Jan 31 2012

Blank Healing

I come across many different healing claims or requests for me to evaluate such claims. They are depressingly similar. You can essentially put the word “healing” after just about anything and insert it into a boiler plate article about how fabulous it is.¬†Here is a credulous article about one self-styled healer, with the specific reference removed:

“Lhoest, one of Pucci’s blank students, had pain in her back and feet from the stresses of work and child rearing. She came to Pucci’s home for blank healing. Others around the world use similar techniques with different instruments, such as blank or blank. Pucci uses blank like a “focused laser” because it is the best tool she has for the job.

“It’s really hard to explain this because there is no language for it. In a way, it’s magic. All I know is that it works,” Pucci said. “Sometimes people cry because it allows them to release something they were holding on to.” There are schools for blank healing, but Pucci never went to one. Aside from reading books and taking a few workshops on the subject, she has been on a self-taught journey for 30 years. She makes a living as a blank and doesn’t advertise herself as a blank healer. In fact, she practices blank healing only on her students and others who are close to her. “It is so special to me that I don’t want it to become commercialized,” said Pucci, holding back tears sparked by that thought. “It’s like this magic I do that I’m very careful about.”

This article could be about anything – of course you have to open with a warm and fuzzy anecdote, and portray the practitioner as a saint who just wants to help people. In this case Pucci may in fact be sincere, in other cases the practitioners are clearly making a living from their claims.

Pucci’s attitude is typical – I don’t know how it works, it’s like magic, all I know is that it works. Well – actually she doesn’t. This, of course, is the core fallacy of the magical healer – thinking that because anecdotal experience makes it seem as if their ministrations are working, that they are. This ignores all the various mechanisms of self deception that largely make up placebo effects, such as regression to the mean, assessment bias, and wishful thinking. Also there are non-specific effects just from relaxing and getting kind attention such as the laying on of hands. It is supremely naive to think that one can conclude a treatment works simply from subjective anecdotal reports.

That, however, is the default assumption that people make. We appear to be hard wired to do so, to be compelled by personal stories. It takes an education in science (and particularly medical science) and critical thinking to beat such assumptions out of you over time. Even still, many doctors manage to get through their training with their naive default reactions to anecdotes largely intact.

Here is a description about this modality from a website dedicated to it:

Blank  healing is an effective and proven modality that uses blank to help reduce stress, alter consciousness and create a deep sense of peace, well being and better health. Blank has also been shown to be effective in the healing process for cancer patients by reducing stress and aiding in pain management. The modality dates back to Tibetan Buddhism where blank were used for consciousness transformation and healing.

Now we add the argument from antiquity – the modality has been used by some culture for hundreds or thousands of years, so it must work. They also add unsubstantiated claims to be “proven,” and notice how they mention cancer, to make it seem like a serious healing modality, but really it only helps reduce stress. You could make the same claim about holding someone’s hand – it reduces stress, which would help any illness because illness causes stress.

It doesn’t really matter what the “blank” is. It’s magic. In this case the blank is “sound” healing. Pucci uses her voice to impart “vibrational energy” to her clients and this magically makes them feel better. Skeptical? Well, here is some more promotional material:

Science has proven that sound, or vibration, has a strong impact upon substance. For example, the study of Cymatics has shown how sound creates geometric patterns in matter. Dr. Emoto has proven that sound changes the molecular structure of water. However, more importantly, sound changes consciousness. Many ancient civilizations and modern indigenous cultures have used sound to heal and access higher levels of consciousness for thousands of years.

A nice vague reference to poorly understood scientific concepts makes the blank therapy sound all sciencey. Add another argument from antiquity and we have the best of both worlds.

There is an endless number of these bogus “healing” modalities. If I tried to examine each and every one, by the time I got through them all there would be another crop to take their place, with the same claims, just a different fill in the blank.


13 responses so far

13 thoughts on “Blank Healing”

  1. cjablonski says:

    The author of that SF Gate piece should be blankety-blanked with a blank.

  2. locutusbrg says:

    Alright if I copy this and leave it in my Waiting Area?

  3. nbangor says:

    Dr N,

    I know this isnt the best place for this message but Im on here everyday so I’ll leave it here. This is neal, the SGU’s resident NHL insider. I emailed you guys last week about Crosby/Dr Carrick issue getting more and more press in the hockey world and you (Evan) addressed it on last week’s show. Thanks so much! (i understand others may have emailed you, but i like to think it was just me) As I’ve stated I follow the NHL really closely, and even though I live in Portland, Maine I get a Toronto Lunch-hour hockey radio show via podcast everyday. It is on the FAN590. The show, “HockeyCentral at Noon”, is the biggest hockey radio show in the entire country of Canada and it has many listeners. Anyway I was listening to Monday’s show and they mentioned something along the lines of “did you hear the Dr from Yale last night saying that this Carrick guy is actually a quack??” I immediately knew it must have been you and i looked it up and it turns out you had been a guest on a different show on that same station the night before. Even though many American listeners may not have heard about your appearance, there are many thousands who listen to that show in Toronto and across Canada and the US who may otherwise have not heard that perspective on Carrick. I just want to say thanks and congrats because you “planted the skeptical seed” on the Carrick issue in many thousands of listeners’ minds by making that appearance. Good work, thanks so much for everything you do.

  4. DevoutCatalyst says:

    What is the name of the radio show Steven was a guest on?

  5. HHC says:

    It was pleasant to listen to these Tibetan sounds this morning. I wish there could be a station on broadcast networks playing sounds instead of their nightly news. Less agitating anyway.

  6. nbangor says:

    this person links to the conversation:


  7. neilgraham says:

    I know this is a niave question but here goes. Is medicine both an art and a science? If so can one be a fantastic medical scientist and be a poor healer? And, can one be a good healer and a lousy medical scientist?

  8. BillyJoe7 says:

    “Is medicine both an art and a science?”

    The science is letting evidence decide which tests and treatments to use.
    The art is in convincing patients to accept those science-based tests and treatments whilst convincing them that they made those decisions themselves.

    “can one be a fantastic medical scientist and be a poor healer?”

    Yes. You can have all the evidence at your fingertips but be completely unable to convince patients.

    “can one be a good healer and a lousy medical scientist?”

    No. You cannot heal patients by convincing them to use non evidence based treatments.

  9. fudgeh0g says:

    Is it a worry that “Blank Healing” sounds like a legitimate trademark woo? haha. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had someone trying to sell me “Blank Healing” tomorrow.

  10. cwfong says:

    Someone just tried to sell you false platitudes instead.

  11. therling says:

    She offers “Space Clearing with Sound.” Heck, I was doing that 30 years ago with my old high school rock and roll band. We’d clear out a whole bar by the third song.

  12. sonic says:

    To really get this ‘blank healing’ off the ground we need a celebrity endorsement.
    That will complete the package.

  13. tmac57 says:

    Here’s an idea for a new type of ‘surgery’


    I think it just might sell.

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