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Unproven Claims of Caroline Myss
Council for Media Integrity Alert
Contact Matt Nisbet 716-636-1425
April 23, 1998
AMHERST, N.Y.— Caroline Myss, self-described medical intuitive and author of the recent best seller Why People Don't Heal and How They Can (Harmony), claims to be able to divine illness by reading a person's energy fields. Such ability has never been verified under laboratory situations and is likely to lead to misdiagnosis.
Myss advocates untested therapies such as acupuncture, accupressure, reflexology, simple massage, the biblical "laying on of hands", "therapeutic touch", "talk therapy," crystal healing, herbal remedies, homeopathy, meditation, and, of course, prayer.
Her success as a best selling author (she has also written Anatomy of the Spirit) is the latest symptom of a public infatuated with all things alternative, mystical and spiritual. It is estimated that Americans spend $14 billion annually on health-related therapies that have not been scientifically validated. As the market demand for unproven alternative healing therapies grow, Americans are at increased risk of misdiagnosis and mistreatment.
Following is a review of Myss' Why People Don't Heal and How They Can by Joe Nickell, Senior Research Fellow with the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP.) Nickell is the world's leading paranormal investigator and author or editor of sixteen books.
The Council for Media Integrity is a network of prominent scientists, academics and members of the media concerned with the balanced portrayal of science in the media. It was launched at the 1996 First World Skeptics Congress and is sponsored by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP.)
Bestselling "Medical Intuitive"
by Joe Nickell
Caroline Myss, Ph.D., author of the currently bestselling Why People Don't Heal and How They Can, is a self-styled "medical intuitive." That is, somewhat like the "seer" Edgar Cayce (1877--1945) who offered "medical" diagnoses while hypnotized, Ms. Myss claims she somehow became able to divine illnesses in 1983. "As a medical intuitive," she declares, "I describe for people the nature of their physical diseases as well as the energetic dysfunctions that are present within their bodies." To accomplish this, she reads "the energy field that permeates and surrounds the body, picking up information about dramatic childhood experiences, behavior patterns, even superstitious beliefs, all of which have bearing on the person's physical health."
Myss provides no proof of her alleged abilities. She intuits, of course, her intuitive power, offers only hearsay testimonials and anecdotal evidence as support. Her Ph.D. is touted on the book jacket but there is no clarification of her academic training. Instead, she is described as "a prominent figure in holistic consciousness."
What Myss terms "energy medicine" is "actually quite an old field of knowledge," she says, its premises and methods being common to ancient Chinese and Hindu practitioners as well as medicine men.
But is it knowledge or merely belief? In contrast to objective, scientific medicine, which continues to make important breakthroughs in identifying and treating diseases, injuries, and other illnesses, "energy medicine" is based on mysticism and pseudoscience. Often incorporating such New Age fads as astrology, yoga, and reincarnation, it is part of what Myss terms "the alternative healing community." The "healers" offer varied procedures. For lupus, for example (an ulcerous skin disease Myss admits has "essentially no cure"), the faddish healers may offer "treatments" ranging "from acupuncture to visualization to aromatherapy." For those who may be squeamish about acupuncture, there are such alternatives as accupressure (which forgoes the needles), reflexology (limited to pressure on certain zones of the feet), simple massage or the biblical "laying on of hands" (which eliminate special zones), or even "therapeutic touch" (a misnomer for merely passing the hands over the subject). As well, there are "talk therapy," crystal healing, herbal remedies, homeopathy, meditation, and, of course, prayer. "Skilled physician" is listed as just one among many possibilities.
Almost anything will do. Myss encourages individuals to believe: "There are no wrong choices. Every choice I believe in is an effective means of healing." Her caution to "get a second and even a third professional opinion" is weakened by her definition of "professional" to include virtually all types of "holistic" practitioners. "Any treatment," she states, "that can enhance your healing and bring hope and strength back to your body is worth considering." Nowhere does Myss cite any scientific double-blind experiments in support of such alternative treatments, instead merely offering the old feel-good remedies of "spirituality," the power of positive thinking, and the placebo effect.
Myss provides the revelation that "Our culture in the 1980s was hungry for healing and searching for the experience or state of mind that would ignite a healing fire." Yet the desire for healing has always existed and has brought forth such illusory means as medicinal springs, faith-healing revivals, and bottled cure-alls. Myss is concerned about the type of negativity she labels "woundology." That is the tendency to "define ourselves by our wounds" and consequently to "burden and lose our physical and spiritual energy and open ourselves to the risk of illness."
Alas, the fashionable Aquarian Age view is itself not without risk. Although Myss does not dismiss "conventional" medicine, her advocacy of "alternative" and "complementary" treatments may lead desperate readers of her bestselling literary nostrum to just such a dismissal --- with potentially tragic consequences.
Myss's philosophy is that "Our lives are made up of a series of mysteries that we are meant to explore but that are meant to remain unsolved." Such mystery-mongering naturally leads to occult, mystical, and magical thinking. A more enlightened view would hold that mysteries should neither be fostered nor suppressed, but rather should be carefully investigated in hopes of solving them. Indeed, one can see the progress of civilization as a series of solved mysteries. This is the attitude that led to the development of polio vaccine and the eradication of smallpox. "Energy medicine" can boast of no comparable successes.