are in a highly vulnerable position can create demand characteristics and results from a culture so different from US culture, would not be generalizable to people in the US. The best way to do a double blind study would be to train neutral people, such as graduate students in TFT, training them with the “real” points and sham points, not telling them which is which. Since many people still have never heard of TFT, it shouldn’t be hard to find people who don’t know the difference. Anything less than sham points is not going to be convincing evidence. Given the high degree of enthusiasm, it’s not surprising at all that TFT would do better than no treatment, especially under the conditions under which it was done in Africa. Just look at how the TFT therapists were so enthusiastically welcomed by the singing Rwandan orphans on the video, as if they were already heroes. That sets up a highly enthusiastic atmosphere from the get go and it is obviously designed to tug at people’s heart strings, but sets up a expectancy that is not conducive to a properly done study, to put it mildly. Now it may be that it was culturally appropriate to participate in this kind of ceremony, but that is a prime example of why it is important to test these things first in the culture from which the treatment came (invented by an American psychologist) rather than going to other cultures first. TFT proponents are moved to tears when they watch these videos but many of us who are not so emotionally involved, see things very differently.

The way these videos are shown on YouTube looks to me like they are an effort to create good PR and trumpet their altruism to the world, especially important for a therapy that charges people in the US such high fees. Then they can portray critics as being against helping orphans. What sort of horrible person would be against helping orphans? The only problem with that is that it is a classic straw man argument. The real issue is not helping orphans. The real issue is whether the treatment really helps, and testing it under those conditions with a no treatment control group is not the way to go about providing evidence. Just imagine how horrible the people not selected for the treatment must have felt, even though they were treated just weeks later, the point is that they knew they weren’t getting the miracle treatment by these therapists who are obviously so highly looked up to. Also, the fact that the control group was so quickly treated, does not leave room for any kind of lengthy follow-up comparison. Again, this would be difficult to do under these circumstances, which is another reason why they need to be done under less dire conditions, in the United States first.

It is interesting that both TFT proponents and proponents of coercive restraint therapies have tried this straw man argument with me, accusing me of being against helping orphans when what I am actually against is exploiting orphans with interventions that lack empirical support, in TFT’s case, using them as guinea pigs for their research. I’m all in favor of helping orphans, but let’s help them with treatments that have been shown to be effective, not use them as a PR tool.

The Callahan TFT website currently has a section entitled Thought Field Therapy (R) Professional Review. There are a few points, however, that need to be made about this so-called professional review. First, not all the authors of the articles on the page are mental health professionals. Note that this is not intended to be an argument from authority. It is content that matters, not the person’s credentials. Nevertheless, it is important that credentials be accurately represented because professional authority does influence people. What I am challenging here, is the representations the Callahans are making implied in that title, which would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the people listed in that section are all professionals reviewing TFT, which do not appear to be accurate and people have a right to know this. While some of them are mental health professionals (people with masters or PhD degrees in psychology, social work or a related profession), not all are. Steven Barger, who wrote the lengthiest “review” has no mental health professional credentials. At the time he wrote that, he had only a BA from Ball State University and made his living as a bicycle security guard (I’m not sure what his current job or degree is as I have not kept in touch with him, but those were his credentials when he wrote the article). There’s nothing wrong with that, but the Callahans should not be portraying a security guard as a professional.

More importantly, the “professional review” is highly selective and contains only favorable reviews. Some of the reviewers have paid $100,000 for VT training and thus, have a considerable investment in TFT. The favorable reviews consist mainly of anecdotes from their clinical experience, rather than an actual review of the evidence. There have been a number of professional reviews on TFT that are being omitted from the Callahan’s list, so to make up for that deficit, I will list them here:

Gaudiano, B. A. & Herbert, J. D. (2000). Can we really tap our problems away?: A critical analysis of Thought Field Therapy. Skeptical Inquirer, 24, 29-36.  Full Text available http://www.csicop.org/si/show/can_we_really_tap_our_problems_away_a_critical_analysis_of_thought_field_th/

Hooke, W. A. (1998). A review of Thought Field Therapy. Traumatology, 3(2), Article 3. Available: Click Here.

Kline, J.P. (2001).  Heart Rate Variability does not tap putative efficacy of Thought Field Therapy. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 57 (10), 1187-1192.

Lohr, J.M. (2001).Sakai et al. is not an adequate demonstration of TFT effectiveness. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 57, 1229-1235.

McNally, R.J. (2001).  Tertullian’s motto and Callahan’s method.  Journal of Clinical Psychology, 57, 1171-1174.

Pignotti, M. (2005). Thought Field Therapy Voice Technology vs. random meridian point sequences: a single-blind controlled experiment. The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 4(1), 72-81. [Note: this is, to date, the only randomized clinical trial on any form of TFT published in a peer reviewed journal, yet it was left off ATFT’s list. This study showed that Roger Callahan’s TFT Voice Technology did no better than random treatment sequences using no proprietary technology. Although the Callahans have lowered the price for VT training from $100,000 to $5,000, this is something people might want consider before spending $5,000 on the “Optimal Health” course that teaches VT. Your choice, of course. The same allegedly miraculous results were obtained using completely random sequences from TFT treatment points drawn out of a hat. This strongly suggests placebo effect is at work here.]

Pignotti, M. & Thyer, B. A. (2009). Some Comments on “Energy Psychology: A Review of the Evidence”: Premature Conclusions Based on Incomplete Evidence? Psychotherapy Theory, Research, Training, Practice,46, 257-261.

Pignotti, M. (2005). Regarding the October 2001 JCLP Special Issue on Thought Field Therapy: Retraction of conclusions in the article “Heart Rate Variability as an outcome measure for Thought Field Therapy in clinical practice.” Journal of Clinical Psychology, 61(3), 361-365.

Pignotti, M. (2005). Callahan fails to meet the burden of proof for Thought Field Therapy claims: Rejoinder to Callahan. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 61(3), 251-255.

Pignotti, M. (2005, Fall/Winter). Thought Field Therapy in the media: a critical analysis of one exemplar.  The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 3(2) p. 60-66.

Pignotti, M. (2007). Thought Field Therapy: A former insider’s experience. Research on Social Work Practice, 17, 392-407. Abstract: http://rsw.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/17/3/392

Pignotti, M. (2007). Questionable interventions taught at top-ranked school of social work. The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 5, 78-82.

Rosen, G.M. & Davison, G.C. (2001).  “Echo attributions” and other risks when publishing on novel therapies without peer review. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 57, 1245-1250.

Rosner, R. (2001).  Between search and research: How to find your way around? Review of the article, “Thought Field Therapy: Soothing the bad moments of Kosovo”. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 57, 1241-1244.

Click here to read the abstracts of the Journal of Clinical Psychology articles listed above. I will gladly e-mail reprints of articles I have authored to anyone who sends me their name and e-mail address.

Why are these articles not listed on the Callahan’s website as reviews of TFT and instead only favorable reviews listed by TFT proponents? As for a substantive rebuttal to Barger’s arguments, although they do not directly respond to Barger, many of the above articles effectively refute the points he raised. Why are the Callahans not informing people of these reviews? Sources have told me that people have asked them who I am and why I am so critical of TFT, but have they referred anyone to my articles? I have heard that my name is not allowed to be mentioned on their list serv. Instead, I am simply referred to as “the skeptic” while omitting the fact that at at one time, Callahan had told me he felt I understood TFT theory better than anyone he had ever trained, outside the Callahan family. Perhaps this article will come up on a Google search on “Thought Field Therapy” so people can become properly informed of these critical reviews.