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New developments:

Two very promising developments have occurred in the year 2002. 1 Both involve the introduction of peer-reviewed journals which will hopefully shed light on misinformation, hoaxes, and dangerous therapy:

bullet The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice: Scott Lilienfeld, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Emory University, introduced this journal in 2002-MAY. "His primary research interests include the etiology and assessment of personality disorders and traits, conceptual issues in psychiatric classification and diagnosis, and the etiology of anxiety disorders. He is on the editorial boards of several publications, including Psychological Assessment and the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, and is a consulting editor for Skeptical Inquirer magazine." 2

He explained: "The journal is devoted to distinguishing science from pseudoscience in clinical psychology." He hopes that "Subjecting these techniques to careful scientific scrutiny will ultimately help maintain the integrity of mental health practice." 3 He notes that some mental health treatments like calligraphy therapy (which uses the analysis of the client's handwriting) or Jungian sand play (in which the client manipulate objects in a sand tray to express the psyche) are not amenable to study by controlled tests. The Internet spreads the popularity of such experimental, untried therapies. The American Psychological Association has even offered continuing-education courses on them. But other therapeutic methods can be scientifically evaluated. Some of the mental health therapies that will be reviewed are:
bullet "...potentially harmful treatments such as rebirthing, using truth serum for recovered memory, and critical-incidence stress debriefing (CRISIS), in which patients are forced to discuss trauma when they may not be ready to process it." The reference to "rebirthing" probably refers to compression therapy in which a person's birth is simulated by wrapping them up and applying pressure so that they have difficulty breathing. It has resulted in the deaths of patients. Rebirthing therapy involves deep, continuous breathing exercises and is not dangerous or life-threatening.
bullet Factitious disorder by proxy (a.k.a. Munchausen's syndrome by proxy). This involves a caregiver or parent (typically a mother) who either fabricates or actually induces illness in their child. Eric Mart, Ph.D., of Highland Psychological Services in New Hampshire believes that this disorder is grossly over-diagnosed. He notes that beliefs about this disorder are traceable to case studies, not to any form of scientific testing.
bullet Multiple-chemical sensitivity (a.k.a. immune dysregulation syndrome or environmental disease). This is the belief that a minority of people can become sick from multiple unidentifiable environmental toxins. According to Loren Pankratz, Ph.D., of Oregon Health Sciences University, patients with this disorder usually suffer from depression or somatoform disorders.

The journal has a web site. 4 It is published by Prometheus Books. 5

bullet The Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis (JASNH) has also published its first issue in 2002-JUN. 6 They tackle a well-known phenomenon called "the file drawer problem." This involving multiple studies investigating a single phenomenon. JASNH editor, Stephen Reysen, a psychology student at the University of California at Santa Cruz, CA, said:  "If one study out of 20 reports statistically significant findings, it should not be the only published report. But the 19 studies that provide evidence against the original paper will be buried in file drawers." This journal hopes to resurrect the latter studies which support the null hypothesis. Examples are the belief that the eldest child in a family is, on average, more outgoing than their siblings, or the myth that women conform more easily than men to popular opinion.

In the first issue, Denise Guastello of Carroll College and Stephen Guastello of Marquette University, review studies on the sibling-hierarchy theory -- the belief that birth order in a family will predict traits such as emotional stability, conscientiousness, sociability or self-esteem. They found no such personality differences based on birth order. However, they found considerable evidence that oldest and only children have greater academic success.

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Perhaps the most dangerous of the current hoaxes is exorcism and compression therapy, because they have been taken to an extreme and caused deaths through physical abuse.

We would rate recovered memory therapy (RMT) as the next most dangerous hoax therapies. One reason is that it has involved so many patients. It damages patients directly by creating false "memories" of events that never happened. Sometimes their families of origin are destroyed as an indirect result of the therapy. In about 17% of the cases, patients develop false memories of Satanic ritual abuse. At this point, many of them become disabled by the "memories." One study showed that they were generally unable to continue to function as a spouse, as a parent, or as an employee. Anecdotal stories indicate that a significant number of RMT patients commit suicide.

Perhaps the next most serious is MPD/DID therapy. It is less common than RMT. In most cases, the alter "personalities" created during therapy eventually disappear once the patient leaves the therapy -- often when their insurance money runs out.

Governments have traditionally left the policing of mental health therapists to their professional organizations, like the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association. But the latter have proven themselves quite incompetent as regulators. They have traditionally ignored dangerous experimental forms of therapy. Only insurance companies, who have grown weary of paying out massive sums of money in malpractice claims, have been able to slow down the use of these dangerous and ineffective methods of therapy.

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  1. Kaja Perina, "Probing folklore & fringe science: Two new publications break the mold," Psychology Today, 2002-JUL-1.
  2. "Lilienfeld is Founder, Editor of New Journal," APA Observer, 2002-MAY-JUN, Volume 1, #5.
  3. Walter Foddis, "PSY: The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice,"
  4. The Council for Scientific Mental Health Practice and The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice have a web site at:
  5. "The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice: Objective Investigations of Controversial and Unorthodox Claims in Clinical Psychology, Psychiatry, and Social Work." Prometheus Books, at:
  6. "Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis (JASNH)" has a web site at:

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Copyright 1997-1999 incl., & 2001 -2002 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Written on: 1997-SEP-5
Latest update: 2002-JUL-3
Author: B.A. Robinson

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