Dr Caroline Leaf – Serious questions, few answers (Part 1)

Caroline Leaf. The name is popping up more and more around Christian circles. I was curious to hear her speak, since as a Christian and a (family) physician, I like to know how people integrate science and spirituality. So I took the opportunity to drive down to Kings Christian Church on the Gold Coast to hear what she had to say.

I left with more questions than answers.  And some serious concerns.

The following blog posts are a discussion on some of the points that she raised. I simply don’t have the time to go through all of them, although I’m seriously considering whether to do a formal review and response to her teaching.

I had to divide up the original post into three parts to make it more manageable. Here’s part 1, in which I review her academic qualifications, her link of thoughts and illness, our innate wiring, and the myth of the mini-brain.

Part 2 of this post will look further at the pecking order of the mind and brain, some miscellaneous issues, and her ‘professional’ opinion on ADHD.

Part 3 will examine her claim that “Toxic thoughts are sin” and why such a statement is incongruent with the Christian faith.

IS SHE A COGNITIVE NEUROSCIENTIST?

For a start, she was introduced as a cognitive neuroscientist. Her CV lists her degrees as a Bachelor of Science, Masters in Speech Therapy and Audiology, and a PhD in Communication Pathology. She did not advise where she has tenure or does her research. Her CV lists guest lectures at a few Universities (Wits, University of Pretoria, University of Cape Town, University of Western Cape Annual Education Conference, SASHLA, Rotary Foundation), but no tenure.

Admittedly, the definition of a cognitive neuroscientist is somewhat vague (http://careersinpsychology.org/becoming-a-cognitive-neuroscientist/) but the term ‘cognitive neuroscientist’ confers the idea that one is actively involved in cognitive neuroscientific research, or at least in the recent past.

So the question remains: is she really a cognitive neuroscientist, or is she just a woman with a PhD that reads a lot?

THE CORRELATION OF ILLNESS AND THOUGHT

The next thing to grab my attention was her statement: “75 to 98% of ALL illness is related to our thought life.” Somehow I doubt that. The influence of stress is high.  But I am a GP – I see sick people everyday, on the coal face, before they are collected in subspecialist clinics, or improve spontaneously. It’s a real stretch to ascribe stress to more than 30%. Looking at her book ‘Who Switched Off My Brain’ (Leaf 2009, p15), she says that 80% of all diseases are the result of our thought lives. So her own figures are conflicting. (The other thing is that, for a PhD recipient, she has poorly referenced her book!)

Besides, stress causes illness, but I’m not yet satisfied she’s proven that ‘negative’ thought and stress are the same thing.

THE MINI-BRAIN

She also claimed that the brain and the heart connect to every cell in your body. Again, it’s a bit of a stretch. Every cell needs to be bathed in nutrients from the blood which in turn is connected to the heart, and nerves are every where.  But there are many cells that are not innervated directly.

The only way that the brain or the heart are connected to every cell is simply because, technically, every cell is connected to every other cell. Like if everyone in a church stood up and held hands, the man in the front row would be “connected” to the woman in the back.

But she went further on her theory, by claiming that the heart has a mini-brain that directly influences the real brain – by making moral decisions on its own, and that it is part of our conscience. She justified her statement by saying that the heart has 40,000 interconnected nerve cells, and the heart is directly connected to the brain. But on that same logic, my rectum could be a mini-brain and be part of my conscience.

She alluded to the effect of ANF, atrial natriuretic factor. There are actually three natriuretic peptides. ANF, produced by the top two chambers of the heart, actually regulates blood pressure (http://www.cvphysiology.com/Blood%20Pressure/BP017.htm). If it has an effect on thought, it is secondary, not primary.

WIRED FOR OPTIMISM?

She also states that we are wired for optimism, and that emotions like fear are learned. That doesn’t make sense since I have seen research that shows a newborn baby is wired for pleasure and emotions like disgust. These pathways are developed and refined during childhood, but we are born with built-in templates for basic emotion.

I will have more in the next 24 hours, including her statement on the pecking order of the mind and brain, some miscellaneous issues, and her ‘professional’ opinion on ADHD.

REFERENCES

Leaf, C. (2009). Who Switched Off My Brain? Controlling toxic thoughts and emotions. Southlake, TX, USA, Inprov, Ltd.

10 thoughts on “Dr Caroline Leaf – Serious questions, few answers (Part 1)

  1. Hi Dr C. Pit,

    It is a pity you did not seek to clarify the comments you have posted above with us before you posted them. We hope you allow our comments to be displayed so that your readers can make informed decisions and not to judge Dr Leaf as you have done without getting accurate information. By your comments it is obvious that you have not kept up to date with the latest Scientific research.

    Dr Leaf can call herself a Cognitive Neuroscientist because of her field research (published in peer evaluated Journals) …see the Science articles in the media/downloads section at drleaf.com. If you require, we can also send letters from her peers in the field of Neuroscience

    She also developed the Geodesic Information Processing model theory.

    Yes she does read a lot as the field of Neuroscience is constantly evolving and one has to be as informed as possible.

    Some research links re the correlation between illness and thought are presented in Dr Leaf’s November the 30th blog at drleaf.com…blog. There are many more statistic correlation research links.

    Dr Leaf has listed references differently in the different books and has a full list of references in the ‘thought life’ section at drleaf.com. The references were listed simply in that book for the lay person. This is an accepted literary format for the lay person. Subsequent books have fuller references.

    The mini brain in the heart research can be found at Heartmath.org

    Heartmath and Dr Don Colbert both reference the effect of ANF

    The wired for optimism bias research has been evidenced by various scientific researchers
    For easy access to this research please see the Google links to TED talks and Time Magazine’s article.

    Please send us your E-mail address so that we can send you further documentation.

    BELOW IS A LETTER OF REFERENCE FROM A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL ENDORSING DR CAROLINE LEAF
    My name is Dr Peter Amua-Quarshie and I am presently a full-time Adjunct Professor (lecturer) at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, Wisconsin. I have a B.Sc (Hons) in Medical Sciences (specializing in Neuropathology) and a Masters of Public Health (MPH), both degrees from the University of Leeds (UK). Additionally I have a medical degree (MB ChB) from the University of Ghana Medical School, Accra, Ghana, and a Master’s of Science (MS) in Behavioral and Neural Sciences from Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey. I started teaching anatomy in the University of Leeds Medical School in 1996. I have taught Neurochemistry to graduate students and Neuroscience to undergraduates at Delaware State University and the University of Wisconsin respectively. I have known Dr. Caroline Leaf since 2006 and have worked closely with her since 2008 on various projects in the field of cognitive neuroscience.
    Caroline Leaf received her training in Communication Pathology (BSC Logopaedics) at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. The University of Cape Town has produced many outstanding graduates, including Max Theiler, a Nobel Prize laureate in Physiology or Medicine and Christaan Barnard, the first person to successfully transplant a human heart. Caroline Leaf was a contemporary to the eminent neuroscientist Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain Project and the new one billion Euro European Union Flagship Project, the Human Brain Project. As well having to study the cognition, she had to endure the rigor of the first 2 years of the medical course, in which she had to study neuroanatomy and neurophysiology. Dr. Leaf also holds a Master’s degree and PhD in Communication Pathology from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. In her Master’s degree her dissertation concentrated on cognitive neuroscience of Traumatic Brain Injury (Closed Head Injury). In developing her groundbreaking Geodesic Learning™ Theory (brain-compatible learning) in her ground breaking PhD thesis, she examined cognition and neurobiology of thinking. The Geodesic Learning™ Theory has been implemented among approximately 100,000 students in South Africa with great success. I have personally helped implement her Geodesic Learning™ Theory in a School District in the USA and was able to demonstrate quantitative improvement in scholastics across the board among the students. She is widely published in journal, book, DVD, television and the internet in the field of cognitive neuroscience in South Africa, USA and other parts of the world.
    I have discussed neuroscientific subjects with her for multiple hours many times and have been thoroughly impressed with her knowledge and insight in neurobiology. However what really thrills me is revelation God gives her about the brain. She is an example to me of a neuroscientist who glorifies God in her pursuit of understanding the brain, and who is able to demonstrate that we are truly fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).

    DR LEAF’s BIOGRAPHY

    Since 1985, Dr Caroline Leaf, a Communication Pathologist and Audiologist, has worked in the area of Cognitive Neuroscience. She holds a Bsc Logopaedics with focus on in Neuroscience, Neuronanatomy and anatomy, Communication Pathology, Psychology, linguistics and audiology) , Masters in Communication Pathology She specialized in Traumatic Brain Injury and PhD in Communication Pathology (TBI) and Learning Disabilities focusing specifically on the Science and neuroscience of Thought as it pertains to thinking and learning. She developed a Cognitive Neuroscientific theory called the Geodesic Information Processing Theory for her PhD research and did some of the initial research back in the 1990’s showing how using non-traditional techniques, based on neuroscientific principles of neuroplasticity and neuropsychological principles, that the mind can change the brain and can effect behavioural change as seen academically, behaviorally and emotionally. A large part of her research in recent years has been to link scientific principles with scripture showing how science is catching up with the bible.

    She applied the findings of her statistically proven research in clinical practice for nearly 20 years and now lectures and preaches around the world on these topics. She is a prolific author of many books, articles and scientific articles. She has been a featured guest of Enjoying Everyday Life with Joyce Meyer, and LIFE TODAY with James and Betty Robison, Marilyn Hickey, Sid Roth and TBN Doctor to Doctor, amongst many others. She has her own show on TBN called Switch on Your Brain.

    Her passion is to help people see the link between science and scripture as a tangible way of controlling their thoughts and emotions, learning how to think and learn and finding their sense of purpose in life.

    Caroline and her husband, Mac, live in Dallas, Texas with their four children.

    Dr Leaf’s Qualifications

    Web page: http://www.drleaf.com has my full qualifications and links to the Universities where I studied

    Dr Leaf’s Reference list

    1. Leaf, C.M. 1985. “Mind Mapping as a Therapeutic Intervention Technique”. Unpublished workshop manual.

    2. Leaf, C.M. 1989. “Mind Mapping as a Therapeutic Technique” in Communiphon, South African Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 296, pp. 11-15.

    3. Leaf, C.M. 1990. “Teaching Children to Make the Most of Their Minds: Mind Mapping” in Journal for Technical and Vocational Education in South Africa, 121, pp. 11-13.

    4. Leaf, C.M. 1990. “Mind Mapping: A Therapeutic Technique for Closed Head Injury”. Masters Dissertation, University of Pretoria.

    5. Leaf, C.M. 1992. “Evaluation and Remediation of High School Children’s Problems Using the Mind Mapping Therapeutic Approach” in Remedial Teaching, Unisa, 7/8, September 1992.

    6. Leaf, C.M., Uys, I.C. and Louw, B. 1992. “The Mind Mapping Approach(MMA): A Culture and Language-Free Technique” in The South African Journal of Communication Disorders, Vol. 40, pp. 35-43.

    7. Leaf, C.M. 1993. “The Mind Mapping Approach (MMA): Open the Door to Your Brain Power; Learn How to Learn” in Transvaal Association of Educators Journal (TAT).

    8. Leaf, C.M. 1997. “The Mind Mapping Approach: A Model and Framework for Geodesic Learning”. Unpublished D.Phil Dissertation, University of Pretoria.

    9. Leaf, C.M. 1997. “The Development of a Model for Geodesic Learning: The Geodesic Information Processing Model” in The South African Journal of Communication Disorders, Vol. 44, pp. 53-70.

    10. Leaf, C.M. 1997. “The Move from Institution Based Rehabilitation (IBR) to Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR): A Paradigm Shift” in Therapy Africa, 1 (1) August 1997, p. 4.

    11. Leaf, C.M. 1997. ‘”An Altered Perception of Learning: Geodesic Learning” in Therapy Africa, 1 (2), October 1997, p. 7.

    12. Leaf, C.M., Uys, I. and Louw. B., 1997. “The Development of a Model for Geodesic Learning: the Geodesic Information Processing Model” in The South African Journal For Communication Disorders, 44.

    13. Leaf, C.M. 1998. “An Altered Perception of Learning: Geodesic Learning: Part 2” in Therapy Africa, 2 (1), January/February 1998, p. 4.

    14. Leaf, C.M., Uys, I.C. and Louw, B. 1998. “An Alternative Non-Traditional Approach to Learning: The Metacognitive-Mapping Approach” in The South African Journal of Communication Disorders, 45, pp. 87-102.

    15. Leaf. C.M. 2002. Switch on Your Brain with the Metacognitive-Mapping Approach. Truth Publishing.

    16. Leaf, C.M. 2005. Switch on Your Brain. Understand Your Unique Intelligence Profile and Maximize Your Potential. Tafelberg, Cape Town, SA

    17. Leaf, C.M. 2008. Switch on Your Brain 5 Step Learning Process. Switch on Your Brain USA, Dallas.

    18. Leaf, C.M. 2007. Who Switched Off My Brain? Controlling Toxic Thoughts and Emotions. Switch on Your Brain USA, Dallas.

    19. Leaf, C.M. 2007. “Who Switched Off My Brain? Controlling Toxic Thoughts and Emotions”. DVD series. Switch on Your Brain, Johannesburg, SA.

    20. Leaf, C.M., Copeland M. & Maccaro, J. 2007. “Your Body His temple. God’s Plan for Achieving Emotional Wholeness”. DVD series. Life Outreach International, Dallas.

  2. Pingback: A Health Mind is a Healthy Body | Medivizor

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  4. This “switch on your brain” and “21 day brain detox” stuff looks and smells like a money-making gimmick and pseudoscience, preying on the general populace who understands virtually nothing concerning how scientific research works and what constitutes real science, especially the brain, mind and conscience. It slyly mixes in faith, and in so doing suggests that there is a mystical spiritual side to all this that cannot be tested. Hence, her teachings are off the hook from any real demand of proof. Dr. Leaf, if you disagree, please provide tangible evidence otherwise. These sorts of claims demand proof. My initial opinion from your work suggests that you are a loving person with the right intentions and some truly useful insight. In fact, I agree with some of your “philosophies” about how the mind and brain connect the spiritual and physical. However, I get the feeling that the shiny allure of money making and fame building has poisoned this project. Why does every page on your website have a nice pretty picture of you on it? What are you selling again? But you’re on a roll, why stop now…

    While I appreciate what Caroline Leaf is trying to do, I’m expressing my opinion that she is not being entirely honest with folks or herself. There is a difference between telling people “this is my opinion, based on my own experience” and “this is scientific fact.” In an effort to help people and convince them to try her approach, she has moved into a dangerous area. Much of what she is now saying is quite a stretch and, frankly, unproven. She takes various observations or scientific points and connects them to come up with explanations and possible applications, those are called theories or hypotheses. Those now need to be tested and proven or disproven. That is the difference and that is why I don’t care for Dr. Leaf’s brand of “self-help.” Even good Christians with good intentions can lead people on the self-will / self-help goose chase when they try to share or teach the gospel but don’t fully understand the grace and sovereignty of God. Like treating the symptom, It may work for a little while.

    Now before you discount me as one of “those people” who would make such hateful claims about Dr. Leaf, lets look at a real-life example. Typical medicines have to go through years of grueling testing and proving in the clinic before they are FDA approved and released to the public to treat diseases. That’s because sometimes people can have adverse reactions, and certain people with certain issues can’t take that medication or it could cause serious problems, even death. We need “those people” because they protect us and demand real proof. Or else who knows what snake oil we would be getting from our doctors and pharmacies? How would you like going to the doctor to get a vaccine shot but the vaccine doesn’t really work, its a solution of sugar water? Imagine the outcry.

    Let’s ask some simple questions: What authority does Caroline Leaf have to make these claims or teach these ideas? As pointed out above, she holds no tenure at any respected center of higher learning, nor has she ever. Her thesis and research were not shown to provide any ground breaking discoveries or lead to paradigm shifts in the field of cognitive science, and did not publish in anything other than obscure journals. The above writer is correct in that she is misrepresenting herself as a respected research scientist, and therefore in a way telling people that they should listen to her because she is an authority in this area. To put it lightly, that’s not entirely true. She is also not a pastor, not formally trained to teach the Word of God, and has no clear track record of being under the authority of the Church or serving in the church. If there is something I am missing, please enlighten me. While I know it could be argued that these are not absolute measures and there are exceptions to these standards, those are few and far between and need to be demonstrated as such by multiple other means. she is entitled to her opinions, but she is no authority in these areas and should not masquerade as such.

    I’m only asking people to please be wary of snake oil salespeople. Let’s not forget that she is making good money and has a nice glossy website. But what is she telling us that is new under the sun that the bible doesn’t already teach us? And wouldn’t simply teaching some of Jesus’ parables have a better and longer lasting effect? Did Jesus feel the need to explain to us how our brains work in order for us to understand how faith works and our need for salvation and a renewed mind? I would advise that you might want to spend your time and money at your local church, not going to her conferences, buying her books, or trying to improve your consciousness. I’m afraid that this is detracting from the real gospel and can mislead young Christians into believing that they have some sort of power over their destiny. These sorts of delusions, much like the prosperity gospels, can mislead people for years from a true relationship with Christ, or even destroy their faith altogether.

    I would challenge Dr. Leaf to put her ideas and theories to the real test with controlled studies. If she is really onto something, she will be driven to push this so that it moves from the realm of apparent pseudoscience to real science. If it is not the real deal, then it too will pass. She will make her small fortune and that will be it. If she is for real, and her cognitive therapies are of value, then lets put them to the real test and see how they hold up in real clinical trials. Is she in this for the money and fame, or to really help people?

    I know what sound science is. I’m a tenure-track professor at a respected university writing professional grants, publishing research in international journals, training PhD students. I know how easy it is to make wild claims and have big ideas, versus how hard it is to do real science and prove something is true. I also know what solid Christian faith is. I’ve been a Christian since I got saved in college and have been actively involved in community outreach ministries for a couple of years. I appreciate how important it is, and how challenging it is, to know Christ and help people to follow Him.

    Before you post a response, please make it thoughtful. Realize I’m not being hateful. I’m asking some obvious questions. You know, the hard ones we’re not supposed to ask, just assume that what we are told is true. Let’s put real teaching to the test, see if it stands up. I’m simply challenging Caroline Leaf to hold herself and what she is putting out there to a standard, and asking people to use their common sense and rather than take someone’s word for it, ask a few hard questions. Its OK to be skeptical of people and use a little discernment. If someone makes a claim, then OK, lets see it … I’m simply sad about these people who crop up and mislead everyone and make a bunch of money in the process. If that’s not what she is doing, then time will tell.

    • Thank you for the very cogent comment. It isn’t hateful at all, but rather, respectful and with a number of very pertinent points.

      In the very first blog I wrote on Dr Leaf in August last year, I left a standing invitation for Dr Leaf to respond to any or all of the criticisms raised, and unfortunately to date, she has chosen not to reply, publicly or privately. The invitation remains open. If she chooses to make comment publicly, I will post it, full and unabridged, without hesitation.

      In the meantime, all I can suggest is that you make your concerns known to your friends and colleagues, and to the National Executive of the denomination that you are part of. With enough expressed concern, I hope that our church leaders will take these concerns seriously.

      Again, many thanks for your interest and comment, and Merry Christmas.

  5. Dr. Pitt & vertex,
    I am neither a scientist or a doctor. I am just a normal layman who always seeks to improve his life. I accepted Christ in ’83 and have been involved in various ministries in two different churches. I have also been burned in the past by fast talking scammers. Consequently, before spending any of my hard earned money on the latest book, DVD, or snake oil, I do research. I stumbled upon Dr. Leaf on YouTube and found her talks interesting. After reading several blogs supporting her and her teachings, I came upon yours. You seem to be intelligent, honest, and respective, if not supporting of Dr. Leafs views. And then I read the response from ‘Mac’ (August 28,2013). He was very thorough in responding to your critique of Dr. Leaks hypothesis. I thank you for having the integrity to post his response. However, you have had more then enough time for a rebuttal, but I see none. Why?
    The most important, and most powerful organ in our body is the brain. We are learning more and more of how it works every day. Many new theories of how it functions will be criticized. This is human nature. Only time and on-going research will prove them valid. As for me, I will purchase the book and apply her teachings (as long as they do not disagree with scripture) and see what happens. I think it will be positive, but only time will tell. Thank you for your time and have a happy new year.

    • Thanks for taking the time to respond Paul. I think it’s great that you’ve taken the time to consider all options open-mindedly. All the work that I’ve done over the last two years has been to provide people that option, and no matter what choice you make, I’m glad that you’ve had the information available to be able to make that choice. Good luck to you.

      I’m a little surprised by your statement, “However, you have had more then enough time for a rebuttal, but I see none. Why?” My response to Mac Leaf can be found at http://cedwardpitt.com/2013/08/29/dr-caroline-leaf-contradicted-by-the-latest-research/, and I have published a 68,000 word rebuttal of Dr Leaf’s teachings in my book “Hold That Thought: Reappraising the work of Dr Caroline Leaf” https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/466848 or on iBooks https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/hold-that-thought/id908877288?mt=11. Both versions are available for free. I would encourage you to read Dr Leaf’s books and then read mine. I hope you will see it’s an adequate rebuttal. If you still disagree with my assessment, then that’s fine. Like I said, I’m not here to win arguments but to provide an alternative viewpoint so that open-minded people such as yourself can have a choice.

      Finally, you’re correct in saying that our current understanding of our brain and the various models and hypotheses of thought, learning, volition etc will be tested and refined. This is the way of good science, vital to the progress of knowledge and the progress of mankind in general. I contend that Dr Leaf has not kept up with the current science, despite her spruiking to the contrary, and this shows in the conclusions that she attempts to draw. I would also encourage you to review the scriptures she uses in their full Biblical context. I think you’ll find that she uses them out of context. Stay open-minded and curious as you continue to explore Dr Leaf’s work.

      All the best.

      • Thank you for your timely response Dr. Pitt. My ‘More then enough time for a rebuttal, but I see none. Why?” comment was because I saw none in the “Reply” section immediately following ‘Mac’ comments. This could be due to my lack of computer savvy. I can promise you that I will follow up and read the info in your response. “The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly” Proverbs 15:14 (ESV). Thanks for your time. God bless.

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