Deconstructing the Six Anti-scientific Strategies for Denying A Highly Effective Therapy (Energy Psychology)

hear-see-speak-no-evil12b(By Robert Schwarz, PsyD, DCEP)

Many people ask me, “Why isn’t energy psychology being used by the Veterans Adminstration for PTSD?” or “Why isn’t EP used more for anxiety?”

One factor inhibiting the translation of EP into wide practice has been the vehement and negative reviews by a small number of biased academic writers to mount an offensive against EP. In the May 2014 issue of Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment, I detail the six basic interlocking, deeply anti-scientific strategies they use. These processes are obscured under the patina of what is made to look like objective evaluation. What follows is a condensed version of that article (Schwarz, 2014).

Six Anti-Scientific Strategies Used by Biased Academic Writers

Strategy 1: Write “reviews of the current literature” that ignore all or most of the current literature that supports energy psychology.

In other words, do not let the facts get in the way of your story. For instance, Bakker (2013) in an article entitled “The current status of energy psychology: Extraordinary claims with less than ordinary evidence.” discusses only 2 of the 17 published studies from 2008-2013. Gaudiano et al. (2012) cite exactly zero out of 17 of those published studies. Bakker (2014) stands truth on its head when he claims “support for energy psychology’s efficacy has flat-lined” (p.44), when in fact it is accelerating.

Strategy 2: While engaging in strategy one, continue to cite the same few articles again and again that support the anti-EP proposition even though they are outdated, disputed and mostly commentary.

The articles that are almost always cited are: Devilly (2005), Pignotti (2005), Pignotti and Thyer (2009), Herbert & Gaudiano (2005), Lilienfeld (2007), and Waite and Holder (2003). If you look at anti-EP articles, these citations are almost always used. But disputations of these papers are never cited. EP research with positive findings continues to accumulate. Meanwhile, there has not been any data that can be interpreted as being disconfirming other than Waite and Holder (2003) or Pignotti (2005) in the last twelve years. In fact it is the anti-EP publications that have flat-lined.

Strategy 3: Never give partial credit; always frame the discourse in all or nothing terms; refuse to frame the issue in any developmental fashion and do not accommodate any new evidence from any other field of endeavor even if relevant.

The scientific investigation of phenomena is evolutionary. While one can make arguments that there is need for better methodology, one also needs to give credit where credit is due. The strategy of the anti-EP authors is to describe the state of the research as if no advances have occurred; nor have their been any methodological improvements in EP studies, such as control groups, effect size and follow up — which is not accurate.

Strategy 4: Make ad hominem attacks on supporters of EP.

First, say that the author is biased, because he or she has some financial interest in the approach. The argument is specious. It assumes that financial matters do not influence every aspect of scientific endeavors. Scientists must spend a large part of their time getting grants that pay their salaries. So they have embedded financial interests in successful research, and making sure that the way they conduct their scientific efforts will be deemed by the powers that be as grant worthy.

Second, ignore the greater possibility of significant bias, namely professional ego. For instance, Gaudiano et al. (2012) repeat the charge of financial conflict of interest, but then declare that they have “no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article” (p. 653). In fact, Gaudiano has a significant potential conflict of interest. He has already published highly critical articles on EP; for example, the Herbert & Gaudiano (2005) article that is routinely cited by people in this camp. He is not the only one with this potential conflict.

Third, Gaudiano et al (2012) have taken the ad-hominem attacks to a new level, by erroneously interpreting their findings to suggest that therapists who use EP suffer from insufficient critical thinking abilities. Sise et al (2014) do a superlative job of debunking their seriously flawed arguments.

Strategy 5: When in doubt frame any positive findings in the EP related literature as placebo. Better yet, frame EP as somehow having a super-placebo effect (Bakker, 2013, p. 3). The term “super placebo” is an oxymoron. When you describe something as having super-placebo qualities you are admitting that there is more going on than regular placebo. That means it is not placebo anymore – by definition.

Strategy 6: Focus the argument heavily on the underlying energy-oriented theories about the energy-based mechanism of action that have, to date, been difficult to substantiate.

There are several problems with this stance. First, it takes the position that since the mechanism of action cannot be pinpointed to energy systems, such as meridians, the approach is invalidated and is even pseudoscientific. This argument is in error on several levels. A quick review of the Physician’s Desk Reference for medication will reveal that, in many circumstances, the mechanism of action of a drug is not clear. This does not stop physicians from prescribing. The fact that a phenomenon cannot be easily measured does not disqualify scientific discourse. It can take decades and billions of dollars for physicists to create the means to test and measure their theories.

A second problem is that critics argue that EP works but that it works because of the exposure aspect of the treatment. So there is nothing new here. Nevertheless, some research suggests that stimulation of acupoints adds power to CBT (Zhang, Feng, Xie, Xu, & Chen, 2011), and that stimulating the meridian system is an active ingredient (Fox and Malinowski, 2013; Wells et a., 2003; Zhang, Feng, Xie, Xu, & Chen, 2011).

Third, the anti-EP crowd undermine their own “EP is simply using the same principles as other therapies such as CBT, so while it is effective, it should not be considered a legitimate therapy” argument with the simultaneous claim they are trying to protect the public from snake oil therapists peddling placebo remedies to the naïve. This position continues to appear in their publications, even though there is little evidence to support such a stance.

The purpose of my article and this blog is to focus on communicating to mental health providers, gatekeepers, consumers or policy makers who might not be intimately involved with the details of energy psychology methods or research. It is not easy to parse the different perspectives and make informed decisions.

I highly recommend the May Issue of Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment. There is a lot more detail in my article. You will also find the original rebuttal articles from Feinstein (2014) and Sise et al. (204) that were denied publication in the journals that published the anti-EP articles, and there are rebuttals to the rebuttals (Bakker, 2014). As you read these articles and the original articles (not in this issue) to which they refer, look for the seven anti-scientific patterns of persuasion used by anti-EP forces that I have described and factor them into your judgment.

Robert Schwarz, PsyD, DCEP

Author, Tools for Transforming Trauma

ACEP Executive Director

www.energypsych.org

References

Bakker, G. M. (2013). The current status of energy psychology: Extraordinary claims with less than ordinary evidence. Clinical Psychologist, 17(3), 91-99. doi:10.1111/cp.12020

Bakker, G. M. (2014). A bigger swamp is still a swamp: Comments on Feinstein (2014). Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment ,Volume 6(1) (Issue), pp 44-47

Committee on Quality of Health Care in America, Institute of Medicine, (2001). Crossing the quality chasm: A new health system for the 21st century. Washington DC: National Academy Press.

Devilly, G. J. (2005). Power Therapies and possible threats to the science of psychology and psychiatry. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 39, 437–445.

Feinstein, D. (2008b). Energy psychology: A review of the preliminary evidence. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. 45(2), 199-213.

Feinstein, D. (2010).  Rapid Treatment of PTSD: Why Psychological Exposure with Acupoint Tapping May Be Effective.  Psychotherapy:  Theory, Research, Practice, Training. 47(3), 385-402.

Feinstein, D. (2012). Acupoint stimulation in treating psychological disorders: Evidence of efficacy. Review of General Psychology, 16, 364–380. doi:10.1037/a0028602

Feinstein, D (2014) Comment on “The Current Status of Energy Psychology”: Growing Evidence for Extraordinary Claims. Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 6(1), pp48-54.

Fox & Malinowski (2013). Improvement in study-related emotions in undergraduates following Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT): A single-blind controlled study. Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 5(2), 15-26.

Gaudiano, B. A., Brown, L. A., & Miller, I. W. (2012). Tapping their patients’ problems away? Characteristics of psychotherapists using energy meridian techniques. Research on Social Work Practice, 22, 647–655. doi:10.1177/1049731512448468

Herbert, J. D. & Gaudiano, B.A. (2005) Moving from empirically supported treatment lists to practical guidelines in psychotherapy: The role of the placebo concept. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 61 (7), 893-908.

Lilienfeld, S. O. (2007). Psychological treatments that cause harm. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2, 53–70.

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.

Pignotti, M., and Thyer, B. (2009). Some comments on “Energy Psychology: A Review of the Evidence”: Premature conclusions based on incomplete evidence?

Schwarz, R.A. (2014). Deconstructing the Six Anti-scientific Strategies
for Denying A Highly Effective Therapy (Energy Psychology) Energy Psychology. Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment,6(1) pp14-20.

Sise, M., Leskowitz, E, Stein, P. & Tranguch, A. (2014). Critical Thinking in the Energy Therapies: Comments on Gaudiano et al. (2012). Energy Psychology. Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment,6(1), pp21-32.

Waite, W. L., & Holder, M. D. (2003). Assessment of the Emotional Freedom Technique: An alternative treatment for fear. Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 2, 20–26.

Walker, J. (2013)   Study Questions Efficacy of Knee Surgery. Wall Street Journal Online edition Dec 26, 2013.

Wells, S., Polglase, K., Andrews, H. B., Carrington, P., & Baker, A. H. (2003). Evaluation of a meridian-based intervention, Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), for reducing specific phobias of small animals. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 59, 943–966. doi:10.1002/jclp.10189

Zhang Y, Feng B, Xie JP, Xu FZ, Chen J. (2011). Clinical study on treatment of the earthquake- caused post-traumatic stress disorder by cognitive-behavior therapy and acupoint stimulation. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 31, 60-63. doi: 10.1016/S0254- 6272(11)60014-9

Comments

  1. Thank you, Dr. Schwarz, for a cogent article. One thing struck me in particular: the argument from the anti-EP crowd that “EP is simply using the same principles as other therapies such as CBT, so while it is effective, it should not be considered a legitimate therapy.” That statement represents a mindbending departure from logical thinking. Both logic and mathematics teach us that two things that are equivalent to a third are equivalent to each other; if A=B and B=C, then A=C. If CBT is a legitimate therapy, and if EP uses the same principles (with effectiveness), the logical conclusion is that EP is also legitimate.

    • You are correct. In fact one way to meet the APA’s standards for demonstrating that a new treatment is evidenced based as effective is for the new procedure to be demonstrated to be AS effective as an existing established procedure. Note it is not more effective. So your logic is correct; their logic is faulty

  2. Great article Dr. Schwartz. I posted it for discussion on LinkedIn group Energetic Healing Facilitators.https://www.linkedin.com/groups/WHY-SCIENTIFIC-BIAS-AGAINST-ENERGETIC-6670807%2ES%2E5926360617211416577?trk=groups_most_recent-0-b-ttl&goback=%2Egmr_6670807

  3. These points are very well taken. Two other factors contribute to this problem.
    Any time extremely different concepts and methods are proposed as a new and more effective form of psychotherapy it is necessary to understand that it comes within a framework known as a paradigm. There is great resistance to new transformative concepts and understanding of how the world works. This happened with Copernicus and Newton in physics. This occurred with Darwin in his insight into evolution. Thus, energy psychology starts out having problems at any paradigm experiences.

    Science requires research to confirm new concepts and treatment methods to be effective. Roger Callahan was brilliant in his insights to starting Thought Field Therapy (TFT). This was the beginning of the integration of acupressure stimulation into psychotherapy. However, Dr. Callahan to not have a great understanding of the requirements of what the gold standard in research means. The Journal of clinical psychology devoted the entire journal to fulfill therapy. The five articles that supposedly provided scientific evidence of the effectiveness of TFT. This provided ammunition for skeptics to dismiss TFT and subsequent forms of energy psychology. It provided a basis for therapist the mental health workers and researchers to not pay sufficient attention to the significant amount of research demonstrating the effectiveness of energy psychology.
    Access to universities to enable studies of large amounts of students would ideally enable the world to see that energy psychology methods are tremendously effective. If any skeptics are in university settings, I encourage them to work with the Association for comprehensive energy psychology in setting up a definitive research study.

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  1. […] Deconstructing the Six Anti-Scientific Strategies for Denying a Highly Effective Therapy (EP) […]

  2. […] another blog, “Deconstructing the Six Anti-scientific Strategies for Denying a Highly Effective Therapy,” I discussed that it’s important to shine a light on the anti-scientific strategies used by […]

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