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Some Mainstream Academics are Supportive of Thought Field Therapy and Opposed to Anti-Cult Extremism

May 30, 2011

The  anonymous internet posters who I strongly suspect are either mental health professionals who are proponents of the interventions that I have criticized or hired by such mental health professionals, have declined the request of a number of mental health professionals who support me to cease the personal ad hominem attacks on me and address actual issues. In recent postings, they been attempting label me “LUNATICFRINGE” [yes, rather humorously, they have taken to shouting this in all caps now, as if that will strengthen their nonexistent case] because of my long-past association with Thought Field Therapy (TFT), a practice on which I discontinued seven years ago and now have published critical analysis in peer reviewed journals. One of the tenured faculty who signed the statement of support for me, wrote to me that he didn’t see what the big deal was about my long-ago involvement in Scientology since he knew many highly intelligent, capable people who were involved in it back then who, like me, eventually dropped it. Through this whole ugly mess, I have learned that there really are many people in this profession who do have integrity, courage and loyalty to their values and do care and that is what has kept me from giving up and instead, choosing to stay the course.

What the folks doing all this shouting may not realize is that as I have pointed out in some of my publications, there are a number of people who hold faculty positions in mainstream universities who are highly supportive of TFT. That being the case, it is highly unlikely I would be excluded from being hired because of my past association with this practice, as the anonymous smear campaigners have implied. The fact is that academic freedom exists and faculty have the right to support controversial therapies if they so choose and others have the right to criticize them. Mainstream academia allows for both with the philosophy that the truth will come out through uncensored, respectful critical discussion. The fact is that there are, among mainstream academics, both critics and supporters. The critics (Brandon Gaudiano, James Herbert, Bruce Thyer, Scott Lilienfeld, Jeffrey Lohr and a number of others) are already well known. However, the supporters are not often discussed, but they do exist.

Here are some specifics on mainstream academics who have been supportive of TFT and/or have taken grant money from TFT organizations.

  • In 1995 at Florida State University (long before I ever attended) two tenured and highly respected faculty, Professor of Social Work and Psychologist Charles Figley and Professor of Psychology Joyce Carbonnel conducted a study on TFT plus three other novel therapies: EMDR (now very well known but still controversial), Traumatic Incident Reduction (TIR, an offshoot of Dianetics — yes, that’s right, its developer was a Scientologist for 13 years and TIR was studied at FSU by two tenured faculty members — see Figley’s positive comments below about all four), and Visual Kinesthetic Dissociation (VKD, an NLP technique). The study was described as a systematic clinical demonstration and was not designed to demonstrate efficacy or compare any of these therapies. However, Charles Figley, following the study had high praise for TFT. Go here to read a letter he wrote to his colleagues about TFT. He wrote:

Here I would like to tell you about one of the four approaches. I do this not because we are suggesting that it is better than any other approach. All four of the approaches we investigated generated impressive results. But TFT stood out from all other approaches of which I am aware because of five reasons:

  1. It is extraordinarily powerful, in that clients receive nearly immediate relief from their suffering and the treatment appears to be permanent.
  2. It can be taught to nearly anyone so that clients can not only treat themselves, but treat others affected.
  3. It appears to do no harm.
  4. It does not require the client to talk about their troubles, something that often causes more emotional pain and discourages many for seeking treatment.
  5. It is extremely efficient (fast and long-lasting).

Although he has his critics, Dr. Figley did not lose any standing in the academic community at all for his support of TFT. On the contrary, he has since obtained a Distinguished Chair as a Professor at Tulane University and remains a respected expert in the field of Trauma.

Another highly revered expert/researcher in the area of trauma, Bessel van der Kolk has endorsed energy psychology (which consists of Thought Field Therapy, its offshoot Emotional Freedom Techniques and other similar techniques). Van der Kolk wrote, as an endorsement for psychologist David Feinstein’s Energy Psychology Interactive:

With increasing globalization there has been a growing curiosity in psychological practice about non-Western methods of dealing with disturbances within the human organism. Not based on Western rationalism, these methods do not rely on insight and understanding, but on shifting internal states of bodily experience. Energy Psychology Interactive provides a lucid guide to energy psychology that demonstrates techniques and procedures that can bring about remarkably rapid changes in the way people feel and move through the world.

Would the smear campaigners also like to condemn Dr. van der Kolk to the “LUNATICFRINGE”? Highly doubtful that they would. This goes to show that their trashing of TFT is disingenuous. Their real agenda is to find any way that they can to trash me because I have criticized their therapy guru, criticism that has nothing to do with TFT.

So no, academia does not blacklist or exclude someone for being supportive of TFT, as the smear campaign suggests. Although, I am not currently supportive of TFT, even if I were, that would not be the case.

  • Another notable example is that TFT and other “energy” or “power” therapies such as the ones studied by Dr. Figley, were taught at the University of Michigan School of Social Work, which has been ranked the number one social work school for a number of years. There have even been entire courses devoted to “power therapies” including TFT, taught by a tenured Professor Brett Seabury who has also presented at conferences and others.  I published a critical commentary of this course in the Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice.
  • The UofM’s Psychology department lists a PhD candidate, Stephen Rassi, who has an interest in these “power” therapies. Was he ostracized and rejected for this interest? Definitely not and the UofM’s psychology program is very difficult and competitive to get into. His faculty mentors are listed as Beth Reed, Lorraine Gutierrez, Brett Seabury and Edith Lewis and seem to be fine with his choice of interests.
  • Dr. Patricia Carrington, a Licensed Psychologist and Associate Clinical Professor at UMDMJ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School has been a long time supporter and practitioner of EFT (a tapping therapy offshoot of TFT).
  • Dr. A Harvey Baker, who died in 2010, was a Psychology Professor at Queens College and also a strong EFT supporter and practitioner, conducted research with Patricia Carrington on EFT.
  • Although not a practitioner of TFT herself, Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, Assistant Professor of Social Work at Arizona State University states on her CV that in 2008-2009, she received $13,000 in grant funding from the Association for TFT (ATFT). She worked closely with long-time TFT proponent, advanced practitioner and instructor Suzanne Connolly on a study they did on TFT in Africa. Arizona State University did not appear to have any problem with this.
  • Robert L. Bray, LCSW, PhD taught for years as an adjunct in Social Work at San Diego State University. He is Voice Technology (VT) trained and considered to be one of the top proponents of TFT and it doesn’t seem that anyone at SDSU had a problem with this.
  • Dr. Rita Weinberg who is a long-time VT-trained practitioner of TFT is a Professor of Educational Psychology at National Louis University in Illinois. She has a PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Chicago. One of Dr. Weinberg’s areas of expertise is adoption.

These are just the prominent examples. There are undoubtedly more. This is in contrast to the mistaken view that the smear campaigners have that academia would in some way shut me out, for even have a past affiliation with TFT. Given that many top institutions appear to have no problem, even with current supporters of TFT or other similar therapies, this is highly unlikely to be the case.

Even though in my opinion, the uncritical presentation of these therapies in top-ranked universities is cause for concern and something I have been critical of, being supportive of such approaches does not seem to have hurt the careers of any of these or other individuals. There is room in the academe for both favorable and critical views towards TFT and other novel therapies. Additionally it is worth noting that TFT, although a controversial novel therapy, is not considered to be a “cult”.

As an aside, although not the main focus of this particular posting, it is also worth noting that much of mainstream academia shares my concerns about overly sensationalized and exaggerated material being presented on cults by people who they consider to be anti-cult extremists. There has been considerable controversy in academia, particularly in sociology departments about even using the word “cult” although I would not go that far and disagree with banning the word. Many mainstream academics such as Sociology Professor Eileen Barker are of the opinion that certain anti-cult proponents have indeed made inaccurate generalizations and have exaggerated and urge a more moderate view of what they term as new religious movements. Although I do not always completely agree and think that sometimes they minimize actual abuses, I think there is at least some truth to this criticism that is important to consider. This is one of the reasons why I have had a problem when cult “experts” such as Steven Hassan make overly generalized inaccurate statements to the media. It loses credibility for people who are attempting to accurately expose abuses within such groups. So no, my advocacy for accurate dissemination of information does not make me a “cultist” or part of the “LUNATICFRINGE” although it has made me the focus of attacks from some supporters of Steve Hassan, who cannot seem to tolerate anyone having any  kind of disagreement with such “experts”.

Perhaps the most bizarre insinuation by the anonymous posters is that I am having difficulty finding a faculty position because I was part of a child advocacy organization where Larry Sarner is Executive Director. The fact is that few academics have even heard of Larry Sarner, nor do they care about a court case involving his voting machine company that occurred over 15 years ago, that I had nothing to do with, long before I even met him. The only people who appear to care about this are supporters of the questionable therapies Sarner and his advocacy organization have exposed.

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