Join Date: Dec 2008
Phil Parker's Lightning Process - my experience
First of all, I am acutely aware that coming into a skeptics forum and saying that I suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome isn't likely to be taken lightly. I realise there's still a lot of controversy around the whole idea of CFS/ME, but it has been my observation that most of this controversy comes about from the name ME, or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, meaning (if I recall correctly) an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. This refers to a pathology that does not exist, and hence I prefer to refer to the condition as CFS as that describes a collection of symptoms that quite clearly have been observed to exist instead. I would hope that the discrepancy in naming the condition would not make people think that the condition itself does not exist (though I have encountered that attitude in the past).
Hoping we can agree on this, I come to the reason I made this post in the first place, Phil Parker's Lightning Process (I would link to it but being a newbie I'm not allowed to post URLs - a quick google will get you there, though.)
This is a 'training program' that supposedly brings significant results to people who suffer from Chronic Fatigue. It might seem like the skeptic's nightmare thanks to its high price (£560 upwards) and the suggestion on the website that you don't go if you are skeptical about it, because it probably won't work. It all screams pseudoscience, and I was well aware of that when I went on it.
Now, you might ask, why would I, as someone who considers himself a skeptic, fork out £560 for something that sounds like pseudoscience? The answer is twofold: Firstly, Chronic Fatigue was not the only problem that I was wanting to get some help with - I had suffered from clinical anxiety and depression for a considerable time too, and the Process sounded vaguely promising for these things. Secondly, I was desperate. And yes, I realise that this is how people get scammed in the first place, but I'm only human. The NHS did initially send me to a specialist centre for CFS/ME, but after a few appointments they refused to treat me because of my underlying anxiety issues, saying that I needed to get those treated first, so I was instead put on a 14 month waiting list to see a psychiatrist, and had to go through that before the Chronic Fatigue place would even see me again. So yes, I was stuck, and decided to give this a go, because if it helped even slightly it would be useful.
In order to get onto the Process, you have to be interviewed on the phone by the practitioner you're applying to. This was not much of a problem to me, except for the fact that I had answered "yes" to the question "Do you tend to question what you are told?" When this came up, I said that in general I do, but I was open to anything that might help, and if I wasn't I wouldn't be applying. I'm not entirely sure how much I believed what I was saying, but it seemed to allay her suspicions anyway.
The Process itself takes place in three consecutive days (or rather, afternoons) of seminars. Taking it with me was a girl about my age who also had Chronic Fatigue, and an older guy who had travelled over from Norway in a wheelchair for the Process, who suffered from Multiple Sclerosis. I have to admit this shocked me at first, because Multiple Sclerosis is a more well defined medical phenomenon than Chronic Fatigue, but in we went.
Before I go on, I should mention that I might potentially be breaking the law by telling you about what goes on in the Process, as part of the document you sign to apply is effectively an NDA, but as far as I'm aware this was largely to stop you reproducing the documents provided to you during the Process, not talking about it.
The first day was mostly videos of success stories and mind exercises. Most of this was fair enough, for example, the instructor asked us to look around the room and find everything that was red, and then close our eyes and tell her what we saw. We got nearly everything. Then she told us to say what we'd seen that was blue, and we got nearly nothing - and upon opening our eyes realised that virtually the entire room was in blue. This was then extended to say that if you look for illness, you will find it. The actual Lightning Process part was, to be honest, less impressive than it had sounded, as mostly it involved jumping around on a mat, shouting positive affirmations at yourself. The guy with MS broke down in tears several times as he struggled to stand up on the mat, which got pretty heart-rending after a while. We all agreed that it was helping us, though I don't know to what extent we really believed it at the time.
The second day was pretty similar, only this time the mat-jumping was extended to include a more hypnotherapy-type experience of viewing yourself in the future as where you want to be, and that sort of thing. There was also a very big emphasis on reducing as much of the negativity in your life as possible, and we were also instructed to use "active" language, which meant saying that I "do" CFS, instead of I "have" CFS, which was intended to make your language take more responsibility for said action than it might ordinarily do. This was later extended to things like "doing migraine" and "doing asthma", or for the guy in the wheelchair, "doing MS", which made him break down again and alienated me somewhat. Doing feelings (such as the anxiety and depression) seemed obvious enough, but using it for physical things that you clearly wouldn't wish on yourself anyway seemed almost cruel.
The third day was intended to consolidate our new positive lifestyle. We did more Processes, heard more success stories, and then came to the bit that freaked me out the most: dealing with family, friends etc. We were told that in the spirit of removing the negative from our lives we should be wary of people who would set us back in our old ways, fellow sufferers (or "doers", heh) who hadn't done the Process, friends who would be skeptical of our sucess, even GPs who wouldn't believe the Process could work, going as far as recommending avoiding certain people if necessary. That seemed a tad too cultish for me, and epitomised the difference in my attitude to the Process as opposed to my fellow Processers. Throughout the seminars, the instructor had been telling us success stories of John or Josh or Sue or David or whoever, and I was certain at one point that she was pulling a name off the top of her head. So when she told us these success stories, while the girl next to me said "wow", my reaction was more a quiet "hmm..."
You might think from what I've said so far that I'm going to conclude by saying that it's a big bit of pseudoscience that preys on the weak and vulnerable and should be avoided at all costs, but the thing is, I can't do that - because I didn't go away empty handed. The techniques involved in the Process have done wonders for my anxiety, which had been a major problem for me up to then, and given me a basis on which to work on the depression too. I have not found a way of getting it to work for pain and physical symptoms, but this is at odds with the other people who I was doing it with: the girl said she was going to go back to work as soon as possible, and the guy in the wheelchair had actually been walking around - albeit with a stick - far more comfortably than he had been doing a couple of days previously. He didn't break down at all on the third day, and actually seemed very positive about the whole thing. Suffice to say, I was pretty amazed.
Having followed the likes of the JREF and the Skeptics Society for so long, I'd immediately assumed that the idea that it wouldn't work if you were skeptical of it was proof that it was overplaying its own power, but in reality the people who DID believe it actually seemed to have got far more out of it than I did. Essentially the Process works by stimulating the placebo effect in people, but the placebo effect only works if you're either ignorant of it or expect it. They seem to have harnessed an almost cult-like method of conditioning and used it to bring about this placebo effect in people, therefore aiding, if not curing, their ailments. But I am not the sort of person a cult would try to condition, I was observing and questioning every step of the way, and for once in my life, it seems to have held me back.
I'm left with a rather unpleasant taste in my mouth from this episode; I'd always thought it's a virtue to question what I'm told, but in this particular case I have to say it does seem that the people who can just accept it get far more out of the Process than I ever could, and that seems to explain (even if it doesn't excuse) why they tell people not to go on it if they're skeptical.
Could it be perhaps possible that I'm just too skeptical to be well?