Since the days of cure-all elixirs that promised miraculous healing
powers, people have been looking for immediate relief from their
ailments. Who can blame them? Unfortunately, the desire to find a panacea
often draws people to unreliable treatments.
"People want quick results, and they want them yesterday," says
Jeffrey Lohr, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of
Arkansas. "You can't fault people for wanting substantive relief, but you
can fault the scientists who can't see through a worthless
Lohr is on a crusade to help clinical scientists identify bogus
therapies, part of his job as president of the Science and Pseudoscience
Review Special Interest Group of the Association for Advancement of
Behavior Therapy. Most recently, he co-wrote an article in the Clinical
Psychology Review on Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
(EMDR). This treatment boasts not only liberation from post-traumatic
stress disorder but also recovery in a matter of weeks. The therapy is
based on research showing that rapid eye movement helps process memories.
EMDR developers theorized that inducing rapid eye movements while a
patient remembered a traumatic event would help the subject quickly
process and come to grips with that memory.
"EMDR is being touted as a breakthrough therapy," Lohr says. "But
as more and more objective testing is performed, the treatment proves
less and less effective,"
Gimmicks set pseudoscience apart from empirically supported
treatments. Scott Lilenfeld, Ph.D., founding editor of Scientific Review
of Mental Health Practice, a new journal scheduled to appear in late
2001, has developed a keen eye for unsubstantiated treatments.
"You can usually tell [what is pseudoscience] because there's a lot
of marketing around these treatments," he says, "but there's no
controlled evidence. Support consists of almost all anecdotes and
Lilenfeld cites Rebirthing Therapy, a controversial procedure that
aims to heal painful memories by physically recreating the birthing
process. The treatment proved lethal to 10-year-old Candace Newmaker in
Colorado last year. She suffocated as her body was pushed against pillows
and wrapped in blankets to simulate the womb.
"There's no evidence whatsoever that this works" says Lilenfeld.
"We know for a fact that individuals cannot remember anything before age
By promoting solid research and questioning shaky--and potentially
deadly--theories, Lilenfeld and Lohr hope to build a base for better
research. "We have to train good clinical scientists," Lohr says. "And to
do that, we need to know what bad clinical science is.
"Eventually," says Lohr, "people can avail themselves of services
based on the best treatments and get better."