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:
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:
"...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.
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
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
The journal has a web site. 4 It is published by
Prometheus Books. 5
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
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.
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
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.
Kaja Perina, "Probing folklore & fringe science: Two new publications
break the mold," Psychology Today, 2002-JUL-1.
"Lilienfeld is Founder, Editor of New Journal," APA Observer,
2002-MAY-JUN, Volume 1, #5.