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Hi Tom

Quick question related to "emotional healing therapies": how do you search for therapists that can actually help here. For me it is kind of hard to differ between esoteric charlatans and actual experts. Is there any special approach to searching them you would recommend?




Clinical psych professor here.

This is a tricky question because there is questionable stuff out there, but on the other hand a lot of scientifically supported therapies are probably working for reasons other than their purported reasons (due to publication bias, etc.). To complicate things more, there are some therapies that seem like quackery that seem to work for reasons no one really understands. So people purporting to be adhering to "empirically supported therapy" (a kind of political buzzword) might actually be doing no better than someone else who doesn't explicitly advertise that, but who is rigorously and critically evaluating the scientific literature.

My advice is to pay attention to where someone got their degree, and how they describe themselves. By degree I don't mean you need to fetishize invalid status stuff, but look for people from degree programs you trust. If you don't feel comfortable with someone, look elsewhere. Don't feel uncomfortable asking them about their theoretical orientation or thinking about cases.


> but look for people from degree programs you trust

How is someone who doesn't really keep tabs on departments of psychology supposed to have developed a sense of trust of particularly degree programs?

Do you mean like preferring Vanderbilt's psychology program over Harvard's? Or preferring Psychology over Acupuncture?


Unfortunately there's no science validating any treatment for this disease. This is what it means when they say there is no treatment or no cure. So in other words... there is no "empirically supported therapy" that can cure the condition.

The only option for treatment is to attempt treatments not yet validated by science. Whether it's by a quack doctor or a degreed doctor doesn't matter at this point.


A personal anecdote-- I suffered from cluster headaches for about 20 years, starting in high school.

Because of bad emotions and not having much success with traditional psychotherapy and anti-depressants, I started going to primal therapy.

I'm well aware that primal therapy is not considered valid in mainstream psychology. I'm not trying to debate that.

I found my therapy helpful for dealing with my daily emotional swings and negative thoughts and feelings.

Surprisingly, I found that it greatly reduced the number of cluster headaches that I had.

Long story short, I had been suppressing my actual emotions in order to appear okay and not an over-reactive emotional wreck. This was a much deeper and subtle process than "I'm okay"-- it was a subconscious, physio-psychological process involving arresting the subtle motions of my face and neck that normally create expression. This process, which I did often throughout the day, subconsciously, when I thought of something personally painful, would eventually lead up to a cluster headache.

That whole paragraph above is something I figured out on my own, while I was doing the therapy, not something that the therapist presented me with or helped me figure out. But I would not have been able to do it if I had not had a space to enact my emotions, which is what primal therapy is (it's not screaming--or, I should say, not just screaming).

Being in a place where you can actually emote what you are feeling, not just talk about what you feel, is a game-changer when you grew up not being accepted for validated as a child. I can talk about how I feel all I want-- that's what I had to learn to do as a child, going to psychologists. That has no therapeutic or helpful effect for me-- it became just another coping or defense mechanism. I'm completely dissociated from myself when I talk about my feelings. I was never allowed to actually feel.

I still have general physical pain, and get crushing migraines from time to time ( I just started a new medication for that), but thankfully I only have cluster headaches about once every six months. I attribute this entirely to the changes that came about from going to primal therapy.

I know that primal therapy has not been rigorously studied, and is generally considered "debunked" by mainstream psychology. But anyways, it really helped me. I entirely certain that the lessening of cluster headaches to almost gone was not a coincidence, and a result of primal therapy.


Thanks for sharing your experience.

I know several people who are highly-scientifically minded (i.e., masters or PhD qualified in mainstream science disciplines), who've had afflictions like yours, and have resorted to similarly unproven or "debunked" treatments, and have found them effective when nothing else was.

It's a mysterious world.


Slightly off topic, but this just came to mind. If there's a placebo effect for positive results, it stands to reason there's also one that disables known/established remedies.

Point being, not all things will work for people all the time, but there is an element of "unknown" in everyone.


The brain is a complex and powerful organ. I'm not saying in all of these cases that's what it is but the brain has the power of placebo effect. If physical ailments get better because you merely believe you're being treated, there's a chance that there's a treatment out there that the brain responds to for some people for some illness that isn't apparent generally.

If it helps where nothing else does, is that wrong? I bet it doesn't feel wrong to you - you're just glad you're better - and I don't think so either.


Something to think about:

When raising this subject, you need to be clear in what you mean by "placebo".

If you mean that physiological healing happened due to changes in emotions or beliefs, I agree: that's fundamentally how the technique works. It's no different to a sugar pill showing increased recovery rates in a pharmaceutical trial, which can be explained by a sense of optimism and reduced worry/stress due to a treatment being administered.

If you define placebo the way some determined skeptics do in these discussions, to be a false sense of wellbeing with no actual physiological healing [1], then (in my case, for argument's sake) you'd need to account for the measurable physiological improvements that have happened in my body, that didn't happen when I was undertaking other practices over 7+ years, but that I believed/hoped just as strongly would be effective.

[1] https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/is-harnessing-the-power-of-...


I wasn't saying your treatment was placebo at all, in fact. I couldn't possibly make that call.

I'm saying that the brain is powerful enough to heal itself and the body through the placebo effect. If it's that complex, then some treatments not generally accepted will work on some people some of the time above and beyond placebo.


I wasn't saying your treatment was placebo

I am!

Sorry, I'm trying not to be defensive or argumentative, just to make this important point understood: when we are talking about physiological healing brought about by changes in emotions or beliefs, we are most likely talking about the exact same mechanism as what is commonly dismissed as the placebo effect.

The point is that it shouldn't be dismissed; it should be embraced.


I don't think emotional and psychological healing can be dismissed as placebo in physiological healing.

People think there's a great divide between mind and body but if you look at common psychological problems, they very much have a physiological representation.

With anxiety, you're heart rate and blood pressure are effected. You get tension headaches. It can trigger IBS. Hormonal changes in cortisol and adrenaline are present.

Depression drains energy and lowers stress tolerance. Stress has a similar effect as anxiety. It also has very real hormonal changes too. These can have a big impact on physiological state.

Ever been angry and then got a horrible headache? That's psychological state having a very real physiological effect!


I agree with you completely.

I believe wholeheartedly that mind and body are intrinsically linked, and that you can completely heal the body (of a condition like CFS) by healing the mind. It's what I've spent the past 6 years doing.

You're just stuck on the definition of 'placebo' :)


What's the definition of placebo? Was always sure it's used as a control when testing medical treatments in which the patient doesn't know if they are receiving the treatment or not, leading to a genuine change in state from the belief they're in the experimental group, from which clinical significance is measured from as a baseline.

I'm saying that psychological healing can have physiological effects above and beyond placebo due to the very real influence psychological state has on hormones.

If you believe that it's a placebo effect, I'm not sure if it can be called a placebo effect? The whole point of a placebo is that you don't know it's a placebo otherwise it'd have stopped working long ago.

Perhaps the common thread is the belief in its efficacy.


If it were strictly a placebo effect, I would expect any sort of treatment-- anti depresents (I've been on a dozen), talking theraposts, anccupuncture, accupressure, hypnotism, etc. etc. To have worked. If it were just the fact that I was being treated that caused my mind to cure itself, why did all of the previous lengthy and cost-incuring treatments fail?

If "placebo effect" is proffered as a debunking explanation, I'm curious as to the explanation of why this particular sham treatment had the placebo effect, while other sham and real treatments failed to have any effect, real or placebo.


Actually, I'm not saying it's a placebo effect at all. I'm saying that the brain is powerful enough to produce one as an example.

My point is that if the brain has that kind of healing power, it makes sense that other treatments that are not generally accepted will have healing power above and beyond placebo.

I don't doubt these treatments helped you.


IMO it is time for people to start assuming responsibility for their own healing and the numerous psychological / brain-state-altering techniques like meditation are a perfect example.

If anything, the "placebo" sugar pills don't work by themselves; the patients feel better due to feeling calmer that their ailment is being addressed. That by itself proves that the brain has the power to cure a lot of conditions.

I personally have found ways to self-cure with deep relaxation. I have well-repressed and usually well-controlled anxiety to this day. I am usually hyper-active and if I feel a bunch of free joules of energy in my body, I usually quickly expend them; pretty bad habit but I am working on it still. Meditation helps, A LOT. It calms your mind, reduces your CPU frequency -- so to speak -- and by this mechanism, or any other (not sure which one triggers the result) your brain manages to separate the wheat from the chaff and focus on what's really important right now.

A bit off-tangent for sure. My point was that self-healing through altering the brain's state -- be it with meditation, psilocybin, or browsing your comic book collection from when you were a kid -- absolutely works. It serves as seeing the big picture periodically, roughly speaking.


Innerchild Regression Therapy is one that helped me uncover some deep emotional trauma. The difficulty is as you mentioned, people offering these therapies have different experience levels, skills, and styles.


It is really hard, no doubt. Word of mouth is best, but that relies on you already knowing someone unfortunate enough to have had to go through the process themselves.

A reliable disqualifier is anyone who purports to be any kind of heal-everything wizard. All the practitioners who've helped me the most have been well-grounded people, who don't make extravagant claims, and simply work with you to find out what's going on beneath the surface and help you find a better path.

You're welcome to email me and I can help you find someone local if need be.




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