Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Tapping in

One of the more peculiar versions of "alternative medicine" is the practice of "tapping."  Tapping is the brainchild of Gary Craig, a realtor with no medical training whatsoever, who apparently studied some books about "neurolinguistic programming," a counseling and therapy method now generally considered to be pseudoscience, and decided to go one step further and create a pseudoscience of his own.

Officially known as the "Emotional Freedom Technique," tapping involves first questioning a patient about his/her emotional and physical problems.  Having ascertained the type and intensity of the issues the patient is struggling with, the practitioner then has the patient repeat an "affirmation" as (s)he taps on the patient's body.  The tapping points are supposedly places where the "energy meridians are blocked," and the tapping process "inputs kinetic energy into the meridians," and thus "releases negative energy" and relieves the symptoms.  (Practitioners are cautioned that watches, glasses, and bracelets should not be worn by either practitioner or patient during the procedure, because they can "create a disturbance in the electromagnetic field that interferes with energy flow.")

Well.  Where do I start?

Perhaps the best thing to start with is a 2003 study at the University of Lethbridge, which compared the results of tapping "correctly" (i.e. using the supposed positions of energy meridians involved in various emotional issues) to those achieved by just tapping random spots on the patient's body.  Both the experimental and control groups showed the same level of improvement (not much) in their complaints.  EFT practitioners responded to the study with howls of indignation, stating that the positions of energy meridians differ from one person to the next, and therefore only a "trained professional in EFT practice" could determine what the appropriate tapping point was going to be.

All of which sounds mighty convenient to me.  It's the same thing as you hear from the psychics, clairvoyants, and mediums: your big ugly nasty old skepticism is interfering with the process.  So, basically, just "trust us."

The problem, of course, is that the people who do trust charlatans like the purveyors of EFT might not seek medical attention for problems that should be treated promptly.  Because now, the technique has progressed beyond the original vision of Gary Craig, which was to use it to treat psychological issues -- people like Joseph Mercola (read about him here) recommend tapping for treating chronic pain, weight gain issues, allergies, addictions, and sleep issues!  (Interestingly, they do include a disclaimer, which I quote:  "Meridian Tapping is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or psychological disorder. They urge that Tapping is not a substitute for medical or psychological treatment."  Seriously?  So what the hell is it supposed to be doing, then?)

What it's supposed to be doing, of course, is making people like Dr. Mercola and Gary the Realtor lots of money.  Mercola's site has for sale a book (Discover the Power of Tapping) and a DVD (The Tapping Solution), $39.97 if you buy them both at the same time.  And the true brilliance of this scam is that because the book and DVD teaches patients to perform their own tapping, there's no chance of a malpractice lawsuit -- if someone reads a book and then thinks he can fix his bee-sting allergy by thumping away on his "energy meridians," well, sucks to be him.

The whole thing makes me crazy.  We have here all of the hallmarks of voodoo science -- unverifiable claims, anecdotal reports, appeal to authority, vague use of words like "energy" and "field," and probable placebo effect.  Yet tapping is skyrocketing in popularity, and in fact has been endorsed enthusiastically by Jack Canfield, who founded the wildly popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series (latest titles:  Primordial Soup for the Biochemist's Soul and Atheists: No Soup for You!).

So my recommendation is: if someone suggests some ridiculous therapy for curing your physical or emotional problems, apply some critical thinking skills, for cryin' out loud.  Learn a little science.  And then see a doctor.  Doctors aren't perfect, but if it comes down to a choice between an MD and someone who claims he can cure my arthritis by tapping his fingers on my forehead, I'm going with the doctor.

1 comment:

  1. Every time you post something like this I go "Oh, I know what that is, my mother-in-law totally swears by it!" She's been trying to get us to do it too. Sigh. On the other hand, she does also see conventional doctors for her various aches and pains as well; unfortunately neither conventional nor alternative medicine ever seems to help her very much for very long.

    "Atheists: No Soup for You!" snorted soup out my nose laughing :-)