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About CAM: "Complementary
and alternative medicine"

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bullet "It is a remarkable feature of mainstream academic psychology that, alone among the sciences, it should be almost wholly immune to critical appraisal as an enterprise. Methods that have long been shown to be ineffective or worse are still used on a routine basis by hundreds, perhaps thousands of people." Rom Harre, "Acts of Living," Science, 289 (25) 2000-AUG, Page 1303.
bullet "I don't think Candace Newmaker died because of their ignorance. I believe she was killed because of their arrogance." Diane Obbema, sheriff's investigator in the Candace compression fatality. 1
bullet "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." Anon
bullet "There are 40 kinds of lunacy, but just one of common sense." West African saying.

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Important note:

In essentially all of our essays, we attempt to explain all sides to each topic without giving a value judgment. This essay is an exception. We feel that the harm done to people by CAM can be so egregious that we are taking a stand, and are recommending greater control of alternative therapies. As a minimum, we recommend that all therapies be evaluated independently for safety and efficacy before they are used on large numbers of clients.

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Pharmaceutical companies are very closely regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. and by corresponding government agencies in other countries. Their role is to carefully assess both the safety and efficacy of medications before they are released for public consumption.

But there are three other areas involving people's physical and mental well-being which are essentially unregulated. Without controls, they have the potential to do great harm:

bullet Mental health: Governments have traditionally left the policing of mental health therapists to their professional organizations, like the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association. In our opinion, they have proven themselves quite incompetent as regulators. Dangerous experimental forms of therapy have arisen, have become modestly popular, have peaked in usage, and have then gone into rapid decline -- typically over a period of fifteen to twenty years. Some are innocuous. But others have harmed tens of thousands of clients, disrupted and sometimes destroyed their families of origin. A few have driven some clients and their parents to suicide or an early death. Some are:
bullet Recovered Memory Therapy (RMT),
bullet Counseling to recover memories of Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA),
bullet Multiple Personality Disorder/Dissociative Identity Disorder (MPD/DID) therapy,
bullet Reparative therapy which attempts to change clients' sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.

These dangerous, experimental therapies have been largely ignored by professional associations. Ultimately, it was malpractice insurance companies which slowed down the use of most of these dangerous therapeutic technique. They grew weary of paying out massive sums of money in malpractice claims. As of mid-2004, reparative therapy is still going strong, in spite of a failure rate in excess of 99%, and in spite of anecdotal evidence that it often leads to very severe depression and even suicidal ideation. The other three are largely burned out; however there are still some therapists who continue to injure their patients by using these therapies.

bullet Alternative medications: Health food and similar stores sell herbal remedies, high potency vitamins, body building and other medications. The potential exists for dangerous interactions with other medication that their customers are also taking. Herbal remedies in particular have not been subjected to the same rigorous safety and efficacy testing as have regular medication. The potential for harm is great.
bullet Alternative treatments:  Such treatments and therapies as Naturopathy, Homeopathy, Chiropractic manipulation, therapeutic touch, facilitated communication (for persons suffering from autism), compression therapy, etc. are widely used. But there has been essentially no rigorous, objective testing done on almost all of these treatments by outside groups. Again, there is significant chance for harm. Even innocuous treatments like therapeutic touch can be indirectly damaging because they can divert trained personnel from more productive therapies. These treatments can also be dangerous because they can deter clients from seeking appropriate medical attention.

One can only guess how tens of thousands of damaged lives could have been prevented if all mental health therapies, alternative medications and alternative treatments had been given the same type of rigorous screening in advance of release for general use as is routinely required for pharmaceuticals.

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Call for research:

On 2000-JUL-13, President Clinton issued Executive Order 13147 2 and announced "the appointment of the Chair and the first 10 members of the White House Commission on Alternative Medicine. This commission, created by an executive order on March 8, 2000, is charged with developing a set of legislative and administrative recommendations to maximize the benefits of complementary and alternative medicine for the general public." 3

President Clinton's statement reads, in part:

"Each year, tens of millions of Americans receive alternative therapies. The great potential and possible perils associated with the use of complementary and alternative medicine have been well documented. There is no doubt that these therapies should be held to the same standard of scientific rigor as more traditional health care interventions."

"If we are going to hold complementary and alternative therapies to an appropriate standard of accountability, we need to invest in research so health care professionals and consumers can make informed judgments about the appropriate use of these services.  In that vein, we have worked with Senator Harkin and a bipartisan coalition of members of Congress to establish the NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine to invest resources in scientific analysis to make such information available.

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The WHCCAMP committee:

Dr. James S. Gordon, of Washington DC. was selected to chair the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy group (WHCCAMP). He is a Harvard educated psychiatrist. 3He had spent nearly thirteen years as a sannyasin (student) of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. He currently heads the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington DC. He is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Mack's Program for Extraordinary Experience Research (PEER) -- a group that studies "anomalous experiences" such as abduction by LGM (Little Green Men) on board UFOs. 5 In his book "The Golden Guru," he praises "Orgone Therapy" in which energy released during the human orgasm is allegedly collected in "orgone boxes" and used to heal human ailments. "Dr Gordon has continued to speak at Orgonometry conferences." 6

On 2001-SEP-25, a group of academics and professionals "who specialize in the scientific evaluation of controversial and currently unsubstantiated treatments" issued a letter of concern to the Surgeon General of the United States, David Satcher. They noted that some "alternative and complementary medical practices, such as homeopathy and chelation therapy, have repeatedly been shown to be ineffective in controlled studies by independent investigators. Still other alternative and complementary medical practices have the potential to cause physical harm, and to lead individuals to forgo treatments that have been demonstrated to be effective. As a consequence, many of these practices subject the American public to considerable physical, financial, and emotional risk." 

The letter called for subjecting "all novel and still largely untested claims to careful and impartial scrutiny using the best scientific methods available....we are deeply troubled that the Chairperson of this important commission is Dr. James S. Gordon, a psychiatrist whose expressed views regarding alternative and complementary medicine practices bespeak an extreme absence of objectivity regarding the scientific status of these practices. Moreover, Dr. Gordon's background, writings, and public statements point to a clear lack of commitment to a scientific approach regarding the causes and treatment of medical and psychological disorders."

They noted that none of the members of the WHCCAMP committee are skeptics of alternative medical techniques. All "appear to be either active practitioners of alternative medical techniques (e.g., acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal remedies) or strong proponents of these techniques. Some have even been key lobbyists for alternative medical practices over the years."

They urged the Surgeon General "in the strongest possible terms to call for the disbanding of this commission as it presently stands and to reconstitute it with a group of respected researchers and practitioners (including recognized scientific experts in medicine, physiology, biochemistry, nutrition, psychology, research design, and statistical methods) who can provide you and others in the federal government with objective and well informed policy recommendations concerning alternative and complementary medical practices." 7 The advice was ignored; the committee continued its work.

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The WHCCAMP report:

The committee's 2002-MAR report promotes "Complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, [which] can be defined as a group of medical, health care, and healing systems other than those included in mainstream health care in the United States. CAM includes the worldviews, theories, modalities, products, and practices associated with these systems and their use to treat illness and promote health and well-being."

They divide CAM into six domains:

bullet Alternative health care systems: Ayurvedic medicine, Chiropractic, Homeopathic medicine, Native American medicine (e.g., sweat lodge, medicine wheel), Naturopathic medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine (e.g., acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine).
bullet Mind-Body interventions: Meditation, Hypnosis, Guided imagery, Dance therapy, Music therapy, Art therapy, Prayer and mental healing.
bullet Biological based therapies: Herbal therapies, Special diets (e.g. macrobiotics, extremely low-fat or high carbohydrate diets), Orthomolecular medicine (e.g., megavitamin therapy), Individual biological therapies (e.g., shark cartilage, bee pollen).
bullet Therapeutic Massage, Body Work, and Somatic Movement Therapies: Massage, Feldenkrais, Alexander Method.
bullet Energy Therapies: Qigong, Reiki , Therapeutic Touch.
bullet Bioelectromagnetics: Magnet therapy

The report acknowledges a lack of knowledge of CAM's efficacy, safety and potential for adverse interactions with orthodox medication: They state that: "...most CAM therapies that are currently being used by consumers have not been studied adequately in regard to either efficacy or safety...Even when evidence indicates that a particular CAM approach or modality is safe and effective for a particular condition, new safety concerns may arise when it is used in conjunction with conventional medications, which is the way most consumers use CAM." The WCCAMP report admits that most CAM therapies are experimental, and may be unsafe and/or useless.

Skeptics would argue that the only rational response would be:

bullet To recommend that clients discontinue all CAM therapies as quickly as possible, to minimize harm and death, and
bullet That a well-funded research program be conducted into each CAM therapy.
bullet That a resumption of each therapy be recommended only after it was proven to be safe and effective.

The report recommends that "human subjects participating in clinical studies receive the same protections as are required in conventional medical research." However, it does not recommend stopping any existing CAM therapies, some of which are essentially large-scale experimental, unproven, and uncontrolled human experiments using chemicals, devices, and treatments that whose safety is unknown. No mention is made anywhere in their report about the conditions under which a CAM therapy would be discontinued as a result of a unfavorable research study.

However, the report recommends that "Federal agencies should assess the scope of scientific, practice, and public interest and needs regarding CAM that are relative to their missions, examine their portfolios, and develop funding distribution strategies to address these interests and needs."

Quackwatch SM, 8 the National Council Against Health Fraud, 9 and The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine 10,11 have all seriously criticized the commission, its members, and their report.

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Related essay on this web site:

bullet Therapeutic and other hoaxes.

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  1. Peggy Lowe, "Rebirthing team convicted: Two therapists face mandatory terms of 16 to 48 years in jail," 2001-APR-21, Rocky Mountain News. This actually refers to an instance of compression, not rebirthing therapy. It resulted in the death of a girl.
  2. "Executive Order 13147: White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine," 2000-MAR-7, at:
  3. "Alternative medicine panel formed," Las Vegas Sun, 2000-JUL-13, at:
  4. "Center for Mind-Body Medicine," at:
  5. The "Program for Extraordinary Experience Research (PEER)" has a web site at:
  6. "Scientists urge Surgeon General to disband WHCCAMP," 2002-SEP-25, at:
  7. "White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy: Final Report," 2002-March, at:
  8. "QuackwatchSM, Your Guide to Health Fraud, Quackery, and Intelligent Decisions," at:
  9. "Analysis of the Reports of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy (WHCCAMP)," The National Council Against Health Fraud, at:
  10. "The Gordon Commission: Turning back the clock on science in medicine," at:
  11. "Citizens for Science in Medicine Press Paper," at:

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Copyright 2002 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Written on: 2002-JUN-12
Latest update: 2005-MAY-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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