The February decision by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to add Thought Field Therapy (TFT) to its National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices prompted a strong rebuttal from a leading psychologist.
Scott O. Lilienfeld, Ph.D., the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Psychology at Emory University, wrote in the March 29 issue of Forbes magazine that “there is no good evidence supporting this ‘therapy,’ which draws vaguely on the traditional Chinese idea of a life force. Moreover, there is not a shred of evidence that invisible energy fields exist in the human body, let alone that manipulating them helps to treat psychological problems.”
SAMHSA’s registry is designed to provide the public with reliable scientific information on mental health and substance abuse interventions. The registry is aimed mainly at state-level programmers and lists intervention they can implement with the dollars for treatment services that SAMHSA has allocated to the states through block grants, Lilienfeld and his co-author, Sally Satel, wrote in the Forbes article, which was headlined “You won’t believe the government is supporting this crackpot Mental Health Therapy.”
The authors wrote that SAMHSA reviewed three studies dealing with TFT. One was not peer-reviewed and the other two were published in obscure journals. One of the two journal studies was conducted in Rwanda with genocide survivors diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder.
Based on those studies, SAMHSA said TFT was found to be effective for trauma and stressor-related disorders and symptoms, self-regulation and personal resilience/self-concept. The therapy was found to be promising for phobia, panic and generalized anxiety disorders and symptoms; depression and depressive symptoms and general functioning and well-being.
Any improvement that patients showed using TFT was by accident, the placebo effect and a desire to please the therapist, the authors wrote.
Lilienfeld and Satel wrote that “acceptance into the registry is limited to ‘evidence-based’ therapies. But in reality, it should be limited to ‘science-based’ therapies. There are treatments that have both shown success when subject to rigorously designed studies that have at least a potentially plausible theoretical rationale.”
They wrote that the federal government should refrain from endorsing interventions when the research base is exceedingly weak and derives from largely flawed studies.
“It’s a scandal that SAMHSA is directing federal dollars to a ‘treatment’ like TFT, which at best is the equivalent of a sugar pill for the mind.”
The American Psychological Association has long denied any evidence exists that TFT works, although in 2012, the APA finally removed the ban on continuing education for energy psychology.