Posts Tagged ‘Association for Thought Field Therapy’

Another reposting from the Monica Pignotti, MSW blog, still relevant today as they are continuing efforts along these lines. Just so readers are clear on what I am referring to, this article is about TFT proponents traveling to Africa and having people tap on acupressure points on the body to supposedly treat Malaria. These efforts, fortunately, began after I had already ceased practice of and involvement with TFT, so I never participated in any of this. In a 2006 NPR interview, Callahan claimed:

Dr. CALLAHAN: Its really remarkable the number of things we can successfully treat. We just successfully treated malaria down in Africa.

Here is the “research” his claim is apparently based on, as published in an Association for Thought Field Therapy newsletter. To date, I am not aware of any peer reviewed research.

So-Called TFT Malaria Research: Sloppy Reporting or Fancy Cooking?

February 19, 2007

A write-up of the TFT “humanitarian” mission to Africa and their so-called “research” has just been posted on the ATFT website [the reference is ATFT Update, Issue 4, Winter 2006, p. 5-6].

I have to say that I have never seen anything like this in my life. The infamous Journal of Clinical Psychology Special Issue Oct 2001 on TFT doesn’t even begin to compare.

First, there’s the stunning theoretical overview that I will fair use quote from without comment (ATFT Update, p.5-6 at above URL):

“Then in September of 2004, during a TFT training in Mexico City, one of the nurses from a nearby village told Joanne and Roger how she helped with dengue fever using TFT algorithms. While at dinner that evening with friends, including Alvaro and Dr. Racquel Hazas, Joanne and Roger talked about an article in Science News that reported that mosquito-born illnesses, such as malaria and dengue fever, are an electrical phenomenon in the body. Racquel, a physicist, verified this fact. They realized this might offer an explanation why TFT has been able help with these problems and talked about the possibility of the ATFT Foundation, of which Joanne is President, sending a team to Africa and explore how TFT might help relieve the suffering caused by malaria.”

And then there is the methodology (although I’m being overly generous to call it that). The report reads (see p. 6):

“In order to determine what kind of effect Thought Field Therapy had on malaria patients, we needed to collect certain data before and after TFT treatment. The plan was to focus on people whose blood tested positive for malaria.

“We would then obtain four pre- and post- TFT measurements of people testing positive for malaria:

“1) Ratings of malaria symptoms, from 0 to 3 (0=none, 1=mild, 2=moderate,

3=severe); “2) Body Temperature (fever is a common symptom of malaria);

“3) Subjective Units of Distress (SUD), from 1 to 10, for the overall problem;

“4) Heart Rate Variability (HRV).”

The most obvious post test outcome is not mentioned here. What about a post Malaria test? Blank out! Malaria tests were only done prior to the treatment, not after the treatment. Instead, they chose to measure relief of Malaria symptoms with subjective ratings of distress, body temperature, and Heart Rate Variability. Some of the patients were on legitimate medical treatments, such as Quinine drips, when the TFT was done. Do any of these folks know what a confound is or has Callahan developed amnesia for his past research training? The report emphasized that the Malaria blood tests were quick and easy to administer. Why not do a post test? Callahan, later in the same newsletter, said that one Malaria test showed changes but “Alas, our researchers did not have time to stay and take further blood tests.” Oh please. Does Callahan really think that any intelligent person would find it credible that these “researchers” who were on what was a very important and meaningful mission to them, would not have “the time” to administer a test that can be easily and quickly done?

And then there are the numbers. They just don’t add up and the report raises puzzling questions that ought to immediately come to the mind of anyone even remotely familiar with the scientific method or basic arithmetic, for that matter. Following the “Methods” section, is a rambling, rather confusing conglomeration of anecdotes, including trivia such as the team leader and then-ATFT President Mary Cowley having her luggage lost and how others would have to put up with the stench of her clothing (talk about TMI — too much information !). Once in awhile, between anecdotes, they threw in a few numbers here and there. They report hundreds of people coming to them for testing. At one site alone, 60 people came in for testing, they reported (p. 10) and 45% of those tested positive. Okay, that would be 27 participants just from that site alone. This raises another question. The “researchers” reported that they came with 200 test kits and ended up with a paltry sample of only 15 people, and only 7 on some of the post tests such as HRV. Did that low a percentage of people test positive for Malaria? It doesn’t seem likely given the numbers earlier in their report. What happened with the others who tested positive that they supposedly treated? Some, they claimed, were treated in groups but why were there no pre or post tests on them of any kind?

What gives here? Were the “researchers” on some kind of permanent safari or did they tap their left brains away so they could no longer perform simple arithmetic? There was no accounting of any kind in this report for the discrepancy in the numbers. What comes to mind here is the famous saying: If it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense. This is simple, but good advice since the more common human response is to try to rationalize or explain away things that just don’t make sense.

I have to wonder, was this just incredibly sloppy reporting or did these “researchers” fail to report all of the results, especially if they conflicted with their desired outcome? We’ll never know. A reasonable person might think that if they really wanted to see whether TFT helped with Malaria, the easiest most obvious test to do, pre and post, would be the Malaria test which they report is quick and very easy to administer. Instead all we have are subjective reports and meaningless HRV tests (there are no publications testing the reliability and validity of HRV as a measure of malaria whatsoever). And of course, as usual with Callahan TFT testing, there was no control group. Callahan doesn’t believe control groups are needed because TFT is so “robust” and “powerful” and he claims HRV doesn’t respond to placebo (even though most HRV testing in journal studies does use control groups).

It doesn’t look like this report is going to convince anyone who is not already such a true believer they have lost their ability to think critically or question the obvious gaping holes in this report. If there are any of Callahan’s therapists (or as he likes to call them, “trainees”) out there who still have any kind of ability to question, please, for starters, ask him and the “research” team the following (come on, I dare you):

How many people in the sample tested positive for Malaria? (according to their own report, there were at least 27 at one site alone, yet the final report had an N of only 15)

How many of those were included in the study? How do you explain the discrepancy?

How many post Malaria tests did you actually do? Was it just the one Callahan reported and if so, why didn’t you bother to post test the very small number of people in your sample (15) with such a quick and easy test? Why didn’t you have the time (as Callahan claims) to stick around for a few extra minutes and run a test that might actually measure what you’re claiming to treat?

Alas, I doubt we’ll ever get answers to these questions, but I want to put Roger Callahan, Joanne Callahan and the so-called “research” team on notice that they are being asked.

PS: Since I see in my blog stats that someone Googled the question of whether ACEP is connected to Scientology, the answer is no, definitely not. ACEP has no connection or relationship whatsoever to Scientology. In fact, active Scientologists in good standing are forbidden to do the sorts of practices promoted by ACEP — that would be considered “mixing practices”, a major no-no in Scientology. Scientologists are forbidden to do any kind of “other practices” while doing Scientology. I’ve seen this come up before on the internet where someone apparently has the misconception that tapping therapies have a connection to Scientology. They definitely do not. I am wondering if this misconception got started due to the internet smear campaign against me, where I have constantly been hammered for my long-ago involvement in Scientology, which the cyber smearers conveniently neglect to mention that I fully repudiated and left 34 years ago.


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Since my Psychjourney blog, Monica Pignotti, MSW has closed down due to all Psychjourney Blogs on Typepad being discontinued, I am going to begin reposting some of the more salient articles from that blog. I will repost the TFT articles on this blog and certain others on another blog that will be replacing the Psychjourney blog. The following is a reposting of  two blog articles I wrote on a 2006 NPR program on TFT and its use with survivors of Hurricane Katrina, for which I was interviewed. Other guests included Drexel Professor of Psychology James Herbert and Roger Callahan. Fortunately, the links to this program on the NPR website that I provided, still work.

For those who would prefer to read rather than listen, a transcript is also available on the NPR website.

National Public Radio Program on Thought Field Therapy

March 26, 2006

This is an announcement to let you all know that on Wednesday, March 29th I will be a guest on the National Public Radio program “All Things Considered”. The topic will be the Thought Field Therapy.

James Herbert, who is a Psychology Professor at Drexel University and was co-author (with Brandon Gaudiano) of the 2000 Skeptical Inquirer article on TFT, will also be a guest on the show.

The Association for Thought Field Therapy has managed to get a team of TFT therapists into a Charity Hospital program in New Orleans to work with survivors of Katrina.  One of the reporters from NPR picked up on this and decided to devote a program to this topic.  I will be speaking about my experiences with TFT and my recently-published study on the TFT Voice Technology.

Link and my Comments on NPR Program on TFT
March 30, 2006

There is now a direct link for the NPR program (aired 3/29/06) on TFT, now available for people who wish to listen to the program on the internet:

In response to the comments, yes, I was very pleased with how Alix Spiegel put together this program. Given the tremendous amount of interview material she had to put together for a 12-minute segment, I thought she made wise choices on what to include and she gave a well balanced presentation and that the way she put together segments from my interview was very accurate. I give her kudos for not taking the ATFT’s claims at face value and really doing her homework.

Had there been more time available, there were a few additional points I would have like to have made. The saddest part of the entire program was the interview with the survivor of Katrina who blamed herself for not tapping enough when the results of the TFT treatment did not last with her and her panic returned. Callahan’s explanation is even worse than that; if TFT treatment results do not hold up over time, he maintains this is due to “toxins” and this (for paying clients) would require signing up for the more expensive TFT “Diagnostic” or VT treatments (I have discussed toxins elsewhere in this blog).

The biggest surprise for me was that Callahan actually claimed on the program that TFT could treat Malaria — he didn’t say the stress from Malaria — just “Malaria”! I was aware of the ATFT team’s activities in Africa but didn’t think he would openly claim such a thing without any qualifying statements. This amounts to making medical claims, as I understood him. Of course, I have known that privately many TFT proponents really do believe that they can actually treat diseases, but I thought that for PR purposes they would be more subtle about the claims they made in order to protect themselves. It looks like I was wrong about that.

Bottom line: The NPR program did an excellent job in conveying the message that Callahan and other TFT proponents are making grandiose claims that are unsupported by good evidence. I only hope that the hospitals and relief organizations that are supporting the ATFT team being there will take notice and do something about this. What they are endorsing is inexcusable. There are empirically supported, effective treatments for trauma and the kinds of symptoms the survivor on the show was experiencing. There are very effective existing treatments for panic so I have to ask these hospitals why this woman did not receive those and instead received a bogus therapy that did not help her in the long run? The administrators of these hospitals and relief organizations can expect to hear from me and a number of other concerned mental health professionals and doctors very soon asking why they are depriving their patients of empirically supported treatments and giving them quackery instead. We expect some answers.

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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.

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