“Treatment” for suffering just creates the disease

For those of us who learnt of the tragedy through the media, the anguish and grief of the family who lost their two youngest children in the icy depths of Lake Wakatipu is painful even to imagine. We know their lives will never be the same again. So it was comforting to read that the people of Glenorchy are doing what close-knit communities always do in times of adversity.

“The 111 call on Friday night, made by the children’s father, Stefan Poplawski, brought not just the emergency services to Greenstone Elfin Bay Station, but scores of local residents – by boat, car and helicopter. Some came to assist the commercial divers attempting to retrieve the lost children … others came to give whatever comfort they could.”

A police officer reported that the community had rallied protectively around the family, so we can be confident that the sensible, good-hearted people of Glenorchy are giving the bereaved family the comfort and practical assistance they need. The school mates of the Poplawski children are not so lucky. They’re being offered counselling.

Why? Sure, the accident was a terrible tragedy, but tragedies are nothing new and neither is the suffering they cause.

Throughout human history, people – both adults and children – have shown themselves to be remarkably resilient. Whenever and wherever tragedy strikes there is always strength and solace to be found in adversity. What is new in our modern world is the propensity of mental health practitioners to pathologise ordinary human suffering. These so-called experts want us to believe that suffering is no longer part of the human condition; these days suffering is a disease in need of treatment. A whole industry has grown up around this belief. Now, when adversity strikes, ACC-funded trauma counsellors descend on the unfortunate community in droves. And here’s the rub: trauma counselling doesn’t work. In fact, trauma counselling does more harm than good.

There have now been over a dozen controlled trials in which people involved in accidents and other traumas were randomly allocated to receive or not receive counselling. The results showed conclusively that counselling immediately after a traumatic event does not work. Those who received it were no better emotionally than those who did not. Worse, the better studies with longer follow-ups showed that receiving such counselling increased the rate of later psychological problems. The group that seemed to be harmed most by this were those who were particularly upset at the time – exactly those who you might think ought to be treated. So immediate post-trauma counselling may help us feel that something is being done, but it doesn’t help those who receive it. The fundamental problem with trauma counselling seems to be that asking anyone to talk to a complete stranger about their feelings while they are still raw with pain just makes things worse.

For most mentally healthy people – including the children of Glenorchy – not talking about it is often the most appropriate immediate response to a disaster. No doubt, in their own good time, the kids will talk about the tragedy as little or as much as they want with their family and friends and teachers, for these are the people who know them best, and who know best what support they need and when they need it. Of course they will be anxious for a while, and in need of comfort. But, as always, there will be chores to be done, lessons to be learned, sports to be played. Day by day, life does indeed go on. These children don’t need counselling. As they learn to cope with adversity they’ve already got the best role models any child could have – the courageous and compassionate adults in their own community.

Originally published in the Otago Daily Times, 15 September 2005.

Self-Esteem: too much of a Good Thing?

The idea that low self-esteem is the cause of violent behaviour has been current for some time. Many years ago I attended numerous education meetings where I heard that certain (male) individuals “lacked self-esteem” when it seemed patently obvious that this was not true. I argued that these individuals greatly esteemed many of their own behaviours – it was just that these behaviours were those the counsellors thought should be deplored.

The result was that schools developed programmes to encourage pupils to make lists of their wonderful features and to compose poems of self-celebration. Parents and teachers were afraid to criticise children, or to let them take part in exams and competitions as this could turn them into violent thugs. It became important above all that children never experienced failure.

Scientific American (April 2001) had an article entitled Violent Pride: Do people turn violent because of self-hate or self-love? by Roy F Baumeister. This dealt with the problem of violent young men and characterised them as being usually egoists with a grandiose sense of personal superiority and entitlement; yet counselling textbooks say such people really suffer from low self-esteem.

Although it was a “well-known fact” that low self-esteem causes violence, Baumeister was unable to find a formal statement of the theory, let alone any evidence to support it. According to Baumeister: “…we found no indicators that aggressive male bullies are anxious and insecure under a tough surface.”

Self-esteem can be measured using a questionnaire with such examples as:

  • How well do you get along with other people?
  • Are you generally successful in your work or studies?

Baumeister et al also tested for narcissistic tendencies in a similar manner. People with high self-esteem were not necessarily narcissistic – most could recognise that they genuinely were good at some things but not all.

A study on men imprisoned for violent crimes showed these had the highest mean score for narcissism (among prisoners), though their score for self-esteem was about in the middle. Narcissism correlated very strongly with violent behaviour.

The idea that low self-esteem is the underlying cause of “just about every psychological problem” originates with Nathaniel Branden (originally Nathan Blumenthal), psychotherapist and author of several books on the subject. According to Branden: “faulty self-esteem [is] a flawed self-concept, intellectual self-doubt, a sense of unworthiness or guilt, an experience or inadequacy, a feeling that ‘something is wrong with me’ or that ‘I am not enough.’ ” But of course if the concept is made as broad as this everybody must experience low self-esteem at times.

Nash published Branden’s first book on the topic, The Psychology of Self-Esteem, late in 1969, but it was taken up by Bantam and over a million paperback copies were sold worldwide. In 1977 Branden started a series of intensive “workshop” courses to teach his ideas. The course was called Self-Esteem and the Art of Being. Originally the attendees were psychotherapy students. These people spread the gospel and the idea really took off.

Branden had been a member of the Ayn Rand inner circle and, although 20-odd years younger, was her lover for a considerable period. This grand idea, of the importance of low self-esteem, was formulated by or with Rand sometime in 1955, certainly before the spring of 1956. But we have only Branden’s word that he had any involvement then – about 14 years before he published anything on the subject. Rand would later claim that Branden had stolen her idea; after Branden rejected her sexually she became extremely bitter. However when Atlas Shrugged (which seems to have introduced the idea) was published, it was dedicated to both her husband and her lover!

Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged contains a speech by John Galt, Rand’s superman hero that sets out three principles as the supreme and ruling values of human life:

  1. Reason
  2. Purpose
  3. Self-esteem

I regret that I was unaware of the Ayn Rand connection around 25 years ago, when I was involved in education and attacking the idea that low self-esteem was the problem with difficult boys. Rand’s anti-communism of course made her “Right Wing”. The “Left Wing” trendy types that were pushing faulty self-esteem as the cause of problems with difficult adolescents would have been horrified at the connection. I had found Atlas Shrugged and other Rand books unreadable; recently I had to read some Rand to write this essay but did not enjoy the experience. I still have not finished any of her books.

Rand frequently used archaic meanings for common English words. Few skeptics would quibble about basing their ideas on reason, but today this means that we organise our ideas to avoid contradictions. Rand’s philosophy involved a resurrection of the mediaeval idea of Rationalism, which meant something quite different – that one can acquire true knowledge of the world simply through thought. Modern science has rejected this idea – and Rand largely rejected science.

The Baumeister studies are very relevant to New Zealand today, but I suspect that few teachers or social workers involved with difficult and violent young males have even heard of them. Jim Ring is a Nelson Skeptic.

Hokum Locum

Cellulite – Just a Euphemism for Fat

Cellulite is the term used by women’s magazines to describe dimpled fat. It has no scientific or anatomical validity and it is simply ordinary fatty tissue that assumes a waffled appearance because fibrous tissue prevents the skin from fully expanding in areas where fatty tissue accumulates. This has been confirmed by a study where biopsies of fat and cellulite were microscopically indistinguishable by pathologists who were blinded as to the samples’ origin. Calling fat “cellulite” is part of the modern trend to seeking alternatives to the (unpalatable) truth, in this case an adipose euphemism.

The latest treatment for Cellulite involves a machine called Cellu-M6. It is described as having “even been approved by the strict Amer-ican Food and Drugs Administration”. I checked the FDA website and although I could not find the machine specifically mentioned it did refer to a “Dermosonic Non-Invasive Subdermal Therapy System”, presumably using ultra-sonic stimulation of the skin. The FDA “approval” is nothing of the sort, merely an acknowledgement that the machine is similar to others already on the market. There is nothing in the FDA response indicating any approval or endorsement of the device beyond noting that it “temporarily reduces the appearance of cellulite”.

Given that about half of the New Zealand population are obese, and roughly half of these are women, this makes for a huge and lucrative market. The Cellu-M6 machine is described as “breaking down the cellulite, toxins and abnormal water build-up are expelled and the increased blood flow stimulates enzymes which encourage fat cells to break down.” Journalists sometimes inadvertently get close to the truth and the article states in part “While it seems almost too good to be true…” Well, yes, it is.

With all worthless treatments it is essential to get the punters to do something for themselves, which in itself is actually effective, for example: “You’ll still need to do some work. Walking, exercise and watching what you eat.” The most well-motivated customers will be the ones who actually do exercise and lose weight. They will be thrilled with the results, happy with the cost and completely oblivious as to the real reason for their loss of cellulite (weight).
New Idea 4/1/03

Cannabis

For various legislative and historical reasons, cannabis use is illegal in New Zealand. My feeling is, why legalise cannabis when we already have so much suffering from the abuse of tobacco and alcohol? Nevertheless, on the medical evidence available, moderate indulgence in cannabis has little ill effect on health. Cannabis has been studied for possible use in various medical conditions but there are problems with drug delivery as most researchers feel that it is unacceptable to administer it through smoking and oral bioavailability is variable.

A recent Lancet study of patients with multiple sclerosis found that cannabis had no measurable effect on muscle stiffness or jerkiness. The patients, however, stated, “it had reduced their symptoms and improved their mobility.” I went to the Lancet website and there are problems with this study. Fifty percent of the placebo wing of the trial claimed benefit and because of the psychoactive effect of the cannabis, subjects knew whether they were taking cannabis or placebo. I have written before on the problems of clinical trials becoming “unblinded” through this effect. The researchers should have used an ‘active’ placebo, something that mimicked the effects of cannabis. It appears that researchers still lack an understanding of this process. Perhaps they should call in James Randi to help them?

Despite the lack of evidence for the medical use of cannabis, “a wealthy Christchurch businessman caught growing cannabis has escaped without a conviction after convincing a High Court judge that he used it medically.”

I can just see future headlines at the next sitting of the Dargaville Court: “Unemployed Maori youth of no fixed abode acquitted of growing cannabis after convincing the Judge he used it for a medical condition”. Yeah, right.

But wait! The businessman, we are told, suffered from a painful bowel condition diagnosed as “pyloric sphincter”. That explains everything. We all have a pyloric sphincter. It is a thickened muscular valve at the outlet of the stomach.

All of us can now smoke cannabis with a clear conscience (write or email me for a medical certificate, but only if you are rich, say $5000 per certificate will be fine).
Dominion Post, 8/11/03, 14/12/03

Veterinary Homeopathy

I don’t normally concern myself in this area although I did recently correspond with the Veterinary Council and their policy over alternative medicine is very similar to that of the Medical Council with Doctors.

The Press (18/11/03) carried an article, which I thought was unintentionally very funny. A trainer was fined for injecting a horse with a homeopathic remedy. It was further reported, “another horse injected with it had won, been swabbed and tested negative in the past.”

Of course it tested negative! Homeopathic solutions are water and this simple fact seems to have completely escaped notice by the Judicial Control Authority. I thought I would have a bit of fun by writing to them and pointing this out so will keep you posted.

The homeopathic remedy was “Vetradyne” and was easily found by Google. A 50ml bottle costs $215 but I was unable to find its composition, or any given therapeutic indication, apart from the cryptic comment “no claims made.” It was also detailed as being for “oral” use only so it does seem strange that it was given by injection. An inquiry of the website was no more forthcoming over composition or dilution factor.

Counsellors

Every time something unpleasant happens we hear the dreaded phrase “counselling has been arranged.” Can we do anything to stop this clichéd response?

Following the illegal viewing of pornography at a school, pupils have been offered counselling. What’s wrong with today’s teachers? Can’t they handle a situation like this in a reasonable and intelligent manner? It seems that our population are willing to hand over all responsibility whenever they can. Is it because they lack confidence or is this a deliberate social policy on the part of the government? It’s certainly consistent with Government policies that encourage dependency and allow hundreds of thousands of people to indefinitely remain on welfare payments.
Dominion Post 27/8/03

Badly Behaved Children

Readers will know my attitude towards the socially engineered fad diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is treated with methylphenidate (Ritalin) and there was a 17% increase in prescriptions over the past year. The drug is being sold by parents on the black market. This does not surprise me but readers may be surprised to know that most street drugs are sourced from legal prescriptions. There are doctors in every part of New Zealand who over-prescribe a wide range of psychoactive drugs, which are then sold.

To paraphrase a well-known psychiatrist: “any behaviour of a child can be consistent with ADHD.” We must act now and add Ritalin to the drinking water. This will have the dual benefit of removing the need for parents to discipline their children and of destroying the illicit drug trade. The whole population will be happy, well behaved and in no need of counselling.
Marlborough Express 1/12/03

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

This is a pseudoscientific diagnosis where people develop a fixed illness belief about chemical exposures. It is increasingly becoming an employment issue and is a classic example of psychosomatic illness. In a typical case, a radiographer is reported as needing a face mask before leaving home because “when I have a new dose of chemicals I become unreasonably upset about anything and everything, and become ill and extremely tired, plus a host of other physical effects.” Such patients have been studied by Staudenmayer (Environmental Illness: Myth and Reality). He tested 20 patients complaining of universal sensitivity to multiple chemicals and found that “the patients’ appraisals were no different from chance performance” (ibid. p. 99). In other words, the patients’ beliefs were disproved. There is an urgent need for such testing to be available in Australasia, otherwise there will be an increasing number of these spurious claims, misattributed to employment conditions.
Marlborough Express 10/10/2003

Drawing Out False Memories

One possible source of the outlandish reports given by children in cases such as the Christchurch Civic Creche affair was described at the 2003 Skeptics’ Conference.

In recent years the western media has become increasingly cluttered with stories of bizarre goings-on with groups of children. Although nearly 15 years of scientific research has shown us that children can come to report a variety of false experiences, until recently we knew very little about how the more implausible and outlandish reports — of naked Japanese men playing guitars, of secret tunnels and hanging cages — might emerge.

This year, Rachel Sutherland, Maryanne Garry and Deryn Strange published the results of a scientific study designed to investigate whether a seemingly innocuous technique might be promoting these bizarre stories. The purpose of our research was to examine the role of imagination in the “Draw and Tell” interview to try and provide an explanation for how children can come to believe that impossible events have happened to them. We wanted to know if children could come to believe that they had participated in an impossible event just by drawing and imagining that they had. We asked children to answer a list of events on a Life Events Inventory (LEI). The list included typical childhood events as well as unlikely but highly imaginable events (the target events) such as, “have you ever flown to the moon on a rocket”. Children only had to say “yes” or “no”. One week later a novel experimenter asked children in the Draw group to draw what it would be like if three of the target events had actually happened to them. One hour after the drawing phase, the original experimenter returned and told the children that their original answers had been lost and asked if they would mind answering the questions in the LEI again.

We found that children in the Draw group were more likely to say that an event had happened. Put another way, the group exposed to the drawing task were much more likely to change their responses from “no” to “yes” when asked a second time whether the events had actually happened to them. In fact, the effect of drawing was not limited to the target events that children drew. Draw children were more likely to change their answers on all events, not just the ones that they spent time drawing.

The results of this experiment show that drawing might promote reports of events that did not occur. If children are given false event information in the context of an interview and then draw that information, that drawing may then make them more likely to claim that the suggested event has happened. In light of this finding, those in both legal and therapeutic settings should maintain vigilance when asking children to take crayons in hand or run the risk that further false memories will be “drawn out.”

Goff Wins Bent Can Opener Award from Skeptics

Justice Minister Phil Goff has won the first-ever Bent Can Opener Award from the New Zealand Skeptics, for “refusing to open the can of worms that is the Christchurch Civic Creche case”.

For the past ten years, the Skeptics have made an annual Bent Spoon Award, in remembrance of spoon-bender Uri Geller, but the group felt that a change in implement was necessary for this year’s “winner”.

“The Christchurch Civic Creche case raises some very real concerns about a whole raft of justice issues,” says Skeptics Chair-entity Vicki Hyde. “We recognise that it is a can of worms for the minister, but it is one that needs to be opened if we are to continue to have confidence in our justice system.”

The Skeptics have monitored the Christchurch Civic Creche since before it happened — six months before Peter Ellis was arrested, the group had predicted that a New Zealand case would follow on from the then-developing US examples of claimed major child abuse incidents involving Satanic overtones at preschool facilities.

“When the Civic Creche case broke, the initial allegations seemed reasonable enough — we know, sadly, that child abuse does happen and is something that desperately needs to be addressed,” says Hyde. “However, we were concerned to hear of allegations of various classic Satanic ritual abuse elements, including a number of truly bizarre or impossible events. Combined with questionable interview techniques, the then-prevailing belief in recovered memory theories, and the social context of the case, it looked like it was our prediction come true.”

Hyde points out that the Skeptics are not suggesting that the children involved in the case are liars. What concerns this group are the underlying processes that were involved in the collection, selection and presentation of evidence that led to the conviction.

“Our official name is the New Zealand Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, and we consider that the scientific underpinning of the evidence is questionable enough to justify closer scrutiny, so that we can all learn from what happened and be more confident in the future regarding abuse convictions,” says Hyde.

The award was officially conferred at the annual Skeptics Conference, which also included an extended session where Victoria University psychology researchers presented their work on memory formation, fallibility and falsification (see next issue).

Hokum Locum

Yet Another Alternative to Evidence Based Medicine

Eloquence based medicine

The year round suntan, carnation in the button hole, silk tie, Armani suit and tongue should all be equally smooth. Sartorial elegance and verbal eloquence are powerful substitutes for evidence.
New Zealand Medical Journal Vol 113 No 1122 p479

Acupuncture Flunks

A comprehensive literature search has concluded that there is no strong evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating and rehabilitating musculoskeletal injuries when compared to other forms of treatment. This is similar to the conclusion of Ernst & White, who reviewed 600 references and concluded, “the only compelling evidence is that acupuncture is efficacious for the treatment of backache, nausea and dental pain.” (Acupuncture: a scientific appraisal, Ed. Ernst & White, Butterworth-Heinemann, 1999)

The National Council Against health Fraud (NCAHF) concluded in 1997 that “acupuncture is mostly a powerful placebo and/or a psychological aid for use in managing behavioural disorders.”

I intend writing to David Rankin at ACC Healthwise, to ask him how they will justify continuing to pay for unproven treatments such as acupuncture.
ACC News August 2002 Issue 48
NCAHF Newsletter Vol 20, No. 6

Water births have no proven benefit

Considering man’s status as a terrestrial mammal, the pre-occupation with water births has appeared on the scene like some kind of antediluvian regression. It seems like the more advances are made by medical science, the more people want to revert to medieval superstition or New Age silliness.

There have been few trials of water births but plenty of reports of near-drownings of newborn infants. Many years ago I was invited to attend one such birth, but my attendance was cut short when I asked if I could bring my dive gear and speargun. Those slippery newborns can be elusive! Seriously though, what’s next? Water births attended by orcas and dolphins at Napier’s Marineland? Hmmm, could be a great new tourist attraction. A clever dolphin could soon be trained to flick the newborn infant up out of the water and into the arms of the waiting midwife. There has to be an idea there for some tasteless new TV program.
Marlborough Express 12/8/02

Oxygen Therapy

As we all know, oxygen is essential for life. If something’s good for us it stands to reason that a lot more must be even better. This is the rationale for extra vitamins, food supplements and so on. Oxygen clinics are an excellent scam because if properly run there is an unlimited crowd of gullible customers. All you need is some convenient threat, for example air pollution, and you have a perfectly reasonable excuse to remedy that problem by offering people oxygen in pleasant and soothing surroundings. A clinic based in Calcutta offers twenty minutes of oxygen via nasal prongs “where customers can sink back into soft leather chairs, inhale oxygen flavoured with various scents and be lulled by soothing music.” There’s only one small problem. Our haemoglobin, the oxygen carrying pigment in the blood, is about 98% saturated with oxygen at the earth’s surface. Inhaling extra oxygen does not improve this saturation at all. In fact, I would bet anything you like that if the oxygen was substituted for clean air the subjects would feel just as refreshed and still cheerfully pay their 175 rupees. This is a classic placebo scam. Someone should start a similar clinic in Auckland aimed at the same sort of people who buy energy drinks. As WC Fields was fond of saying – never give a sucker an even break!

Fibromyalgia

Imagine a doctor’s surgery. A patient complains of tender areas everywhere. This is what I call “und here” after the German syndrome of the same name. The patient has pain here, und here und here. The doctor examines the patient and finds that they are indeed tender in the areas where they say they are tender! This ridiculous folie-a-deux has been sturdily defended by a few remaining rheumatologists. It has taken a judge to rule “evidence of physical symptoms is not evidence of physical injury” and “is not compensable by ACC”.

Fibromyalgia (aka “fibro-sitis”) is a typical psychosomatic complaint where vague malaise and non-specific aches and pains get endorsed by a group of specialists. Skeptics noted that four fifths of patients were women and it is now recognized that the syndrome is indistinguishable from chronic fatigue syndrome. (Shorter Pg313)
ACC News September 2002 Issue 49
From Paralysis to Fatigue, Edward Shorter, 1992 The Free Press

Get an Educayshun??

Until I looked at the site www.massagecollege.co.nz I had no idea that ridiculous pseudo-science such as holistic pulsing and polarity therapy could be studied and rewarded by NZQA recognition. It gets worse. Student subsidies are available from Winz. I have written to both Winz and the NZQA asking how taxpayer funds can be wasted in this manner. Watch this space.

The Wisest Fool in New Zealand?

A GP colleague forwarded me a portion of letterhead from a doctor who practises chelation therapy as well as using Electro acupuncture of Voll. I have discussed this latter quackery before. It is an evolution of the “black box” and its use by registered medical practitioners should occasion a referral to the Medical Practitioners Disciplinary Committee. When I read the list of qualifications held by this doctor I was reminded of the famous description of James 1 of England as “the wisest fool in Christendom.”

Here is the list – the meaning of most is obvious: B.Med Sc. MBChB. Dip Bus Admin. MRNZCGP, ANZIM, BSc, Dip Obst., MRACGP, MSc, FAMS, BA, Dip AvMed, MRSNZ.

The Diary of Inspector Melas

I cannot reveal how this diary excerpt came into my possession but it gives an insight into police methods in relation to the Christchurch Civic Crèche case. I reproduce it verbatim. The original has been placed with my lawyer.

Monday That damned book has won a Montana award! Called a meeting to discuss how to counter these attacks on our integrity. Det. Dixon suggested contacting the Counsellor who has been seeing B. and making good progress with regression therapy. ACC have agreed to pay for a further 1500 counselling sessions. (1703 for the mother – she’s making good progress).

Tuesday Wonderful news. B. has recovered more memories. The tunnels. I knew they existed! Material very detailed – dates, times etc. Regular underground trips involving other Cr&egraveche children in the company of known Christchurch Satanists and pornographers. Contacted Karen who confirmed that these are absolutely classical descriptions of systematic child abuse. Ordered Det. Green to obtain ground-penetrating radar.

Wednesday Phoned by some loony in Fendalton who claimed his dog was psychic and could help our investigations. Told him we don’t use that sort of unscientific rubbish. 1430: Green phoned. Promising radar returns from under the Civic crèche. The tunnel complex!!! Decide to hold press conference after we have the evidence. Told them we were on the verge of a breakthrough. Great excitement.

Thursday Meet on site with excavation team. B. present with whanau. (All our supporters.) B. has apparently remembered “dancing, poos, clowns and somebody called Lara Croft”. (NB. not one of the original accused) Probably need Karen to interpret that when we interview the suspects again and lay charges. Det. Green offered to let me break into the tunnel. Most unfortunate – hit the main sewer. Bugger. Green apologetic. Told him to sort out the mess. B. very upset and will probably need more therapy. Went home and changed uniform. Cancelled press conference.

Friday Depressing day. On the phone mostly sorting out the repair of the sewer. Called up to see the Boss – he was not happy at all. No more tunnel searches. Found two copies of the book in a second-hand shop on my way home and burnt them. Cheered up a bit. Rem – must follow up the Lara Croft lead on Monday (and clowns).

Justice Yet to be Done

It was sad to see – two shelves of Lynley Hood’s A City Possessed, heavily discounted at Whitcoulls.

Released only last October it hasn’t taken long for the book to hit the bargain bin. Perhaps it will encourage more people to read it (I know of one person who’s snapped up a copy), but what impact has Hood’s meticulously researched examination of the Civic Creche fiasco had?

Justice minister Phil Goff continues to refuse to read the book, opening himself and the judicial system to ridicule in the process. I particularly liked the www.menz.org.nz website’s take on it, which had Goff reverting to Dr Seuss: “I will not read that book by Hood, I will not, will not, say it’s good. I will just say the courts are right, I do not want to see the light…I will not read it, so I say, I wish that book would go away. I will not read it, not a bit, In case I have to act on it.”

Yet the issue won’t go away. Goff says it’s important that the judiciary is independent of interference and that the findings they come up with can’t be overturned on a political whim – an important democratic principle. Yet it is clear that the judiciary has failed to do its job, and there are major systemic failures which need to be remedied.

Meanwhile the sex abuse industry grinds on, destroying more lives. The Dominion (December 4, 2001) reports that social welfare psychologist Prue Vincent was fined $5000 and censured for botching a sex abuse investigation that left a man wrongly accused of molesting his young children. Vincent however, has been allowed to continue practising.

Her victim, the report said, spent $82,000 proclaiming his innocence in five hearings. He has never been told what he was supposed to have done to his children and since that day (“…Father’s Day. A bit poetic”) has been shut out of their lives.

The sexual abuse counsellors continue to ply their trade under the cover of the Family Court, immune from public scrutiny. Felicity Goodyear Smith’s critique of this court at the skeptics’ conference in Auckland a few years back still stands. As long as it continues to operate in secrecy lives will continue to be wrecked.

Annette's signature

Counselling may harm crash victims

People involved in incidents such as rail crashes, bombings or armed robberies may suffer more in the long run if they undergo intensive counselling, some psychologists believe.

“Debriefing” – in which victims or emergency services personnel are encouraged to talk about their experience – may not help people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In certain circumstances it may even make their symptoms worse, the British Psychological Association conference in Brighton was told last week.

Debriefing involves a one-off session held between 24 and 72 hours after the event. Counsellors take an individual or a group through the incident, encouraging them to talk through their emotions. In a study commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive, researchers from Birkbeck College, London, and the University of Sussex analysed the results of seven trials. They found no evidence that debriefing helped victims in the long term, but there was evidence that it harmed them.

“At best its efficacy is neutral, and at worst it can be damaging,” said Dr Jo Ricks, principal research fellow at the Institute of Employment Studies at the University of Sussex.

“In one study of victims of road traffic accidents, those suffering from severe post-traumatic stress had worse symptoms a year after the accident if they underwent debriefing than those who did not.”

Symptoms included flashbacks, emotional numb- ness and a heightened sense of fear. Dr Ricks said 75% of victims overcame their post-traumatic stress disorder without debriefing.

Sarah Hall, writing in the Guardian Weekly (13-1-2000, p8)

Forum

An article by Gordon Hewitt in NZ Skeptic 47 states, “In June 1995…an article appeared in this publication saying counselling was no use. This judgement was based on a single study conducted in 1939.” This is not true, but as the author of the article I am obviously biased. May I urge all skeptics to read it for themselves?

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Counselling, Criticism and Scepticism

As a counsellor and psychotherapist also trained in science and in scepticism I have been disappointed in the apparent lack of depth to the sceptical analysis of counselling that seems to be present from time to time in the NZ Skeptic. This lack of rigour in analysis goes back some way. In June 1995, for example, an article appeared in this publication saying counselling was no use. This judgement was based on a single study conducted in 1939.

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