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PTSD “Breakthrough?” Real Science Doesn’t Need Endorsement

The PTSD BreakthroughIt infuriates me when someone misappropriates the word “science” to promote treatments that are not actually based on science. I have just read a book entitled The PTSD Breakthrough: The Revolutionary Science-Based Compass RESET Program by Dr. Frank Lawlis, a psychologist who is the chief content advisor for Dr Phil and The Doctors. There is very little science in the book and references are not provided. It amounts to an indiscriminate catalog of everything Dr. Lawlis can imagine that might help post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients. 

He describes recent brain imaging studies suggesting that signs of traumatic brain injury are associated with PTSD.  He thinks PTSD can no longer be considered a psychological condition, but must be approached as a complex biological, physical, psychological, and spiritual condition. He says many of these patients have brain damage.

He says: 

Odd as it may seem, a very loud noise can actually cause mild to moderate brain damage. The strong sound waves continue to cause inflammation in the brain and may cause the immune system to backfire, creating more damage as the signals of cell injury reverberate through the body. Exposure to strong pesticides or heavy metals (such as mercury, tin, and copper), and even some food allergies, can also have a devastating effect on the brain. 

His program consists of six steps:

  1. Nurturing and healing the brain
    1. Hyperbaric chamber (he claims that this is one of the most effective treatments for PTSD, but I couldn’t find any evidence to support that claim)
    2. Vitamins and minerals
    3. Sleep
  2. Cleansing the brain of toxins and poisons
    1. Diet
    2. Supplements (a long list including vitamin C, selenium, ginseng, organic iodine, etc. – you’re not intended to use them all, but to somehow choose which ones are right for you)
    3. Colon cleansing
  3. Making reconnections and taking control of the disoriented brain
    1. Breathing (through alternate nostrils)
    2. Physical exercise
    3. Rhythm and harmony (beat drums, find your “power song”)
    4. Mental exercise
    5. Blue light
  4. Relinquishing fear and rage
    1. Desensitization
    2. The BAUD (a patented bioacoustical utilization device developed by Dr. Lawlis  )
    3. Biofeedback
    4. Smells (a sort of aromatherapy)
    5. Cognitive behavioral therapy
    6. Journal writing
  5. Creating a new beginning
    1. Among other things, pick an animal to symbolize you, and decide which color best represents you.
  6. Reestablishing your internal compass
    1. Among other things, go on a vision quest like some American Indians used to do: spend 7 days alone with no intake but water until a symbol appears in your consciousness. 

Patients are encouraged to love themselves and to pick from these methods to effect their own recovery. Interspersed throughout the book are questionnaires to assess your stress level, quality of sleep, etc. They are the same kind of unvalidated questionnaires that are often found in popular magazines. 

There is a little bit of science in the book, but he doesn’t provide references, and most of what he writes is not supported by any peer-reviewed studies. Much of it is pure fantasy.    

He says:

…the research on chewing gum to relieve stress is pretty impressive. The act of chewing gum pumps healing blood into the frontal lobe, where executive functions are controlled, and into your temporal lobe, where stressful emotions are found. There is clear evidence that stress is reduced by as much as 50 percent by chewing gum, and you may gain some IQ points while you’re at it.

 There are some studies showing chewing gum reduces stress, like this one funded by a gum manufacturer  but I wouldn’t characterize the research as “clear evidence” or “50%” or “increasing the IQ” or as “pretty impressive.” 

How’s this for a “science based” recommendation?:

Another easy technique you can do is to use a powerful mouth rinse. If you have bacteria working in your gums, it can create bad results for the rest of your body. Anything you eat can be affected by this [sic] bacteria, and you don’t want any bad guys holding up the train to recovery. 

What does “science” mean to Dr. Lawlis? Apparently, as Humpty Dumpty told Alice in Through the Looking Glass, it “means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’” 

He has anecdotes of patients who responded to some of these methods, but he has no data to show that his methods produce better outcomes than other methods. PTSD is a difficult condition to treat, and offering hope for recovery is a good thing; but offering false hopes for untested treatments under the pretense that they are “science” is reprehensible. The sad thing is that suffering patients may delay getting professional help while they experiment with useless detoxification rituals, chewing gum, and pop psychology nonsense. 

The cover proclaims “The Groundbreaking Program Officially Endorsed and Advocated by Dr. Phil McGraw.” As if to say, forget the scientific literature: if Dr. Phil endorses it, that’s all we need to know. The old “appeal to authority.” And what an authority! Dr. Lawlis is Dr. Phil’s “chief content advisor,” so he presumably advised Dr. Phil that the compass reset program was worth endorsing. Anyway, real science doesn’t need endorsement: Evidence is self-endorsing.

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

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3 Responses to “PTSD “Breakthrough?” Real Science Doesn’t Need Endorsement”

  1. LEH says:

    No – it’s not science. But throwing it out because scientists say so is just as wrong. Some “scientists” are so attached to their way, they ignore any other ideas – even if they do not work.

    Two years of nutritional supplementation, exercise and meditation/sound therapy have done more for me than 20 years of traditional psychotherapy and anti-depressants. But of course, the scientists will rush in and say it just took that long for the traditional medication to work.

    Except that I quit the traditional route before I took up non-traditional medication. And even the people who are strong believers in science and medication agree that I’ve improved since getting off of pharmaceutical medication.

  2. Harriet Hall says:

    LEH: Scientists do not say to throw anything out. They say we must use science instead of testimonials to find out what really works.

  3. Colleen M. Crary, M.A. says:

    Harriet, You have captured my sentiments about this chicanery snake oil cure for a very serious condition, PTSD. Junk science and charging money to the people who can least afford it is the world’s oldest con. I am still trying to get my brain around his program–while nutrition, and learning self-calming affect control, and the fact that the brain does change shape after extended untreated PTSD is true–“Dr.”.Phil and “Dr.” Lawlis (a telling name!) present junk science and pure nonsense for treating PTSD.

    Such a shame for the consumers who fall for it–because the longer their PTSD is untreated properly, the more chronic the condition becomes.

    Scientific proofing and protocol have found that what helps ease PTSD and aid recovery is:
    Reconnection with others, Remembrance and Mourning, Affect control, Nidra Relaxation (used at Walter Reed), and working toward finding meaning and walking easy with past traumatic events.

    Thank you for speaking up and out for PTS sufferers–Bravo!

    Colleen Crary, M.A.
    Fearless Nation PTSD Support

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