Posts Tagged ‘Trauma’

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 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.

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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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