Langara College in Vancouver, BC, is a fine institution. It’s a real school, offering real degrees, and providing real education in the arts, sciences, social sciences, and career-oriented studies. It is by no means a woo institution, which is what makes the following so troublesome.
Langara offers a continuing studies program in Integrative Energy Healing, the goal of which is to “[bridge] the wisdom of east and west, including exciting recent scientific advances, in a transformational approach to creating health and preventing disease.” Before I go into what this course contains, I want to stress that this is not your standard continuing studies, after hours, two week, Micky Mouse, independently run program. This three year certificate course is fully backed by the school, the students are required to provide at least 100 “treatments” during each year of the program at community health centers and Vancouver General Hospital, and many students use the course to supplement their training as registered nurses working in hospitals where “some doctors invite [them] to ‘clear the energy field’ of patients after surgery.” The advisory board for the program contains three registered nurses and two doctors.
OK, so this is big-time stuff. Now, what exactly is taught in the Integrative Energy Healing program? Take a look at their promotional video. Not the whole thing — if you can watch this from beginning to end, you have a stronger stomach than I. Just skip around a bit and see if you can find two back-to-back sentences that make a lick of sense.
You can also have a look at the program’sinformation guide [pdf], which I did read through in detail. This document would make for a good game of skeptical bingo — everyone take a bingo card full of phrases like vital energy, auric field, and myofascial release, then take a page from this guide, just one page will do, and see who can complete a row first. The only thing that seems to be missing is quantum physics. Otherwise, we’ve got chakras, auras, harmonic vibrations, chi, meditation, herbalism, reiki, five-element theory, ancient Chinese wisdom, ancient Indian wisdom, ancient North American wisdom, and the list goes on. The word disease is frequently spelled with a dash “dis-ease” which surely is an implication of germ theory denial, in that all disease is caused by some sort of disharmony within the body.
Here are a few of my favourite passages (emphasis mine):
In this course students will cultivate an intuitive, discriminative awareness. They will incorporate what feels true to them from the ancient eastern spiritual teachings, from whole-person, multidimensional energy models, and from the western conception of “mind/body.”
You will learn that the human body is surrounded and interpenetrated [great word!] by a subtle luminous energy body. This energy body holds the key to understanding the interactions between body, mind, and spirit as they relate to life and healing.
From a theoretical perspective, we will explore the chakra system (the system of energy field “centers” in the body). We will study energy anatomy and physiology, energy flows, and the symptoms of body dis-ease
Alright, enough abject mockery. This program has been heavily criticized, most notably by Dr. Lloyd Oppel of the British Columbia Medical Association, Dale Beyerstein, professor of science and ethics at Langara (and awesome, long-time skeptic), and Orac at the Respectful Insolence blog. Dr. Oppel has called the program “medically useless” and Mr. Beyerstein points out that “there is not a single peer-reviewed controlled study backing up any of the treatments taught in that program.” So why does Langara continue to offer such poorly supported material as part of their health curriculum? Doug Soo, dean of Langara’s Continuing Studies and board member for the Integrative Energy Healing program, offers an argumentum ad populum:
Mr. Soo says the public wants alternative health courses. He says Mr. Beyerstein publicly debated the manager of the energy-healing program, but “as many people applauded for her as for him.”
He began developing the non-credit courses in 1997 because alternative health practitioners came to him requesting it.
Is this the future state of healthcare training in Canada? A system based not on what experts have carefully proven to be real and effective, but on what prospective students desire to be true? It’s important to note that Integrative Energy Healing is not actually part of a nursing program, but again, many nurses – front line public healthcare professionals – apply the principles in their work, and are supported by doctors in doing so. These are not independently operating woo-mongers selling crystals out of their basements. This is a discouraging example, hopefully not indicative of a trend. Let’s be glad, at least, that we’ve got people like Dr. Oppel and Mr. Beyerstein (and Skeptic North!) fighting publicly for science and evidence-based medicine in our country.