academic social work, Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology, debunking, Emotional Freedom Technique, Energy Psychology, Global Gateway Foundation, Heather Larkin, Ken Wilber, Lara Kaye, Mary Sise, Monica Pignotti, Pseudoscience, PTSD, Ron Toseland, Skepticism, Social Work, SUNY Albany, Thought Field Therapy
SUNY Albany School of Social Work Gets $15,000 Tapping Therapy Grant
Under the leadership of three SUNY Albany School of Social Welfare faculty, this institution has been given a $15,000 grant from the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology (ACEP) and Global Gateway Foundation to study Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), a tapping therapy that is an offshoot of Thought Field Therapy (TFT). The SUNY Albany website features pseudoscientific claims about EFT (couched in superficial scientific sounding jargon).
EFT is a low-risk acupressure technique that calms the limbic structures of the brain, enabling clients to regulate their over-aroused systems, and eliminating the flashbacks, nightmares and terror that plague traumatized adults and children. EFT is a trauma-focused practice that engages neuroplasticity to restore development. Grounded in neuroscience research and Eastern preventive medicine, pilot intervention studies of EFT with veterans are building an evidence base for EFT as PTSD treatment.
It is highly embarrassing that a top ranked school of social work would make such claims, although they are not the first to do so. In 2007, I published an expose of similar therapies being taught at the University of Michigan School of Social Work while their Dean appeared to be unresponsive. At the time I published this, I was warned by a faculty member of a prominent college of social work who himself is critically oriented toward such practices, that this could greatly hurt my academic career and it might very well have done so, but if I had it to do over again, I would not change a thing. If remaining silent about such questionable practices is the price for being accepted in social work academia, that is a price I am not willing to pay.
After eight years of my published academic criticism that few people read, to no avail it would appear, it’s time to start using the internet more so the public can be alerted as to what the social work profession is up to. Based on some conversations I have had, a number of academic social work faculty are in denial about this problem.
I wonder if Dean Katharine H. Briar Lawson, supposedly a staunch advocate for evidence-based practice, is aware of what her institution is supporting. The faculty involved as co-principal investigators are: Dr. Heather Lankin, Dr. Ron Toseland and Dr. Lara Kaye and are working with a leading proponent of tapping therapies, Mary Sise, LCSW and a graduate of SUNY Albany. The research will focus on “PTSD treatment for older heart attack survivors” which in and of itself, is a problematic and unsupported assumption to make, that heart attack survivors need “PTSD treatment”. Even the topic of depression screening of heart attack survivors has met with much controversy due to its lack of evidentiary basis. Subjecting such people to a questionable therapy is doubly reprehensible.
Dr. Heather Larkin, who bears the title, Assistant Professor, according to her bio on the SUNY Albany School of Social Welfare website, has also been involved in the work of Ken Wilber and something called Restorative Integral Support (RIS), which appears to be heavily connected to Global Gateway Foundation, one of the funders of the EFT study. Wilber’s work and RIS is described with the following typical pseudoscientific obscurantist jargon (just to give you a small sample of what one can read throughout this article, linked to on the Global Gateway website):
The Integral model includes quadrants (or interiors and exteriors of individuals and collectives); levels of increasing complexity along various lines or waves of development; typologies; as well as states, which include meditative states of consciousness, healing states, and altered states.1
It appears that Dr. Larkin is now extending her involvement with such practices to tapping therapies. This is apparently what top ranked schools of social work are looking for. Faculty in major research institutions these days are expected to secure grants in order to ultimately qualify for tenure. Apparently, at this institution, a grant from Global Gateway and ACEP, organizations that promote and fund questionable therapies researched by enthusiastic proponents, is acceptable.
How about studies that would constitute a rigorous test of the claims of energy psychology using a control group with sham tapping points? We haven’t seen that and with Mary Sise, LCSW as a co-investigator, I doubt we will. According to SUNY Albany’s research guide (see p. 101) the current study treatments will be delivered under the supervision of Ms. Sise, who is a long-time enthusiastic TFT/EFT devotee who for more than a decade has received financial remuneration from here practice of tapping therapies. The study design is the usual weak one, only comparing EFT to no treatment. This type of design does not control for placebo effect, which has already been demonstrated in Waite & Holder’s EFT study, which used a stronger design, that used control groups that tapped on non-meridian points and showed no difference between groups, but a difference between the sham group and no treatment, suggests placebo effect. Waite & Holder are not EFT proponents and the treatment effects from both groups, although statistically significant compared to no treatment, were minimal (small effect sizes). This is a type of study that thus far, TFT/EFT proponents have not conducted. It appears that this study will contribute virtually nothing to the literature, not telling us anything we do not already know about the tapping therapies, that they typically get large effect sizes, when compared to no treatment, with placebo effect not ruled out. What an utter waste of faculty’s time and money.
If this is what is happening in top-ranked schools of social work, how can there be any hope for the social work profession? The question to ask is cui bono? Who benefits, besides faculty members getting grant money that they are expected to get in order to eventually obtain tenure? How far are faculty members willing to go to fulfill that requirement? Of course, there is virtually no grant money for people to take a more critical approach to such practices. Thus, we can observe that it is the Heather Larkins who are getting hired in tenure track positions at major institutions because they get grant money from these institutions of energy therapy enthusiasts and therapies based on new age theorists with virtually no empirical support, such as Ken Wilber’s gibberish. The more critical people who want to do a more rigorous design, won’t get funded because it goes against the agenda of these organizations and can forget about getting hired, much less getting tenure anywhere. Of course, there are some faculty who are scientifically and critically oriented, but they do not study these novel therapies because there is no grant money for that, unless they go with the funders who are foundations consisting of devotees. The big funders such as NIMH, who would demand a more rigorous design, have no interest in putting their resources into a fringe therapy, thus it is left up to proponents organizations that have vested interest. Their plan is to do these poorly designed studies and then try to go after the big dollars from NIMH. The social work academic community really needs to reevaluate their priorities which these days appear, ironically and hypocritically, to be the almighty funding dollar and practice what they preach if they want to truly protect the vulnerable.