Monday, May 13, 2013

Emotional Freedom Techniques, pseudoscience flavor of the moment

Art by Alex Grey
Emotional Freedom Techniques or "EFT" seem to be the flavor of the year in terms of Deepak Chopra style cure-all therapies, claiming to fix everything from PTSD to dental pain to obesity. (Deepak Chopra does in fact provide a testimonial.)

However, when you look closer at the techniques, they present very little more than hand waving towards Eastern-style meridian / energy work and fairly tried and true self-hypnosis techniques. While many therapists have in fact discovered some amount of efficacy in regard to emotional trauma, this is in no way certain.

Is skepticism toward this practice simply sour grapes on the part of practitioners of "less effective" therapies, as the proponents of EFT would claim ?
An article in the Skeptical Inquirer argued that there is no plausible mechanism to explain how the specifics of EFT could add to its effectiveness, and they have been described as unfalsifiable and therefore pseudoscientific.[5]

The falsifiability claim is a very important one. For something to have any place within the context of the scientific method, it has to be able to be falsified. If you can't demonstrate that something is untrue, how can you demonstrate that it is true? This method includes the possibility that something demonstrated "untrue" could later be demonstrated "true" and vice versa, and further that rather than being a binary yes or no, there are degrees of truth and untruth. None of this matters in the context of pseudoscientific claims that so often depend on anecdotal proofs and tautological claims.

As a long-time practitioner of many arts that have their origin in Taoism and Chinese Medicine, it might seem odd that I would be skeptical of a practice like EFT. My first sign was how many of the books on this subject are 75% aimed at assuaging doubt, rather than actually providing practical methodology. At the same time, these "proofs" are all tautological, almost none of them getting at the actual issues involved in neutrally demonstrating a claim.

I have a rule of thumb about all practices, especially those that fall outside the possibility of falsifiability:

They must not depend on belief to work.

For instance, you can not believe in the physical reality of "energy fields," "chi," or "chakras" and still find both intense experiences and even physical benefit from practices such as yoga, chi gung, baguazhang, meditation, and so on. It is, in many of those cases, more than enough to look at these things as metaphorical, and even if you are unwilling to do that, you will very likely discover that acupuncture produces deep states of relaxation, and bagua produces equally deep states of introspection and increases in hand-eye coordination.

A dependence on belief is a major sign that quackery is at work. I do not doubt that EFT can produce results in the same way that other self-hypnosis techniques can produce results, but the context of these results is dangerous if you believe the claims.

In other words, tapping can mitigate immediate dental pain in some cases. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't see a dentist. Similarly, EFT has been shown to temporarily alleviate the immediate symptoms of PTSD, but if you think you are "curing" PTSD with EFT, you are running the serious risk of deluding yourself in ways that could have disastrous results. (Despite the claims the exist within EFT books.)

This is the reason that it has been warned against in publications such as The Skeptics Dictionary and Quackwatch, rather than because such people are "afraid of its efficacy," as several EFT authors have claimed in their books when dealing in advance with expected skepticism.

[Where is the fucking counterculture? Mythos Media.]

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