For those who haven’t read it, thanks to a Psychology Professor at the University of Wyoming, my article, Thought Field Therapy: A Former Insiders Experience published in Research on Social Work Practice in 2007 is now available. Click here to read it. This is a full account of my experiences in the TFT community, for those who are wondering what led me to get involved and what led me to change my mind about it.
On November 4, 2013, Roger Callahan, the Founder of Thought Field Therapy and someone with whom I shared quite a history, passed away. It has been nearly 10 years since I had spoken with him and even longer since I had seen him, since we parted ways in February, 2004. There was only one brief obituary I could find in his local paper (Palm Springs, CA), but there was an outpouring of love and support from therapists and others who had trained with him over the years.
Others who saw his high fees and grandiose claims for his novel unsupported therapy thought he was a con man, but I have to say that having known him quite well I don’t believe that to be the case. As a human being, he had many strengths. He was a genuinely caring person who sincerely believed he was helping people with the therapy he developed that he believed to be the most effective therapy on the planet. Although in his last video posted on the Callahan website he said evidence for TFT was strong, this was far from being the case by any recognized scientific standards. In spite of the fact that there have been studies published on TFT, the only two that actually tested its mechanism of action showed null results. It doesn’t matter if you tap on meridian points and the sequence, upon which he based his most expensive advanced forms of TFT, does not matter.
Nevertheless, Roger to the very end of his life, sincerely believed otherwise. He seemed to exemplify the saying that the strongest form of deception is self-deception. As I reflect on my time with him I remember our conflicts, but on a personal level, I also remember good times with Roger as a friend and a colleague. I remember his generosity with his time and always being willing to speak with people who he didn’t even know who called him and wanted to understand more about TFT.
I remember witnessing the genuine love Roger Callahan displayed for his wife, children and grandchildren and his concern that his family be cared for. His wife, Joanne, also took very good care of him. They were married for nearly 25 years. On his website, one of his daughters wrote that it was thanks to Joanne, that he was able to live as long as he did. For the past 30 years or so, he had survived cancer and heart disease, and while he attributed this to TFT, I think his daughter’s attribution to Joanne for taking care of him for the past 20+ years is probably more accurate. Roger also had a genuine love for animals. I recall him shedding tears when I was visiting him in 1998 for one of his dogs who had recently died and I also recall having dinner with him years later at a fish restaurant in San Francisco, as we brought food to the alley cats at the back of the restaurant. In spite of the fact that Roger was very opinionated and could judge people harshly, he was a kind man who treated people with gentleness and respect. He was uncomfortable with direct conflict to the point where he would not engage in it and walk away if someone became contentious. I recently learned that he declined to even read my TFT: A Former Insiders Experience. I suppose to him, I have been dead for many years now. That being said, as a fellow flawed human being, I extend my heartfelt condolences to his family and I wish that he rest in peace. Whatever else may be said about him, Roger Callahan lived long, prospered and died a happy man.
A memorial website has been put up by his family for him.
Thursday, Richard Samuels, the defense psychologist expert witness in the Jodi Arias case answered questions from the jury and was then once again questioned by the defense and then the prosecution began a re-cross examination of him. A common theme throughout his testimony is how many years of experience he has had and the assertion that this makes him more credible and accurate at what he does when he assesses and diagnoses people. As I have written previously, the scientific evidence shows that this is not necessarily the case.
Samuels and the defense counsel trying to play the experience card, I suspect is a way subtle way for them to take a swipe at the prosecution’s rebuttal expert. Although I haven’t seen her full CV, she is obviously much younger and a more recent PhD (2009). Does this mean that her opinion is inferior to Samuels? Research evidence says not necessarily. She might actually have an advantage over Samuels, being more recently in school and being more up on the latest research. Some of the statements made by Samuels displayed an astonishing ignorance of developments over the last decade or so. For example, he testified that sodium pentathol and hypnosis were good ways to recover repressed memories when these methods have been discredited as unreliable and even dangerous because they may produce false memories and do great harm. Even though he made it clear he didn’t think Jodi Arias had repressed memories, he still presented these myths to the jury about what he thought was a good idea for people who did have them. He thought Jodi Arias had dissociative amnesia, due to the hippocampus shutting down completely during the part of the murder she says she cannot remember. That too, is a highly questionable notion, as the literature shows that this is very rare and when amnesia does occur during a murder, it is usually temporary. More typically trauma is very well remembered and people with PTSD have the opposite problem — they wish they could forget the trauma but cannot stop thinking about it.
Samuels would do well to review the literature on psychological assessment and whether psychologists learn well from experience and improve. There is quite a large body of literature showing that this is not the case and also how unreliable clinical judgment is. He was correct to call it “speculation” and Juan Martinez was very correct to pin him down on what he said. Some of this literature is reviewed in Howard Garb & Patricia Boyle’s chapter in Scott Lilienfeld’s edited volume, Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology on “Understanding Why Some Clinicians Use Pseudoscientific Methods” (2nd Edition to be published soon). Garb & Boyle discuss experienced vs. less experienced clinicians. They write:
For the task of interpreting personality assessment test results, alleged experts have not been more accurate than other clinicians, and experienced clinicians have not been more accurate than less experienced clinicians.
They cite a large body of literature accumulated over 30 year period that supports this. One of the examples they provide is about one of the tests used by the Jodi Arias defense, the MMPI. Two groups of psychologists were presented with MMPI protocols. One group consisted of PhD psychologists who had routinely used the MMPI in practice for 5 years, the other group were psychologists who had used the MMPI for over 5 years and demonstrated a broad knowledge of the research literature. Both groups were asked to interpret the MMPI. The findings showed that the psychologists with more experience were no more accurate in their interpretations than the group with less experience. The two were completely unrelated.
We can only hope that the prosecutions’ expert Janeen Demarte is aware of this literature so she can soundly refute any attempts by the defense to make less of her by claiming that because she has less years of experience than Samuels, she is not as credible — this is absolutely false.
Once again, we are seeing myth after myth presented on national television for all to see, although for the purposes of this case, from the juror’s questions that were asked last Thursday, it doesn’t look like the defense has been very successful in persuading the jury of his credibility.
During the last hour of court yesterday, prosecutor Juan Martinez’s cross-examination of psychologist defense expert Richard Samuels began and it has already been devastating. Martinez demonstrated that Arias lied on the assessment for PTSD, listing the main event responsible as the one she now admits she lied about, that two intruders broke into Travis’ home and murdered him. Amazingly, Samuels gave her this test and accepted her answer, even though he knew her story was not credible and strongly suspected she was lying. He admitted he made a mistake in not readministering the test.
Prosecutor Martinez also exposed the fact that Samuels exceeded his role, which was to evaluate Arias, by sending her a self-help book and cards when he learned she was depressed and suicidal.
The cross-examination is available on YouTube and there will be more to come today. Martinez has just barely gotten started. Stay Tuned.
I do hope his grossly inaccurate claims about dissociative amnesia and PTSD get challenged and the actual controversy over this exposed, but for the purposes of the case, that might not even be necessary, given that it was shown the test results were invalid to begin with, since she lied.
A few years ago, I blogged about a case in Texas, The State of Texas v. Billy Joe Harris, where the defendant, charged with rape, was trying to plead insanity by claiming he had Dissociative Identity Disorder. The defense’s expert witness attempted to argue that because DID was in the DSM, it was therefore scientific and valid. The prosecution’s expert witness challenged this and demonstrated that just because something was in the DSM, that did not mean it was necessarily scientifically valid. The DSM represents consensus of those on the DSM committee and is all too often more political than it is scientific. Ultimately, the junk science in this case was defeated, thanks to R. Chris Barden, PhD, JD’s expert testimony for the prosecution and the defendant was found guilty of rape.
We now have another case, the State of Arizona v. Jodi Arias, this one airing on national television for all to see, where highly questionable and controversial theories about traumatic amnesia are being misrepresented as unquestioned science by defense expert witness Richard Samuels. This case begs for the kind of expert rebuttal witnesses for the prosecution that the State of Texas was fortunate to have. Let’s hope such witnesses are lined up to refute the expert witness testimony that has been given by the defense’s expert. Prosecutor Juan Martinez is doing an excellent job in presenting a compelling case against Arias, but he really needs a strong expert witness to refute the many layers problems with Samuels’ testimony. It is questionable if Arias even suffers from PTSD, but even if she does, the notion that her memory would be permanently wiped out for the incident in question, even five years later, is scientifically, highly improbable. To have an effective rebuttal to the tangled web being woven by Samuels, all these layers of problems with Samuels’ testimony need to be challenged.
Samuels proudly held up and read from a copy of the DSM during his testimony, as if it were the Holy Bible, praising it as being written by “learned” professionals as if its authority was above question. Far from it. In recent years, during the development of DSM V there has been massive protest against many of its proposed diagnoses, as well as already existing ones that are not sufficiently supported by scientific evidence. More than 7000 psychologists, psychiatrist and clinical social workers signed an open letter to protest several of the proposed changes. In other words, in the opinion of many scientific mental health professionals, the DSM is loaded with junk science, not only the changes, but with some of the existing diagnoses as well. The fact that something appears in the DSM does not mean that it will meet the Daubert standard for scientific evidence, as was demonstrated in the State of Texas v. Billy Joe Harris. The defense expert in that case, Colin Ross, tried to argue that because DID was in the DSM, it was scientific. Thanks to the prosecution’s expert witness, R. Chris Barden who debunked that notion, the defense failed. This is a notion that also needs to be debunked in the Jodi Arias case, this time for what is being claimed regarding PTSD and Acute Stress Disorder.
Jodi Arias has been charged with first degree murder in the death of Travis Alexander. If convicted, she could get the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole. She has already admitted that she was the one who shot Travis Alexander in the head, stabbed him 29 times and slit his throat from ear-to-ear. She claims that she did it in self defense (even though the facts of the case thus far presented do not appear to support this and she gives a story that sounds highly implausible and the prosecution who, in my opinion, has demonstrated was physically impossible for a number of reasons beyond the scope of this article). Arias testified that a mental “fog” rolled in and she cannot remember anything beyond the initial stages of the incident. In other words, she forgot that she stabbed him 29 times and slit his throat.
The defense expert is claiming she suffers from PTSD and amnesia. In reading the DSM criteria for PTSD and Acute Stress Disorder, he points out that one of the symptoms listed ( for Acute Stress Disorder) is inability to remember parts of the trauma — in her case, stabbing him 29 times and slitting his throat. What Samuels either seems to be unaware of or is not disclosing is that this notion of traumatic amnesia has been repeatedly challenged in the literature on PTSD and trauma and there are peer reviewed publications that have proposed eliminating the association of the criteria for Acute Stress Disorder (which includes forgetting important parts of the trauma and other dissociative symptoms) with PTSD. The fact that it wasn’t, doesn’t prove that the decision was scientific. This is nothing more than a political victory that does nothing to change the fact that there is very little scientific support for the notion of traumatic amnesia. The point here is that controversial notions have no business being presented in a court of law, especially when they are being presented as if they are uncontroversial, undisputed facts when they are far from it.
Go here to read all that psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, the main founder of the DSM who is now highly critical of many aspects of it and his esteemed coauthors see as being wrong with the current DSM-IV-TR criteria for PTSD, the edition being so revered by Jodi Arias’ defense expert. Harvard Psychology Professor Richard J. McNally writes that “Controversy has haunted the diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder since its first appearance in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”
In a peer reviewed article entitled “Saving PTSD from itself in DSM-V, critiquing the DSM IV-TR PTSD diagnosis, published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, Spitzer and his coauthors, in their analysis of what is wrong with the DSM definition of PTSD, list many proposed changes. Here are some of the ones most relevant to the Jodi Arias case.
On malingering (faking a PTSD diagnosis), Spitzer and his colleagues write:
Malingering – the intentional production of false or grossly exaggerated physical or psychological symptoms motivated by external incentives – is a potential explanation for any psychiatric presentation, but is of particular concern with PTSD since the diagnosis often results in findings of disability or entitlement to financial compensation. Although malingering is included in the differential diagnosis section of the DSM-IV text for PTSD, we think that it would be useful to specifically remind clinicians that malingering needs to be considered and ruled out. This goal can be accomplished by explicitly including this consideration within the diagnostic criteria.
Contrary to what Samuels would have us believe, PTSD is not at all difficult to fake. There are all kinds of popular books available to the public on PTSD that describe it very thoroughly, which Jodi Arias could have had access to and she is certainly bright enough to understand them and incorporate them into her narrative. Spitzer points out that financial compensation would be motive to malinger. Having the possibility of the death penalty hanging over ones head, as is the case with Jodi Arias, would be even more of a motive.
Regarding Acute Stress Disorder, which was brought up repeatedly by Samuels, these authors proposed deleting this altogether from the DSM because the evidence of its association with PTSD is really very weak and points out that the research evidence shows that only a minority of PTSD cases started out as ASD, which is contrary to what Samuels would have us believe. Although about three-quarters of people diagnosed with ASD do go onto develop PTSD, most of those with the PTSD diagnosis never had ASD. Therefore the assumption that someone with PTSD first had ASD is highly unwarranted. See the difference.
This is of critical importance to the Jodi Arias case, since it is the symptoms of ASD (which can only be diagnosed for a month following the trauma), not PTSD that include dissociative amnesia or inability to remember the trauma or parts of it. Since it hasn’t been demonstrated as far as I can tell from the evidence I have heard, that Jodi Arias was examined and diagnosed with ASD within one month of the trauma (at that time she was still by her own later admission, lying about two intruders killing Travis and was not yet claiming to have amnesia), we cannot assume she ever had ASD. The fact she now has a diagnosis of PTSD, does not necessarily mean she ever had ASD. The bulk of the scientific evidence shows that people with PTSD remember their trauma all too well — in fact they are tormented by their traumas to the point where they wish they could forget about the trauma, but they cannot stop thinking about it. The person who suffers from PTSD is often so absorbed by the traumatic event, that he or she becomes forgetful of everyday things, but not of the trauma itself, which is vividly remembered.
That being said, the entire concept of dissociative amnesia is highly questionable and as Richard J. McNally and others have demonstrated in numerous publications, much of the evidence claimed to support it, does not, when examined closely, support it.
Will the prosecution rebuttal witnesses have the knowledge necessary to refute the highly controversial notions presented incorrectly as undisputed science that the jury has been subjected to by the defense? The trial is still in progress. The first defense expert is currently testifying (to be continued tomorrow), which will be followed by his cross-examination, another defense expert witness and the prosecution’s rebuttal case. Stay tuned. The trial can be watched either online or on HLN.
There are a number of individuals, some mental health professionals, some not, who offer services to families who have loved ones in groups that are considered to be destructive cults who identify themselves by a variety of titles, the most common ones being exit counseling, thought reform consultant, deprogrammer (a term usually reserved for forcible abduction, which is illegal) or strategic interaction. For convenience, I will refer to this group as exit counselors, although that is not the title all use. There are some exit counselors who are honest, do not charge excessive fees for their services or make unrealistic claims. However, that is not the case for some. Because often, such families feel they are in desperate circumstances, some exit counselors take advantage of this and the result has been that some families have spent as much or more than they would have spent on a child’s college education (as Steve Hassan argues to justify the high cost in his recent book), yet have not achieved the results they hoped for. Families that spent tens of thousands of dollars, yet never got to the point of even doing an intervention are not typically counted when “success rates” are calculated. Some self proclaimed “cult experts” (a meaningless term since there are no real criteria for determining who is an expert unless someone has been an expert in court) have been known to charge up to $500 an hour or $5000 a day for their services to desperate families, but that does not stop cult watch organizations from welcoming them as conference speakers and allowing them to promote their books and services. This is a topic that deserves more discussion, as unsupported claims are being made in this area and families are sometimes being exploited, both financially and emotionally.
Have you had a bad experience with a “cult expert”? Have you hired someone who has charged excessive fees with all kinds of extra charges (e.g. hundreds of dollars per hour just to respond to emails or phone calls) that were not advertised on his or her website and ended up spending far more than you expected with no results? If there was a failure, did you get blamed for it? If anyone reading this has had a negative experience with someone who they hired to get their loved one out of a cult, please let us know, either by responding to this blog or to me privately at email@example.com . If you do not wish to go public, I will keep what you tell me in confidence or you can post here under a pseudonym.