by: Mal Vickers
‘Energy Medicine’: What is it? And should Australian Universities teach it?
There is a fascinating array of courses available at universities. Like me, do you look for interesting courses that might give you the edge in the jobs market or lead to an exciting new career?
Recently, I learnt that RMIT University offered a course in a relatively new branch of medicine, Energy Medicine.
The ways humanity have explored and improved human health seem endless. There’s pathology, psychology, dentistry, physiotherapy and nuclear medicine to name just a few. Should energy medicine be amongst those?
This new branch of medicine offers hope for naturally improving human health at little or no cost; but is it really effective?
RMIT and Energy Medicine
RMIT University are still advertising Energy Medicine both as a stand-alone subject in which anyone can enrol, and as an elective of the larger ‘Master of Wellness’ program.
The Master of Wellness program is administered by the Health Science faculty at RMIT.
Masters of Wellness
RMIT’s website indicates that Master of Wellness is a one and a half year, full time program. RMIT’s promotion of the course states:
Work opportunities include the spa and wellness industry, the complementary healthcare sector, conventional healthcare and community health settings, the corporate sector and private practice as a wellness consultant.
It’s interesting that RMIT are offering courses designed for people to enter the ‘the complementary healthcare sector’ and from within its ‘Health Science’ faculty. This sector suffers from an association with pseudoscience and a lack of evidence (‘quackery’ in less polite terms). Surely, this is now a thing of the past?
The online information about the ‘Masters of Wellness’ program can be found here. Click on the down arrow next to the word ‘features’ to view the individual courses in the program:
Aromatherapy for wellness
Food as medicine
Herbs and natural supplements
The inclusion of the Spa and Hospitality Management Certificate also confirms that the wellness program is about graduates finding real work in this sector, perhaps even setting up a business for themselves.
I attended RMIT’s Open Day this year, hoping to verify the information shown on RMIT’s webpage about the wellness program. It wasn’t very easy to find information about the program. There were no seminars to promote it on Open Day, unlike many other courses. However, I found that there were brochures advertising the Masters of Wellness program available for potential students to take from Building 202.
I had to indulge in a little investigative journalism to find out more about the Wellness program and the inclusion of Energy Medicine within the program – more on this topic later.
Energy Medicine Evidence Base
The use of the term ‘energy’ in the context of alternative medicine immediately raises red flags with me. From my experiences with alternative medicine practitioners, the word ‘energy’ must be the most misused word in the alternative medicine lexicon. Whereas ‘energy’ is defined quite precisely when used within the physical sciences, that’s not so within alternative medicine circles. It means anything you’d like it to mean.
RMIT last ran the Energy Medicine course in 2010. The course coordinator, Mark Abadi is resident to the UK. Thus, the coursework for energy medicine is entirely online.
The advertising for the course, in places, says the right things to a (possibly) skeptical reader.
‘…diagnostic and therapeutic models and applications, and the scope of its current research and evidence base.’
That’s where I’d now like to focus my attention. What is this ‘evidence-base’?
The subject is described in glowing terms:
‘Energy Medicine is on the frontiers of science and technology where ancient and modern knowledge intersect.’
It sounds fascinating.
‘To explore ‘Energy Medicine’ one must utilise scientific exploration carried out across a multifaceted scientific bandwidth including detailed work from the fields of Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Psychology and Physics and Quantum Physics.’
Seriously? Quantum Physics is now part of a course that comes under RMIT’s ‘Health Science’ faculty? Time to once again drag out the skeptical mantra: ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’.
I had a lot of trouble trying to make sense of this sentence:
‘Patterns of effect are so fundamentally entwined with the mathematics of creation and consciousness that at the deepest level, they seem to operate under hence unknown principles governing quantum mechanics and non local Universe principles.’
‘Non local Universe principles’? Unknown principals? Surely those principals remain unknown? *head spins* It reads a lot like science sounding word salad to me.
Perhaps RMIT are not serious about this; maybe there’s a little academic leg pulling going on? This idea was quickly dispelled after some online searching. Here’s an example of an Energy Medicine clinic operating in Melbourne. The practitioner claims to have obtained his qualifications at RMIT.
There is one helpful aspect to investigating the course; it is conducted over the internet, therefore quite a lot of the course material can be found via internet searches. For example, Mark Adadi has a YouTube video (here) that appears to be the welcoming message for new students. [update - sorry this video has been changed, it now requires a password to view]
I did a quick check of Mark Abadi’s credentials.
He claims to be a:
‘Holistic Psychologist… Life Coach… Therapist and Author working with health and wellbeing… teaches advanced meditation… Applying research techniques he dove into the study of complementary holistic therapy techniques, including reflexology, nutrition, aromatherapy and deep tissue massage… researching the interactive nature of the body’s energy systems. He is an expert in the interaction of the mind, body matrix…’
I found another YouTube clip by Mark Abadi, titled: ‘The Scientific Basis of Energy Medicine’, it sounds exactly like the information I’m looking for.
In this clip, Mark states:
“We’ll go through about the scientific basis of energy medicine, so it’s based on a book by a guy named James Oschman”.
Indeed James Oschman does have a book (published in 2000) called ‘Energy Medicine‘. The book was kind of pricey ($50+) so I decided to look elsewhere for freely available scientific evidence. My reasoning was that if there is substantial evidence for the effectiveness of energy medicine, it should be available in the medical research literature. PubMed is probably the best place to look, having some 23 million (current and approximate) references and abstracts of peer-reviewed medical studies and research. If there are randomised placebo conducted trials by James Oschman that show the effectiveness of energy medicine, PubMed should show me the abstracts. I couldn’t find any, however.
Taking a step back, there’s some basic information about energy medicine on Wikipedia. I know that Wikipedia can sometimes be inaccurate, however, I’ll use it to understand the basics and I’ll check the references for anything important. The current page declares: Energy medicine –
“… holds the belief that a healer can channel healing energy into the person seeking help by different methods: hands-on, hands-off, and distant (or absent) where the patient and healer are in different locations.”
Seriously? People can treat other people’s ailments just by believing in ‘energy’ and perhaps a ritual involving the hands? No need for injections, pathology tests, kidney transplants MRI’s etc, etc? It sounds quite extraordinary.
What exactly what goes on during an energy medicine healing session, I wondered? Are people taking this seriously? This You-Tube video that claims to show how to heal insomnia with energy medicine is worth a look. I found I liked the video more with the commentary off.
Firstly, you mime picking up a medicine ball, then you mime throwing it down again, then you sort of massage your forehead and wipe away imaginary sweat from your hair, then you do a neck massage and ear massage. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, it’s important that you don’t forget to breathe whilst doing this.
To be fair, RMIT isn’t in any way associated with this video; the link is an example of Energy Medicine in action. There are many other videos about energy medicine on YouTube of similar standard. Now that you appreciate what goes on at a typical Energy Medicine healing session, I’ll return to discussing Energy Medicine at RMIT.
More Research into Energy Medicine
Regardless of how Energy Medicine may or may not work, modern science has well established methods for sorting the wheat from the chaff – objectively measure the actual health outcomes in people a controlled way. Rigorously conducted clinical trials and epidemiological studies objectively show us the way forward. There’s no reason why Energy Medicine can’t be subjected to rigorous testing and those trials then subjected to critical review.
Professor Edzard Ernst of Exeter University is a leading authority on complementary medicine. He conducted a second systematic review of Energy Medicine research in 2003 and concluded:
“Since the publication of our previous systematic review in 2000, several rigorous new studies have emerged. Collectively they shift the weight of the evidence against the notion that distant healing is more than a placebo.”
The Wikipedia page for Energy Medicine also notes possible ‘alternative’ (i.e. skeptical) explanations for this branch of alternative medicine that might explain the early positive results – such as the placebo effect and cognitative dissonance.
Many health interventions can look plausible and natural, yet there is always a cost to the patient. It might be just a small loss of money. However, some studies have shown that the use of alternative therapies in the treatment or management of cancer means dying sooner. Why should health consumers expect anything less than a high probability of evidence that shows unambiguously that a particular treatment is effective? Despite looking, I’m yet to find that evidence for energy medicine.
It’s the age-old skeptical problem of trying to prove a negative. I can’t say definitively that Energy Medicine doesn’t work anymore than I can say definitively that all reindeer can’t fly – I’m yet to find evidence of it, is all I can reasonably say. (Any young people reading this, please avert your eyes) There are stories that reindeer can fly – but it seems implausible.
It’s up to the promoters of Energy Medicine to put forward definitive evidence that it is real. The burden of proof is with the promoters.
Questions for RMIT
Should RMIT University be teaching a ‘medical’ subject that seems implausible and without substantive supporting evidence?
I emailed RMIT University’s communications department to ask the following:
‘My questions are in relation to RMIT’s ‘Masters of Wellness’ program and the ‘Energy Medicine’ short course.
Please note, that these questions are guided by the RMIT Act. The questions may be of a critical nature; however, as critical enquiry is stated in your Act, I anticipate a welcome response to the nature of my queries. The Objects Section of RMIT’s Act states (in part):
- promoting critical and free enquiry…
- undertake scholarship, pure and applied research…
- the advancement of knowledge…
I’m particularly interested in the Energy Medicine course from a scholarship and applied research point of view.
1. What is your position on the claims made on the RMIT webpage for the ‘Energy Medicine’ module? This page says, (in part):
“To explore ‘Energy Medicine’ one must utilise scientific exploration carried out across a multifaceted scientific bandwidth including detailed work from the fields of Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Psychology and Physics and Quantum Physics.”
In particular, would you refer to the science that details the links between this form of medicine and quantum physics? Unfortunately, my own research on seeking evidence in the efficacy of energy medicine was inconclusive.
2. I note that RMIT’s webpage for the Energy Medicine short course was edited around August 2013 and Mr Mark Abadi’s name was removed as the course coordinator. Would you please update me with the information as to who will conduct this course again in 2014? (RMIT Energy Medicine course information)
I understand that one of the intended employment prospects for students who graduate from the Masters of Wellness program is the complementary healthcare sector. (RMIT Masters of Wellness program information)
3. Would you be able to direct me to some references in scientific, peer-reviewed, medical literature in relation to energy medicine? I’m particularly interested in understanding the latest clinical trial data on energy medicine. The information from such clinical trials would be significant evidence that might support the use of energy medicine by RMIT’s graduates working in the complementary healthcare sector.
4. Looking at the bigger picture, how do you see the Energy Medicine course from the position of a university that claims to actively pursue research and scholarship?
This was the initial response from RMIT.
‘RMIT has not offered the Energy Medicine course for more than two years.’
I wrote back explaining that I had information indicating that RMIT may run the Energy Medicine course again. The reply from RMIT was:
If you can find a link, please send it to me. The course isn’t being offered.
Does RMIT ‘offer’ energy medicine?
Although I didn’t ask whether the course was being ‘offered’, that seems to be the reason RMIT are not willing to address further questions. Here’s why I think it is worth asking those questions and why I associate RMIT with energy medicine.
- RMIT currently has a public webpage that mentions the energy medicine course.
It’s true, the page currently says: ‘This course currently does not have any upcoming dates.’
- Finding information about the energy medicine course during open day 2013 wasn’t easy. It appears that RMIT aren’t heavily promoting the course.
- The course coordinator in 2010, Mark Abadi, says that the energy medicine course is part of RMIT’s Masters of Wellness program.
- RMIT Health Sciences Faculty was approached as a prospective student would (the investigative journalism part). The information I received indicated that RMIT offered energy medicine as an elective subject for the upcoming, extended ‘Masters of Wellness’ program.
It’s not something I can definitively say from the research I have, however it appears to me that RMIT may run the Energy Medicine course again if there was enough demand from students wanting to do the course and enough of the students doing the Wellness program ‘elected’ to do it. I don’t know if that demand is there, possibly not.
- I notice that the information from RMIT’s communications department didn’t say – we will never run this course again. Why have a webpage for the course and keep it updated if there is no intention to ever run it?
- RMIT agree that the energy medicine course last ran in 2010.
Perhaps my correspondence with RMIT was now degenerating to one of semantics. How do you define a course that is advertised but not ‘offered’?
I again wrote to RMIT asking if they would kindly answer the questions I had asked more than a month before. This was the reply:
I replied to your correspondence last month. Nothing has changed in the University’s position since then.
Time to re-cap. It appears that RMIT taught a pseudoscientific course (perhaps a ‘pseudomedicine’ course might be a better term) under the faculty of ‘Health Science’ in 2010.
There’s a possibility I may be misjudging RMIT; perhaps training people in Energy Medicine is something that can be justified with scientific evidence. However, RMIT were using common pseudo-scientific /alternative medicine terms in their advertising material i.e. ‘multifaceted scientific bandwidth’ and ‘quantum physics’.
I asked for some evidence in the peer-reviewed medical literature that Energy Medicine is a subject worthy of being taught at a scholarly university.
I thought the questions I put to RMIT might be of public interest. However, RMIT said they don’t offer the course.
Why should you be concerned? Energy Medicine can be harmful to patients needing effective healthcare. Even if you have no intention of visiting an RMIT trained complementary health care provider for your ailments, you’re still subsidising the university system through your taxes.
If Energy Medicine actually turns out to be an effective form of medicine I’ll eat my hat – Oh… is it OK if I eat my hat at a distance, by just thinking about it?