When promoting cognitive behavior therapy for fibromyalgia is quackery

A probing of a story about fibromyalgia popping in my Facebook feed revealed incredible misleading claims and dips into quackery

My exploration of what becomes quackery begin with an unexpected item appearing in my Facebook newsfeed. It turned out to be coverage of an earlier  BBC news story on fibromyalgia:

Fibromyalgia to be recognised as long-term condition (BBC  21 September 2016) 

A selection of some bullet points from the accurate article based on the BBC News item:

  • Fibromyalgia is to be recognised by health professionals in Northern Ireland as a long-term condition.
  • People who suffer from it complain of aches all over the body, as well as profound fatigue.
  • Other symptoms include headaches, sleep deprivation and difficulty concentrating.
  • Despite the severity of symptoms, people living with the condition in NI have said their voices have gone unheard and their symptoms ignored.
  • Fibromyalgia is recognised as a condition by NHS Choices in England and Scotland, meaning treatments should be available to patients.
  • While there is no specific figure for Northern Ireland, it is thought around one in 25 may be coping with symptoms – a majority of them undiagnosed.

Readers who want to jump to an accurate US Center for Disease Control fact sheet to learn more about fibromyalgia can click here.

But the item was appearing in my Facebook news feed because someone who turned out to be lacking in accepted credentials  promoting her dubous treatment with dubious claims.

She said:

Despite what you may have come to be told or believe, Fibromyalgia is actually an emotional stress illness that manifests from suppressed and repressed emotions such as rage, anger, fear, worry, sadness, hurt etc. It is totally treatable and I have successfully treated many people through the Stress Illness Recovery Programme to full recovery. If you would like to find out more do not hesitate to contact me. You’ve nothing to lose except your pain.

I would subsequently uncover lots of information that led to a judgment she was a quack. But here is what alerted me to be skeptical.

She was trying to quell people’s skepticism by telling them “Despite what you may have heard or believe.”

Why should we suspend skepticism? What evidence is she offering that we should do so? 

She was also stating that fibromyalgia is actually emotional disorder caused by repressed and suppressed emotions. That ia a pseudoscientific claim lacking in evidence or credibility.

Talking about physical conditions as caused by repressed and suppressed emotion is a throwback to discredited 1950s  version of psychosomatic conditions. You can find my further discussion of this discredited framework here. 

But recognizable, conventional, evidence-based cognitive behavior therapy does not address “repressed and suppressed emotion.”  This is a throwback to the therapy  promoted by Hans Eysenck with fraudulent data that some of us have tried hard to get retracted from the journals were Eysenck managed to use his influence to get papers published.

She suggested that fibromyalgia is “totally treatable” to “full recovery”  through her stress illness recovery program. That claim is misleading to consumers and exploitative of them. The claim may even be actionable through advertising authorities.

After all, a manufacturer was required to pay $1 million dollars for making such claims about pillows and at least consumers got pillows for their money.

We should beware of anyone making claims about physical conditions being totally treatable to full recovery particularly with their personal brand of treatment that has not been independently evaluated.

Let’s just say that this practitioner has a penalty flag on the field, but we don’t dismiss her totally yet. We certainly have ample basis for rejecting what she is saying as exploitative nonsense and moving on.  But instead we click on the link that is provided and go to her website.

Louise Levy MA(Acrdt), DipCAH, DipCBH,HPD, PNLP, MNCH(Acc)  SQHP GHR, Adv DipLC, PG DipCG, SIRPA Adv, BTFT, DPLT

Wow! What an awe-inspiring set of letters after her name. Is one missing: BFD [Big Freaking Deal]? But what do any of them mean? And since when do we find qualified professionals having such a string? Compare to what qualified professionals list who are practicing in recognizably esteemed settings.

And then we get to her welcoming:

Welcome to my website, I hope you find it both informative and encouraging. A little about myself, I am a fully qualified and highly reputable Clinical Hypnotherapist, Cognitive Behavioural Hypno-Psychotherapist, Cognitive Behavioural Life Coach, Chronic Pain Specialist and Careers Guidance Counsellor located in XXXX. I have over 18 years intensive experience in supporting both young people and adults with a range of social/personal, work related, health and wellbeing concerns.

She describes herself as “qualified and highly reputable”. Proof? None of these titles are legally restricted: Anyone can use any of them without any licensing.

She says “cognitive behavioral” but it is attached to “hypnotherapist” and “life coach.” I suppose that allows her to escape criticisms that she is claiming to be a cognitive behavioral therapist, but that is not a restricted term either. Yup, you can claim you do CBT and get away with it in most places, because there is no legal restriction on that.

It’s a good idea when consumers find a string of seemingly familiar but not quite familiar titles like this, try Googling them.

The page has some links to dubious patient endorsements, all or them glowing, of course. We should be very suspicious of professionals who rely on patient endorsements. We don’t know what selection factor is there or even if they are from real patients. And who exploits patients by soliciting such endorsements for a promtional webpage? Not claiming a restricted title, this woman is not subject to codes of ethics, but most professionals would consider posting sucn endorsements to be tasteless, if not unethical.

Then we get to her credentials and the silliness of the ambiguous letters after her name that we encountered earlier becomes apparent. , I will stick her long list of dubious credentials at the end of this blog post where you can jump down to see what I’m talking about, but let’s step into these:

A Masters of Arts degree seems recognizable, but just where did she get it? If this degree is being listed as a credential, it is reasonable to ask “Where from?” and “in what field of study”?

At the end she has “BPS British Psychological Society (Level A).“ Hmm, we might recognize the organization, but it’s tough to figure out what Level A is. Best I can tell is that she is qualified to interpret psychological tests.

But some of these other qualifications are certifiably quackery. We won’t go through all of them, but scan through them and you see some howlers: “Advanced Weight Control and Hypnotic Stomach Gastric Banding” (!?)…

Or how about “DPLT Diploma In Past Life Therapy” (!?). Look that one up, she claims that she will improve your psychological well-being by addressing problems that occurred in your past lives that you don’t know about, but somehow she will know about and fix.

We can disagree on exactly where the line between unproved therapies and quackery lies. but still agree that this is quackery.

Then she provides a link to explain her expertise as a BTFT British Thought Field Therapist (Algorithm Level) :

What is TFT? TFT stands for Thought Field Therapy

It is a technique that brings about rapid relief from all kinds of emotional distress. It works rather like acupuncture but there are no needles involved and it is completely painless. The treatment involves simply tapping with the fingers on various parts of the face and upper body. This stimulates the body’s meridians to resolve internal problems, many of which may have long been held onto by the body. The technique is fast, effective and 100% safe.

This is a technique that I can quickly and easily teach you to use yourself. Emotional problems often reduce significantly in minutes.

Rapidly resolve emotional problems by tapping your finger on your face? Beam me up,  Scotty, this is scary stuff.

I blogged about  Thought Field therapy elsewhere  and quoted a recognized authority on psychotheray who described it as “either one of the greatest advances in psychotherapy or it is a hoax.” If you look at the time, you can go that blog post and some links and provides to find some absolutely extraordinary and implausible claims.

If someone had more time than I do, they could Google some of these other credentials, and they simply do not represent regulated titles, so you can have no assurance that there is any competence, any standards, or any evidence behind them.

I wouldn’t expect someone to pursue all these links as I have. Life is too short. But I hope to leave readers advised to when they encounter such extraordinary claims to simply run away, unless they have time to investigate them in the kind of detail that I have.

Cognitive behavior therapy for fibromyalgia: what do we know?

 A credible review in Nature Publications’ Journal of Rheumatology concludes:

 Bernardy K, Füber N, Köllner V, Häuser W. Efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapies in fibromyalgia syndrome-a systematic review and metaanalysis of randomized controlled trials. The Journal of Rheumatology. 2010 Aug 3:jrheum-100104.

The current data indicate that CBT, as a single treatment modality, does not offer any distinct advantage over well-planned group programs of education or exercise, or both. Its role in the management of fibromyalgia patients needs further research.

Research on CBT to fibromyalgia typically consist of low-quality small trials. The CDC Fibromyalgia Fact Sheet does not recommend cognitive therapy for fibromyalgia, except has a treatment specifically for any comorbid major depression.

How did this awful stuff get into my Facebook newsfeed?

I certainly don’t follow Louise Levy, but I don’t have to to have this stuff inflicted on me. For a very small fee, people like Louise can promote their Facebook pages and get their new stuffed into the new feed. You can take it down, but you apparently you have to do it piece by piece.

Postscript: The qualifications of Louise Levy

If someone wants to Google soe of these qualifications and post the results in the thread of comments, be my guest. But the trick is to put in the whole credential, not just part if it, i,e., “Diploma In Advanced Weight Control and Hypnotic Stomach Gastric Banding”, not just “Weight control.”

MA Master Of Arts Degree (Acrt) in Guidance Counselling

DipCAH Diploma In Clinical Advanced Hypnotherapy H.E. Level 4

DipCBH Diploma In Cognitive Behavioural Hypno-Psychotherapy H.E. Level 4

HPD Hypnotherapy Practitioner Diploma The Gold Benchmark Standard H.E. Level 4

Master Practitioner In Smoking Cessation Hypnotherapy

Diploma In Advanced Weight Control and Hypnotic Stomach Gastric Banding

Master Practitioner In Working With Children (Specialist Childrens Hypnotherapist)

Master Practitioner in Cancer and Hypnotherapy

Specialist Certification In Emotional Trauma Regression

PNLP Practitioner Of Neuro Linguistic Programming

MNCH Member Of The National Council For Hypnotherapy(Acc)  Registered Senior Experienced

SQHP Senior Qualification In Hypnotherapy Practice GHR (General Hypnotherapy Register)

Adv DipLC Advanced Diploma In Cognitive Behavioural Life Coaching (Distinction)

PG DipCG Post Graduate Degree In Careers Guidance H.E Level 5

Chronic Pain / Stress Illness Advanced Specialist Practitioner (SIRPA)

BTFT British Thought Field Therapist (Algorithm Level)

DPLT Diploma In Past Life Therapy

Certificate in EMDR (Eye Movement De-sensitisation and Reprocessing)

BPS British Psychological Society (Level A)