A recent article in the Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work documents over 400 websites of social workers, most engaged in some form of mental health counseling, using questionable practices, from “Access Consciousness” to “Zero Balancing Practitioner.” Given the pervasiveness of pseudoscience in healthcare, discussed countless times here on Science-Based Medicine, this should surprise no one. After all, if the venerable Cleveland Clinic can offer reiki, functional medicine, and Chinese herbs to its patients without sanction, what’s to keep Licensed Clinical Social Workers from practicing Angelic Channeling, Plant Spirit Medicine, and Theta Healing?
This survey of websites does not purport to be systematic or to estimate the prevalence of these practices among social workers. Nor do the authors mean to indict the entire profession, recognizing “that there are social workers who conduct critically important work every day.” (On a personal note, my daughter, a social worker, is one of these: She works with foster families in a job that is both extremely stressful and incredibly rewarding.) Rather, the authors, two academics from New York University and The City University of New York, simply wanted to see what was out there. They conducted Google searches using search strings consisting of “LSCW” [Licensed Clinical Social Worker] and similar professional designations (e.g., “MSW” for the Masters of Social Work degree) and terms like “healing” or “angels.” They use their findings as a springboard to ask their profession whether social workers should be engaged in these practices and, if the answer is “no,” then “what will you do about it?”, questions they raise but do not answer. (We’ll return to these questions in a moment.)
So, what did they find? Unfortunately, a whole lot of utter nonsense. Space does not permit me to catalogue each practice, only a few highlights. (The article is online and provides links to all of the websites if you want more examples. Because of this, I am eschewing links to each and every website mentioned in the post, thereby avoiding turning practically the whole post blue.)
Some social workers practice the sort of pedestrian pseudoscience we’re all familiar with here at SBM: reiki, reflexology, acupressure, Bach flower remedies, aromatherapy, healing touch, and acudetox.
Other social workers are into angels. If their websites are to be believed (see also here and here), angels lack the heavenly agency ascribed to them in the Bible and need people with degrees in social work to act as intermediaries. There’s angel card readings, angel communicator, angel messenger, angel readings, angel therapy practitioner, angelic channeling, angelic massage, certified angel therapy practitioner, certified archangel life coach, certified angelic life purpose coach, archangelic light, certified master angel practitioner, golden angel healing work, guidance from the angelic realm, guided healing meditation followed by individual angel messages, intuitive angel and fairy expert, Mary Queen of Angels cards, and Spirit Wings: An angel painting course.
In fact, commerce with incorporeal entities is not uncommon. Practices listed in the article include akashic record reading, ancestor work, spiritual direction, chakra balancing, chakra healing and chakra dance, clairvoyant psychotherapy, extraction (“removing localized spiritual intrusion”), divine channel, and lots of shamanic work: shamanic clearings, shamanic healing, shamanic divination, shamanic extraction healing, shamanic ways of healing, shamanic interventions (“including extraction of psychotoxic intrusions, soul retrieval/power animal retrieval, divination”), shamanic journey circles and shamanic psychotherapist. Also: soul coaching, soul collage, soul detective, soul retrieval, soul therapy, spirit attachment work, spirit wings, spiritual awakening, spiritual empowerment, spiritual lovefare, spiritual medium, and spiritual response technique.
Different forms of energy “therapy” are popular as well (because, as one website says, “energy becomes stagnant and causes what is called energy blockages that can manifest as chronic emotional pain” etc.). Included are An-Ra energy healing, Eden energy medicine, integrated energy therapy, Christa energy attunement, core star energy healing, energy clearing, energy medicine, energy/tantric therapies, Four Winds Society energy practices, gua-sha with energy balance, intuitive energy healing, La Ho Chi energy healing, energy coach, soul-directed energy healing, subtle energy healing, transformational energy medicine, and Zensight energy healing.
This energy “therapy” is remarkably effective, according to its practitioners:
Bengston Energy Healing Method, a powerful, safe energy therapy that can produce remarkable results for both people and animals, from providing adjunctive treatment for cancer as well as helping improve asthma, depression, digestive diseases, anxiety, allergies, Alzheimers, arthritis, cataracts and other ophthalmological disorders, eczema and many other physical and emotional problems.
Balancing your energies balances your body’s chemistry, regulates your hormones, helps you feel better, and helps you think better.
Through the crown of the head, frenetic energy, stressful images, self incrimination/doubt and worry about the future is released up and out, like smoke up a chimney.
Acupuncture has proven a fertile ground upon which to build various permutations, equally implausible and lacking in evidence, but nevertheless used by several social workers in their practices. In addition to the acudetox mentioned earlier, social workers also practice acutonics, TAPAS Acupressure Technique, and REMAP.
Acutonics is worthy of its own post, but, briefly:
Everything in the Universe vibrates, from the smallest particle, to the planets in our solar system, to the billions of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, creating patterns of geometric waveforms, frequencies, musical intervals, and sounds.
The sounds of the Universe are brought into health care through the use of precision calibrated planetary tuning forks and symphonic planetary gongs. Acupressure points and chakras provide noninvasive access into these core energy systems within the body. The planets provide musical intervals, archetypes, psychological depth, and correspondences that help us to fine-tune the therapeutic frequencies that are applied to the body.
This is, of course,
. . . grounded in Oriental medicine, psychology, science, cosmological studies and sound healing principles.
In the case of acutonics, a picture really is worth a thousand words.
You can see the planetary gongs, which “set a powerful stage for the therapeutic setting by dramatically shifting the molecular environment, setting up layers of vibrations in the air that resound through our emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual bodies” here.
TAPAS acupressure technique [TAT] was developed in 1993 by an acupuncturist named Tapas (so much for “used for thousands of years.”) According to the TATLife website:
While in the TAT Pose (touching acupressure points on your head), attention is put on a set of specific statements. This simple process can effortlessly dissolve past traumas, clear negative beliefs, or end critical voices…and you don’t have to talk about it, think about it, or figure anything out. The TAT process uplifts your entire system — physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. It helps you have more love, happiness and peace. TAT has been used successfully to end fears and phobias, lessen every kind of stress, heal the emotional origins of physical disease, and manifest a happy life here and now.
Really, why pay for expensive psychotherapy when all you have to do is touch some acupressure points on your head?
REMAP stands for Reed Eye Movement Acupressure Psychotherapy, which was developed by (you guessed it) someone named Reed. REMAP
. . . is the innovative synthesis of mind-body therapy, brain science, powerful behavioral desensitization, counter-conditioning, mindfulness and simple, yet effective cognitive interventions. . . . REMAP has a central focus of calming the emotional midbrain and soothing the sympathetic nervous system in order to counter condition subcortical conditioned responses. Through innovative applications of acupressure, mindfulness, breath regulation and activation of regions within the visual field, REMAP works from body to brain in order to desensitize emotional distress. Through this mechanism [as if they’ve actually explained it], the REMAP methods help to retrain the limbic system to make associations of relaxation and comfort with memories that were previously coded as painful.
One can actually become “certified” in acutonics, TAT and REMAP. In fact, the cachet of certification and its implied legitimacy can be achieved in any number of pseudoscientific practices employed by social workers: Certified Angelic Life Purpose Coach, Certified Avesa Quantum Healer, Certified Biofield Tuning Practitioner, Certified BTB Feng Shui Master, Certified Cuddle Party Facilitator (which sounds a bit creepy), Certified Dream Coach, Certified Flower and Gem Essence Therapist, Certified Humanistic Sand Tray Therapist, Certified Intuitive Healer, Certified Matrix Energetics Practitioner, Certified Neurokinesis Practitioner, and Certified Theta Healer, among others.
Like the creators of acutonics, TAT and REMAP, entrepreneurs have fabricated elaborate (allegedly) therapeutic systems, either by combining established pseudoscientific practices or, in some cases, just making stuff up on their own. For example, Bodytalk uses a modified form of applied kinesiology quackery to
. . . easily ask your body what communication circuits have become compromised and in which order these lines of communication need to be re-established for the fastest possible healing process to occur.
Your practitioner uses the BodyTalk Protocol Chart to determine the weakened or broken energy circuits in your bodymind complex that are being highlighted by your innate healing wisdom
The practitioner then lightly taps you on the top of the head, which stimulates your brain and causes it to initiate corrections to the broken circuits. This is similar to how the CPU of a computer runs and executes programs. [Actually, it’s not.] This tapping activates the brain centers in a way that causes the brain to reevaluate the bodymind’s state of health and then align the frequencies within the bodymind to match the formula that was created.
This is followed by taps to the sternum and navel for similarly laughable purposes.
Implausible hardly begins to describe Bodytalk, yet this social worker claims it eliminated allergies, food poisoning and jet lag, as well as “balanced” an irregular heartbeat, ADD and ADHD.
Finally, in the “you can’t make this stuff up” category, we find Aura Infusions, which apparently is made up and used by this single practitioner. (No “certification” in Aura Infusions is offered.)
Each Aura Infusion is carefully blended to bring in higher energies, repair your energy electrical system and balance your mood. The bottles are prepared individually, with the utmost care and attention to assure a high vibration product. A Herkimer Diamond is prepared for each bottle, which harmonizes the formulation of botanicals and gems, and prepares these energies to be transmitted to the aura. The Herkimer diamond is placed inside each bottle, which potentiates the botanicals and gems in the formula. The effect of vibrational alchemy allows your original energetic blueprint to emerge according to your own pace. . .
Typically, these botanical blends are sprayed into the air around you as you enjoy the aromatics. Your Aura Field will come into contact with the synergistic vitality of the spray. Also, the air-borne molecules of the high grade aromatherapy oils are taken into the olafactory [sic] bulb, where they are translated into impulses received by the limbic brain for relaxation, centering, and settling and balancing of emotions.
The answer is “no”
Returning to the question the authors ask in the title of their article, but do not answer – Should social workers be engaged in these practices? – I would answer most emphatically “no”. What, then, as they also ask, to do about it?
Social workers are regulated by the individual states in the U.S., each with different laws, rules, and requirements for licensure. Complaints can be filed with regulatory boards or, if the alleged wrongdoer is a member of the National Association of Social Workers, with that organization.
But if the prevalence of pseudoscience in medicine is any indication of how well a state regulatory system works to combat quackery, this is obviously not the solution, although it might offer some deterrence. There needs to be a concerted national effort to stamp out pseudoscience in all of healthcare. Unfortunately, since medicine and other healthcare professions have abandoned science as a standard, and legislators fail to effectively regulate quackery (in fact, they regularly incorporate it into law), that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.