About CAM: "Complementary
and alternative medicine"
||"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
||"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
||"If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." Anon
||"There are 40 kinds of lunacy, but just one of common sense."
West African saying.
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.
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
||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:
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.
||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.
||Alternative treatments: Such treatments and therapies as Naturopathy,
Homeopathy, Chiropractic manipulation, therapeutic touch,
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
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
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."
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. 4 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
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."
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.
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
They divide CAM into six domains:
||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).
||Mind-Body interventions: Meditation, Hypnosis, Guided imagery,
Dance therapy, Music therapy, Art therapy, Prayer and mental healing.
||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).
||Therapeutic Massage, Body Work, and Somatic Movement Therapies:
Massage, Feldenkrais, Alexander Method.
||Energy Therapies: Qigong, Reiki , Therapeutic Touch.
||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:
||To recommend that clients discontinue all CAM therapies as quickly
as possible, to minimize harm and death, and
||That a well-funded research program be conducted into each CAM
||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.
Related essay on this web site:
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.
"Executive Order 13147: White House Commission on Complementary and
Alternative Medicine," 2000-MAR-7, at:
"Alternative medicine panel formed," Las Vegas Sun,
2000-JUL-13, at: http://www.lasvegassun.com/
"Center for Mind-Body Medicine," at:
- The "Program for Extraordinary Experience
Research (PEER)" has a web site at:
"Scientists urge Surgeon General to disband WHCCAMP," 2002-SEP-25,
Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy: Final Report,"
"QuackwatchSM, Your Guide to Health
Fraud, Quackery, and Intelligent Decisions," at:
"Analysis of the Reports of the White House Commission on Complementary
and Alternative Medicine Policy (WHCCAMP)," The National Council
Against Health Fraud, at:
"The Gordon Commission: Turning back the clock on science in medicine,"
"Citizens for Science in Medicine Press Paper," at:
Copyright © 2002 to 2005 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Written on: 2002-JUN-12
Latest update: 2005-MAY-24
Author: B.A. Robinson