Want to know what a craniosacral treatment is actually like? How about reiki? What about Eden energy medicine – do you even know what that is? Read on, because this past Sunday afternoon I experienced all three.

But first, the why and where. The local Healing Arts Alliance of the Big Bend (which is what they call the area of Florida I live in) held an information session for the public at our local library’s meeting room. Practitioners of about 10 different “healing arts” sat at a circle of folding tables chatting with visitors and handing out information. One even brought her diagnostic machine, which measures a person’s aura. (More on this later.) Some offered free samples of their treatments. It was a great opportunity for science-based medicine field work and I aimed to take full advantage.

The Alliance handed out a free booklet at the door listing local health care practitioners who:

. . . share a commitment to the whole person, patient-centered approach to health and wellness.

But, as the booklet explains,

[w]e do not endorse any specific method or system. Our member/practitioners are committed to a nonjudgmental collaboration and cooperative relationship . . .

This philosophy is indeed fortunate. If any of these practitioners endorsed a specific method, such as, say, the scientific method, it could lead to the judgment that what some of the others are saying is gobbledygook.

The booklet contains a helpful “Glossary of Holistic Health Terms,” which further serves to make the point that nonjudgmental collaboration is absolutely necessary to the cause. A few examples:

BioMat: This device delivers the highest vibrational resonance deep into all the tissues of the body using negative ions, amethyst, and Far-Infrared light to open the channels for intelligent cellular communication leading to DNA repair and total body wellness. Negative ions, found in abundance in nature, heighten alertness and mental energy, and decrease drowsiness. Amethyst enhances strength, stability and vigor. Far-Infrared light assists blood flow, helps release toxins and enlivens metabolism. Elevating temperature eliminates bacteria, heals and relaxes muscles, boosts immune system [sic], and promotes cardio fitness and healthy arteries.

Total body wellness is hard to beat. The one true cure, indeed!

BioMat has some stiff competition in the cellular woo department. According to the booklet, there’s also Frequency Specific Microcurrent which:

. . . uses micro amperage current (1/1,000,000th amp) to balance tissues at their own level of frequency. Like the brain or heart, each type of tissue resonates/vibrates at a unique frequency. FSM modulates the imbalanced frequencies the cells may be producing to assist the body in correcting the imbalance.

What, no quantum? You just haven’t read far enough. Here’s Matrix Energetics, another remedy for poor cellular function:

Based on the laws and expression of subtle energy physics and the concepts and laws of quantum physics, superstring theory, and Sheldrake’s Morphic Resonance. In physics reality can be described as vibrations and wave pattern; everything is light and information. Disease may be defined as a disruption, cessation, or distortion in the matrix of these fields. Physical and emotional injuries impair communication at the cellular level.

And so on. But this is small potatoes when you consider the more global perspective of Earth Acupuncture, defined here:

Disperses and regulates the flow of vital energy within the earth. A treatment used to heal Geopathic Stress on-site or from a distance.

Geopathic Stress?

Unnatrual vibrations of energy within the land (below the foundation of a building) that cause health problems in people, animals, plants, and trees. “Chaos underground” is caused by electromagnetic fields from fault lines, sink holes, subterranean water, and underground power lines.

There’s no explanation of how Earth Acupuncture is done but I found this on the internet. It looks like a lot of geometry, which I never liked, so you’ll have to figure it out for yourself. But don’t be judgmental! We want to maintain our cooperative relationships here, even if it requires extreme cognitive dissonance.

There is also Visionary CranioSacral Therapy, as opposed to run-of-the-mill craniosacral therapy, which is what I had. (We’ll get to that next.) Pay attention – this is hard to follow.

Because of the proximity of the reciprocal tension membrane – a system of membranous partitions inside the head – to the respiratory, circulatory, and locomotive centers of the central nervous system, VCT can have widespread and profound effects on peripheral circulation and general well-being as it accesses specific brain structures and psychological states by directing energy in the form of chi kung; applying sensitive mechanical pressures, which act via an improvement in the position, motion, and piezoelectric field of specific cranial bones; causing improved hydraulic flow patterns in the cerebrospinal fluid; optimizing brain temperature by reducing muscular tension and increasing heat dissipation.

Got it? No? Me neither.

It’s all about the energy

The therapist who provided my complimentary craniosacral treatment had a much more mundane explanation for how craniosacral therapy works, but then again, I did not get the Visionary kind. Perhaps she wasn’t properly trained in it or perhaps you can’t just give that sort of thing away for free. Or maybe she determined that my brain temperature was already optimal. I’d like to think so.

In any event, my therapist explained that each person has an internal “body sock” which includes the fascia and perhaps some other things I can’t recall. What craniosacral therapy does is enlarge the body sock. I didn’t quite understand her explanation of how this enlarged body sock might benefit my health. Nor did I think to ask her what happened if the body sock got too large. Does it sag, like a pair of ill-fitting hose? Anatomy aside, she told me some of the conditions it could help, including ADHD, autism and problems of special needs children. She also said that newborns benefited from craniosacral therapy because the birth process is so hard on them. You’d think a fresh body sock like that wouldn’t need to be stretched, but what do I know?

The actual treatment is pretty easy to explain. She sat beside me and put her hands on my upper back, near the shoulder. We sat there for a few minutes like that while she talked about craniosacral therapy. She thought she felt some sort of “release” at the end of the treatment but I don’t know what exactly was released. An energy blockage perhaps? Obviously, I can’t check the size of my body sock so I can’t tell you whether it got bigger. I think not, as I didn’t feel anything during the treatment and, as far as I can tell, it conferred no health benefit. The treatment did have a side effect – nausea, at the thought of her treating children.

Reiki was different. For that treatment, two therapists sat behind me for about 10 minutes and each put a hand on my upper back. See the difference?

I thoroughly enjoyed talking to these women. They were entirely sincere about reiki and also had a great sense of humor. As they explained it, there is a universal life force which flows through the practitioner to the recipient. (I didn’t think to ask why the universal life force couldn’t just flow directly into a person who needed it.) All they do is get out of the way. In some cases, literally out of the way, as reiki can be remotely, from a great distance away. They need only the person’s name and address and the universal life force will find them. Maybe the universal life force uses Google maps. Sometimes they shoot some universal life force in a person’s direction even if he didn’t ask for it. Later, according to one, the person claims to have felt something. If she asks him what time this happened, guess what? She will recall that it was just as she was sending him a dose of universal life force.

What if the practitioner actually messes up the energy flowing into the recipient? I asked that question and they had actually thought about the issue. One simply said it was faith – in her abilities, I suppose. The other said it had to do with having actually felt the energy flowing between her two hands when she held them a short distance apart, a phenomenon I’ve heard described before by a therapeutic touch practitioner. I’m not sure how this answered my question but it satisfied her concerns.

They remarked that they were feeling warmth and asked if I was too. Well, yeah, I thought, that happens if you put your hands on another person for a few minutes. If the reiki affected my health in any fashion, I have yet to discover it.

My third clinical encounter was with an “Eden energy” practitioner. She too was a very nice person and quite sincere and sweet-natured about what she did. I didn’t get an actual treatment from her, but rather an examination of sorts. I held out my arm and she had me resist her hand pressing on the arm. (It was not unlike the type of thing a medical doctor would do during a neurological exam.) She then lightly pinched my upper arm and repeated the resistance test. After that she performed another diagnostic test. She had me hold out my arm again and resist her hand. This time she pulled slightly on a bit of my hair. Like the first test, we repeated the arm resistance.

The point of all this was to detect a difference in the movement of my arm following application of resistance while I continued to hold the arm straight out from my body, both before and after the arm pinching or the hair pulling. The latter were means of causing a temporary disturbance in the flow of energy through my body and each was associated with a particular diagnosis. The hair pull was a test of hydration, although she wouldn’t say whether I was hydrated or not because she said the tests were not valid due to my being in a room full of people, which likely caused me to be somewhat self-conscious. I never learned what the arm pinching was supposed to diagnose. Had I proceeded to actual treatment, energy blockages revealed by testing would be unblocked by energy therapy.

What interested me was that all three of these treatment methods were based to a degree on the flow of energy through my body, yet they had entirely different approaches. I got the impression that this was not a wholly nonjudgmental state of affairs. When the Eden energy practitioner and a reiki practitioner (but not one of my reiki practitioners) were sitting at the same table earlier in the afternoon, before my treatment, I asked each of them whether their treatments were hands-on or not. The Eden energy practitioner said no and the reiki practitioner said yes. I detected just a bit of negative energy flow between them during that exchange. Perhaps the reiki practitioner slapped the Eden energy practitioner long distance with a smidgen of bad universal life force and the former zapped the latter back with a tad of evil energy. I just hope none got on me.

The worst, saved for last

Although I didn’t get to talk to her, a chiropractor was there with her pamphlets extolling thermography for detection of breast cancer, an idea David Gorski thoroughly debunked. But evidence be damned. The chiropractor’s pamphlet recommends annual DITI (Digital Infrared Thermal Imagining) screening for all women. Why?

DITI detects the subtle physiologic changes that accompany breast pathology, whether it is cancer, fibrocystic disease, an infection or a vascular disease. Your doctor can then plan accordingly and lay out a careful program to further diagnose and/or MONITOR you during and after any treatment.

Your doctor? And who is this doctor? Who decides if further diagnosis is needed and who monitors you during and after treatment? I don’t know. The chiropractor lists herself as the thermographer on the brochure. The manufacturer of the DITI equipment says on its website that a radiologist or “thermologist” reads the digitized images, so at least she is not reading the thermograms. Then, according to the manufacturer, if the thermogram is positive:

. . . the job of differential diagnosis begins. Reports are colour printed and sent to the patients [sic] physician / specialist.

Who is this physician and who is doing the differential diagnosis? Let’s hope it’s not the chiropractor. Of course, if the patient is referred to a medical doctor he may be put in the uncomfortable position of trying to dissuade the patient from further unnecessary diagnostic procedures or telling her she wasted her money on the thermogram.

An “integrative” primary care practitioner had a table too, manned by a nurse practitioner, who apparently runs the practice. They also have an M.D. on staff and another one as a consulting physician. The practice offers “bio-identical hormones” based on a test referred to as “FSP,” a saliva test. They also test (via a different method) for “toxins.” They sell supplements to patients and conduct Functional Medicine tests. They use the iSpot Lyme test to diagnose “difficult cases which may be Lyme Disease,” even though the incidence of Lyme Disease in Florida is miniscule. They say this test is covered by Medicare and Tricare. According to their literature, most of their Spectracell FIA – Functional Nutritional Analysis – is covered as well. This test “asks” your own cells what nutrients they lack.

And now, the worst of the worst.

I earlier mentioned the aura measuring machine. Here it is, the REBA device:
REBA machine image
I’ll try to explain how this REBA device “works,” according to the M.D. who uses it in her practice. That’s right, an M.D.

The device shoots waves, such as gamma waves, into the patient. The doctor then interprets how the waves are affecting the patient. This gives her a diagnosis. The diagnosis is part of a system called Psychosomatic Energetics, which is, according to the pamphlet she handed out:

. . . a new method of treating illnesses in a holistic way, considering the body and soul as well as the vital energies. . . . It is based on a combination of Eastern energy medicine, such as acupuncture or yoga, with scientific, modern thinking. . . . Psychosomatic Energetics enables you to measure the subtle energy field of the body (aura) very precisely. [The aim is] to find energy deficiencies and to rebalance them, like in acupuncture and homeopathy.

The pamphlet goes on to explain how one’s energy levels are disturbed by unconscious emotional conflicts which alter the function of the autonomic nervous system, leading to energy blocks. Different emotions are related to different chakras. These blocks, in turn, lead to malnutrition of the cells, resulting in pain and illness. Relief is obtained through the use of “homeopathic chakra remedies,” (sold under the brand name Rubimed) including those effective in treating the aforementioned geopathic stress, as well as electro-smog, which I take to be a related problem. One uses a homeopathic remedy called Geovita for this unfortunate condition, along with repositioning one’s bed in the bedroom, which assists in rebalancing energies and overcoming the effects of electro-smog.

I suppose if your back goes out repositioning the bed there is something for that too.

When I questioned the M.D./Psychosomatics Energetics Practitioner about her methods, her answers tended to attack medicine, not defend what she was doing. She claimed “science is a religion.” Yet, she freely traded on her status as an M.D. and a “science nerd” in promoting her practice. (According to the Alliance booklet, she completed an Integrative Medicine residency at the University of Arizona. This information is right next to “Certified in Professional Applied Kinesiology.”) I kept repeating that I was not defending medicine, I was asking her to defend her practice. She said she “had seen it work,” but never really responded to my point that this could easily be regression to the mean, confirmation bias, or the placebo effect. I asked if there were any clinical trials of her methods and she said there were in Europe and that they had been published there, where Psychosomatic Energetics is widely used. (This reminded me a little of the TV infomercial pitch: “Not sold in stores, thousands sold in Europe.”) However, the only studies I could find were referenced on the International Society of Psychosomatic Energetics website. In a classic example of Tooth Fairy Science, they were three practice-based studies published in the Swiss Journal of Holistic Medicine. The Society notes that:

Although the phenomenon has long been known and demonstrated on TV and even on YouTube, there is as yet no recognized body of knowledge.

I later found out that, in May of this year, the FDA sent a warning letter to the manufacturer of the REBA device, located in Switzerland. The letter is four pages long and details, in mind-numbing bureaucrat-ese, a number of legal problems the FDA has with the REBA, which the FDA classifies a bio-feedback device, not an aura detector. The end result of all this is that the FDA “is taking steps to refuse entry of these devices into the United States until these violations are corrected.” I don’t know if this affects REBA devices already in the U.S. or not. I called the FDA to find out but have not heard back. The website of the U.S. distributor says that the device is “currently unavailable.”

Alternative medicine as observed in the field is pretty much what one would expect. New, and sometimes competing, forms of pseudoscience are simply rehashes of the same old pseudoscience, tarted up with more advanced “sciency” terms like quantum physics and superstring theory. Words are strung together in meaningless phrases like “open the channels for intelligent cellular communication leading to DNA repair.” Unfortunately, even medical (including nursing) education appears to be insufficient to inoculate practitioners against irrational beliefs. It is deeply disturbing to see this in action. Other practitioners, who don’t have a clue about how the body works, hawk treatments that have no plausible basis in science and are either known to be ineffective or their effectiveness is unknown, but doubtful. Silly diagnostic devices are used to convince the public they have diseases and conditions they don’t have, followed by treatments sold to them by the same practitioners who test them. Under the banner of “complementary and alternative medicine” anything goes.


  • Jann J. Bellamy is a Florida attorney and lives in Tallahassee. She is one of the founders and Board members of the Society for Science-Based Medicine (SfSBM) dedicated to providing accurate information about CAM and advocating for state and federal laws that incorporate a science-based standard for all health care practitioners. She tracks state and federal bills that would allow pseudoscience in health care for the SfSBM website.  Her posts are archived here.    

Posted by Jann Bellamy

Jann J. Bellamy is a Florida attorney and lives in Tallahassee. She is one of the founders and Board members of the Society for Science-Based Medicine (SfSBM) dedicated to providing accurate information about CAM and advocating for state and federal laws that incorporate a science-based standard for all health care practitioners. She tracks state and federal bills that would allow pseudoscience in health care for the SfSBM website.  Her posts are archived here.