Thursday, August 20, 2009

Quack psychotherapy kills

"Encounter groups" and the like once had a certain vogue in mainstream psychology but it became apparent that they often did more harm than good to vulnerable people and they therefore largely fell out of mainstream use. The quacks, however, seem to have reinvented and worsened the procedures.

Last I heard, NSW had psychologist registration laws requiring 6 years of accredited training in some form. I would have thought that the quacks below were in breach of that and could be prosecuted

JOHN Marshall had a sense of deja vu when he heard that Rebekah Lawrence had jumped naked to her death just days after completing a self-help course. Eighteen years earlier, Mr Marshall's stepson died during a self-help program run by the creator of Ms Lawrence's course. "When I first heard about it in the news, I thought, my God," Mr Marshall told The Australian yesterday. "They're identical. They've just changed the dates and the names."

Darren Hughes was 24 when, in 1987, he fell to his death from a 12m-high window during the Breakthrough residential self-help program. In 2005, Lawrence jumped naked to her death from her office window, just two days after completing The Turning Point course. Hughes's course was run by the Walter Bellin Partnership until 1988. Mr Bellin also created The Turning Point course.

The inquest into Lawrence's death heard last week from Geoffrey Kabealo, the chief executive of People Knowhow, the company behind The Turning Point and Breakthrough courses since 1988. Mr Kabealo said last week that "some 40,000 people have come through the (Turning Point) course and we haven't had any episodes like Rebekah Lawrence". Mr Kabealo has since denied any knowledge of Hughes's death.

Mr Marshall, a sergeant with Sydney Water Police, said organisers of the course were aware of his stepson's mental problems. Hughes had been in a psychiatric hospital, had had electric shock therapy and was recovering from drug addiction. Mr Marshall warned one of the organisers that his stepson should not be doing the $1500 course because of his mental health history. "It's all right," the organiser told him. "He's on a higher plane now." The woman he spoke to was a volunteer who had taken the course herself but who did not have any professional training.

The inquest into Lawrence's death heard a similar story about the volunteers' training. The 34-year-old called two members of her "service team" the night before she died. The first team member told the inquest he had not expected to receive calls in the middle of the night. The other told Lawrence she was not qualified to answer her questions. Neither had any formal training or qualifications in counselling or psychology.

Mr Marshall said his stepson, a welder and boilermaker, was on medication and "seemed to be getting himself back on track" before starting the Breakthrough course. It was on the fourth day of the program that Hughes fell 2 1/2 storeys at a guest house in Robertson, in the NSW southern highlands. A policeman told Mr Marshall the group had reacted to Hughes's death "as if nothing had happened".

Mr Marshall said the organisers "took participants' watches away and any personal effects, like photos, that gave them a link to their identities". "The idea was to disorientate them and reprogram them," he said. Hughes's parents describe the course when it was run by the Walter Bellin Partnership as "brainwashing" and "a cult". The inquest into Hughes's death recorded an open verdict, but his mother, Dorothy Marshall, believes the course was to blame. She said she was horrified to discover "that the same people could do it again". "They take innocent young people that trust them and they destroy them mentally," she said.

Mr Marshall hopes the inquest into Lawrence's death will ensure courses use qualified practitioners and are properly regulated. "Otherwise it will happen again," he said.


Junk food dummies: How bingeing on burgers and chips can drain your brainpower -- if you are a rat

This generalization from rats has a number of problems. The rats were fed a VERY high fat diet and fat is probably not a large part of a normal rat diet anyway. They would not have good adaptation to it. So once again poor generalizability from rodent studies to humans can be expected

Eating too much fast food will make you thicker in more ways than one, according to a study. As well as expanding the waistline, a high-fat diet of curries, kebabs, burgers and chips can make you less intelligent. The research was performed by scientists at Oxford University on rats. A high-fat diet over less than ten days damaged the rodents’ short-term memory and made them less mentally alert, as well as significantly decreasing their ability to exercise.

The group of biological experts say their results – dubbed a ‘high-fat hangover’ – show an important link between what people eat, how they think, and how our bodies perform.

Andrew Murray, co-author of the study, said: ‘Western diets are typically high in fat and are associated with long-term complications such as obesity, diabetes, and heart failure yet the short-term consequences of such diets have been given relatively little attention. ‘We hope that the findings of our study will help people to think seriously about reducing the fat content of their daily food intake to the immediate benefit of their general health, well-being and alertness.’

The research team studied rats fed a lowfat diet, comprising just 7.5 per cent of calories as fat, and compared them with rats fed a high-fat junk food diet, typically 55 per cent of calories as fat. They discovered that after just four days the muscles of the rats eating the high-fat diet were less able to use oxygen to make the energy needed to exercise, causing their hearts to work harder and increase in size. After nine days on a high-fat diet, the rats took longer to complete a maze and made more mistakes in the process than their low-fat-diet counterparts. The number of correct decisions before making a mistake dropped from over six to an average of five to 5.5.

The low-fat rats were also running 50 per cent further by this stage than their fatter and ‘thicker’ counterparts.

Researchers then investigated the cellular causes of these problems, particularly in muscle cells. They found increased levels of a protein called uncoupling protein 3, which made the cells less efficient at using oxygen to make the energy required for running.

The findings are published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology. Dr Gerald Weissmann, editor of the journal, said: ‘It’s nothing short of a high-fat hangover.’

The research funded by the British Heart Foundation may have implications for athletes looking for the best diet for training and patients with metabolic disorders. The scientists are now studying the effect of a short-term high-fat diet on humans.



Anonymous said...

Er since when was curry an exclusively Western diet? Do people in other parts of the world not eat fat? What about palm oil and ghee both central ingredients in African and Asian cookery. Why have we all accepted this "Western diet" brainwashing.

Anonymous said...

Regarding your article about The Turning Point, and the tragic death of Rebecca Lawrence- I was involved with this organisation in the 1980s and 1990s. There was a suicide on residential course called Breakthrough, at a country NSW 'retreat'. At the time, Walter Bellin (who devised the Turning Point and headed the organisation then), got the participants together, and asked them not to talk about the suicide. He explained that suicide was the 'ultimate I centred action' (or, translated, the ultimate 'selfish' act of one who needs to be the centre of attention), and took NO responsibility for it at all.

Walter Bellin has managed to distance himself from this event, but it doesn't matter how long he's' been away from The Turning Point- HE DEVISED IT. The course is HIS creation, in whatever form it takes, and in whatever way it may have 'evolved'.

I don't believe Walter Bellin had ill-intentions, but he was an outright COWARD when it came to taking responsibility for the fact that 'magical thinking' does not necessarily help someone with a history of serious depression, which this unfortunate man who suicided had. Despite knowing this, the man was urged to dump his medication for the duration of the course, and the consequences were devastating.

I have NEVER seen Walter Bellin held accountable for that terrible event, and believe he did everything in his power to make sure no one spoke about it, because he feared the obvious bad publicity.

For Walter Bellin to say that he left the organisation a long time ago, and for him to distance himself in this way, is dishonest.

The course is great for people like Walter Bellin- who don't appear to suffer chemical imbalances, and who are self-directed and able to cut themselves off from the pain of others. But they are NOT great for highly sensitive people, and a great many of us were hurt and angered by his response to that suicide and his seeming lack of empathy and compassion- especially given that this is what he 'preached'.

I believe his ex-wife, Gita Bellin, was a far more compassionate soul, despite Walter's 'theories' that he was the 'you centred' (or giving, and self sacrificing one) in the marriage, and that she had a reverse 'I centred' personality. In fact, the opposite was true, and Walter Bellin's self devised psychology theories, were never subject to any rigorous scrutiny, peer review or anything else, because he developed a system where nothing he did was open to scrutiny.

In addition, many articles state that he was a psychology 'lecturer' at The University of California, and maybe he was, but this too seems odd, given that Walter Bellin has a mere BA in psychology, when most lecturers require Phds, or surely Masters degrees at the very least! So, I'm not sure what section of the university he 'lectured' in.

I think he came to Australia at a time when a lot of Americans thought we were pretty easy people to impress!

I stress that he had good intentions, but was severely lacking in empathy, compassion and the capacity to understand that not everyone was just like him. In many ways he was the least 'evolved' of all the individuals in the organisation.

He had charisma, but I don't think he was a particularly gifted or insightful individual, and I think he needs to be held accountable for the more recent suicides, since the course is his own creation.