The Health Report (ABC RN) of Monday 10th May had a story on a “unique centre in Western Australia combining high tech cancer care with complementary medicine.”
For the curious, the MP3 can be downloaded here: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/healthreport/, go to Monday 10/5/2010, Cancer Care.
I listened to the Health Report piece this morning, and offer the following thoughts:
– The report perpetuates the myth that there are two ‘strands’ or ‘streams’ of medicine, and offers implied support for those who push the idea that the alternative stream is a valid one that we should be using more, but cannot do so because it is being suppressed or not fully acknowledged by the mainstream. We are meant to believe that alternative medicine is being rejected because we don’t understand it, or it’s financially challenging us, or we’re brainwashed by drug companies, or some other conspiracy related charge. All of this is, of course, rubbish.
– To have selected some therapies means they rejected others. What was the basis of the rejection? How did they decide what was reasonable and what was not? If it was science please share with us the positive and the negative results that led to these decisions being made.
– How did they decide there was a difference in benefit between a general no health claims attached massage and ‘therapeutic massage? How did they decide there was a difference between aromatherapy and just being in a relaxing room with gentle music and lighting, and the scent of fresh flowers? Do they believe the benefit reported by people undergoing Reiki is a general relaxation benefit, or do they believe the practitioner is actually ‘directing energy’? If it’s the former then why not have non-specific relaxation therapy rather than a branded therapist. If it’s the latter then please supply some evidence regarding the type and source of the energy being manipulated.
– I believe the benefit reported is derived from the social connection provided and from patients achieving a high level of relaxation. I believe this is a significant factor in their well-being and fully support the program in assisting people in this regard. I do not believe, though, that the benefit is related to the postulated mechanism behind specific therapies such as Reiki or Reflexology. If you don’t accept the premise of the therapy why are you using it as a specific therapy?
– Are practitioners using their involvement in this program as a way of validating their belief system and therapy to clients they see in private? Are they using this as a scientific imprimatur in other settings?
– If they are serious about doing research they need to compare the specific techniques they have chosen to use with non-specific ways of inducing a similar relaxation response. Comparing Reiki to nothing does not prove Reiki works. ‘Healing’ is a good outcome, but it appears so far that no attempt has been made, or is going to be made to determine if specific therapies lead to specific benefit(s). It is exactly the mistake scientific medicine is designed to avoid – my patient tried x and reports they feel better, therefore I conclude x works.
– The comment about being a bent spoon nominee* was made in such a way that it conveyed to me little or no interest in finding out what’s right and what’s not. This is not only disappointing, but also a bit hypocritical.
– Does anyone else see the extreme irony in patients receiving scientifically established therapy for their cancer, and then being given Reiki and reflexology? Funny, isn’t it, that self-reporting of feeling better is considered an insufficient basis to establish which chemotherapy regime is needed, and that the difference between real and not real matters so much for patient welfare at this stage of their treatment but it’s fine for their energy to be manipulated by the Reiki therapist after their chemo! What a strange world we live in!
Dr Basser is a GP with a practice in suburban Melbourne. He is also Vic Skeptics media spokesperson on Health issues, and Editorial Consultant (Medicine) for “The Skeptic”magazine.
* Made by Dr David Joske – Contemporary therapies leader. A history of Australian Skeptics Bent Spoon Award can be found here: http://www.skeptics.com.au/features/bent-spoon/.