For anxiety and depression there are endless alternative therapies on the market. They are called alternative because no doctor would ever prescribe them and I refer to them being "on the market" because they are definitely sold as a business, not prescribed on a basis of needs analysis.
Bookshops are full to the brim with self-help books on anxiety which make extremely brave claims about how effective their techniques are, and how quickly and easily they work. In our compensation culture it never ceases to amaze me how they get away with making such outlandish claims. You would have thought that trading standards officers might get involved.
But how does it work? How do therapies and their celebrity founders get so big despite the fact that they are selling completely unproven, unscientific and, more often than not, useless products to vulnerable people.
People that suffer from anxiety and depression are very easy targets. They want something badly (to recover), they are willing to part with what money they have, and they are desperate for an easy way out. In plain, they want to believe it.
When you want to believe something, or you want to check its validity you look for evidence. If you are taking a prescription medicine for anxiety or depression you do so safe in the knowledge that the drug has passed rigorous trials and had its efficacy demonstrated by research published in peer reviewed journals. Despite many opportunities alternative therapies are rarely subjected to this kind of investigation and seldom prove to have any value.
Instead, the celebrity "pioneers" of these new techniques prefer to publish books aimed at sufferers where their techniques are "proven" just by giving examples and testimonials. Although they claim the examples come from real life there is no way of knowing. Typically they go something like this: "Jane had been suffering from severe anxiety since her early twenties….after reading this book/doing this exercise/drinking this/taking that pill she hasn’t had an anxiety or panic attack in two years!". But who is Jane? More often than not they claim that Jane is not a real person but an amalgamation of real people the therapist has treated. We can never prove it. And in fact, I know from personal experience that what we often tell our therapists about our progress isn’t true!
Strange as it may seem I have caught myself many times exaggerating my progress to a therapist I paid good money to see on the basis that I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. I should have sacked them. I think, maybe, that wanting others to be happy is a common symptom of both anxiety and panic, as is putting other people’s needs ahead of our own. But in truth we should not spare our therapists blushes, under any circumstances.
I must add that this kind of qualitative data is not a bad thing per se. In fact I would like to see drug companies and scientific journals using much more of this kind of research to help qualify the statistical data they have collected. After all, knowing that for example 60% of participants’ depression improved over twelve months of taking such and such a drug doesn’t actually tell us much about the improvement a patient is likely to feel. Only extensive qualitative research is likely to tell us that.
There is a side to all this gimmickry which in my opinion is the worst of all. It effects not just anxiety sufferers or people with conditions like depression, panic disorder, SAD, GAD and social anxiety, but also people who are suffering from a range of serious medical conditions as well, from arthritis to HIV and cancer. Authors of these books seem to get together and swap personal testimonials. For example one "guru" describes another authors work as "a tremendous breakthrough" and in turn that author quotes heavily from the "guru’s" own work in his book. The result is a merry-go-round of famous authors blowing sunshine up each other and completely artificially creating an illusion that a therapy or technique is effective and respected, even though it has NEVER been shown to work and the respect it has gained is purely commercial.
I hope someone stamps down on this kind of behaviour soon, for all our sakes!