Even the most hardened woo-proponent will usually admit that surgery and emergency treatments of traumatic injuries are pretty obvious success stories for conventional medicine. It’s not surprising, then, that they are eager to claim they can help in these situations as well, in particular to ensure “faster healing” after surgery. Peggy Huddleston, for instance, claims that verbal messages given to a patient under general anesthesia result in “faster healing”, which, though apparently rather innocuous, is an impressively silly idea. Huddleston is a a self-described psychotherapist and the proud recipient of an M.T.S. (Master of Theological Studies) degree from the Harvard Divinity School, and she has managed to turn her “faster healing” ideas into a relatively sleek and professional-looking business. Her book Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster is crammed with endorsements from charlatans, quacks and crackpots like Andrew Weil, Larry Dossey, Jean Watson, Caroline Myss, C. Norman Shealy, Mehmet Oz and “mind/body” maven Joan Borysenko – Christiane Northrup wrote the foreword.
Well, some of Huddleston’s claims are of course plausible and sensible. But “plausibility” and “sensibility” are hardly the criteria Huddleston uses to select what advice she will offer: “… recent studies have documented that care, appreciation and love boost the immune system and enhance the functioning of the heart … Since the heart creates a large electrical field of energy that influences every cell, this has a very positive effect on the entire body.” Methinks think Huddleston may be confusing human anatomy and physiology with the narrative structure of a WalMart paperback romance. So yes, here you find recommendations for intercessory prayer, blaming disease on negative emotions (i.e. blaming the victim for their own physical illness) reiki (“[w]ithout touching the body, practitioners use their hands to influence the field of energy that pulsates in and around the physical body. Physicists call this a force field;” I don’t think those are physicists, Peggy), various forms of energy healing, and acupuncture (which “makes even major surgery free of pain. For 5,000 years, acupuncture has also been used for the treatment and prevention of disease,” which is false but would anyways make it more recent practice than burning witches). It’s all about the powers of the New Age. Physical illnesses are really “trying to ‘talk’ to you, telling you that something is amiss. Your intuition knows what is out of balance and causing a health problem. Allow yourself to hear what it is.” Be like native Americans: “Lakota children could easily merge their beings with an eagle, soaring with it through the clouds.”
No seriously. Just think about the fact that “[y]ou’ll use less pain medication after surgery if your anesthesiologist says three Healing Statements to you during surgery.” The D&D rules say so, and yes – Peggy Huddleston is recommending that anesthesiologists try to cast healing spells. The point is of course that you are suppose to hear these incantations while you are anesthesized. Though Huddleston admits that “there is ongoing scientific debate about how much an anesthetized patient can hear,” she brazenly concludes that “one point is clear: We never stop hearing.”
And though she claims that “[m]edical research documents the dramatic benefits” of her bullshit, she doesn’t really discuss that research in detail (she does offer some references, most of which are either unpublished or more than 40 years old, based on the principle that you select what seems to fit your hypothesis and avoid looking at the aggregate result of studies like the plague), focusing rather on trying to sell you a series of “Testimonials” DVDs from her website.
Diagnosis: Utter bullshit. But apparently Huddleston seems to have attracted quite a following and her business appears to be doing remarkably well. Which is pretty sad.
Much of this entry is based on an article by Kimball Attwood at sciencebasedmedicine.