Celebrities endorsing half-baked mental health ‘therapies’ put people at risk

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New Delhi, Oct 23 (IANS) A rise in psychological pseudoscience is putting people at risk, psychologists have warned, with social media and celebrity endorsements partly to blame.

Mental health apps, mood-boosting supplements and energy therapies are among the therapies that could do ‘more harm than good’ according to psychologists Jonathan Stea and Stephen Hupp in their new book titled ‘Investigating Clinical Psychology’.

“As discourse around wellness, mental health, therapy, and access to these resources increasingly enter the public domain, the potential of coming across persuasive pseudoscience has also increased,” Stea explained.

“This is the age of health misinformation. It is everywhere. It is in our social media feeds, promoted by celebrities and influencers, and permeates the legacy news media,” Stea added.

The book covers a variety of topics, including crystal healing, detoxing, animal-assisted therapies, hypnosis, and energy medicine.

“There have been many important contributions to clinical psychology that have flourished in the last century, but there has been an equally powerful but harmful rise in pseudoscience,” Hupp said.

“It is great that more people are talking about mental health – but it must be linked to scientific evidence.”

The book also gives historical examples of popular pseudoscientific psychology including primal scream therapy and psychoanalytical theories such as dream interpretation.

In the chapter by Blake Boehme, Andres De Los Reyes, and Gordon Asmundson, they highlight how several professions with little or no mental health training have ‘injected themselves into the mental health landscape’.

They explain that people suffering from poorly understood or unexplained symptoms are particularly vulnerable, as they are desperate for an explanation for their condition and effective treatment.

“The symptoms and distress they experience are real and should be treated with compassion; however, compassion and exploitation should not be mistaken for one another,” they said.

Some practitioners claim to hold knowledge about a condition that others do not and can gain a cult-like following, they suggest, gaining testimonials from supporters despite a lack of tangible evidence that the cure is accurate and effective.

“The new diagnosis becomes diagnosis du jour, often replacing or displacing the previous diagnosis, with information communications infrastructure (e.g., internet search engines) playing a crucial role in the rapidity of the spread,” they explained.

A potent form of anecdote is now derived from celebrities or social media personalities. This anecdotal evidence is spread quickly by modern social media networks and can be subject to a continuous process of manipulation and revision as it spreads from person to person.

“An individual’s understanding of scientific principles can make them more or less likely to be manipulated by online pseudoscientific claims,” the authors wrote.

To counter this rise in pseudoscience, the book suggests firmer regulation of mental health services and better-quality scientific studies into the efficacy of popular treatment.

Further recommendations in the book include improving science literacy among the public and making health misinformation part of school curriculum so people know what to look out for.

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