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.

24 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.

  6. I’m very much an ordinary guy with no qualifications to have an opinion on this subject. I did however feel the need, as sufferer of severe clinical depression and anxiety, to say that a lot of the stuff popping up about Dr Leaf on my Facebook page flies in the face of what I have been told through countless visits with psychologists, psychiatrists, Dr’s and the readings i have been directed too. I have found a great many things that Dr Leaf says to be distressing as i wrestle with this disease on a day to day basis. From what I have read I believe the brain to be negatively wired and our mind to throw out random thoughts that we cannot really change but diffuse, accept with practise. I believe that the fall brought this negativity into our minds.
    As a Christian, i have also struggled with the context be derived from the scriptures she uses but I’ll leave wiser theologians to argue that. I enjoyed finding this article that spoke to my concerns.

    • Anton, thank you for your bravery and openness in sharing your ongoing struggles. You’re not alone. I pray for God to give you strength and peace as you grow in healing.

      I, too, have a problem with Dr Leaf’s misrepresentation of scripture. It may be something I formally deal with in future posts, with guidance from a mature theologically trained Christian, as I’m not theologically trained.

      In my humble medical opinion, I’m not sure if the brain is negatively wired, though I don’t agree with Dr Leaf that the brain is wired for love either. Our brain is wired for survival, perhaps as an adaptation after the fall. We have “negative” thoughts and emotions all the time to warn us of danger, and help us negotiate our complex social environment. But our thoughts are just that … thoughts. There was a really interesting article in ‘Psychology Today’ this month about the positives of the so-called ‘negative’ emotions. Here’s the link: https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201501/beyond-happiness-the-upside-feeling-down. It’s a good summary of the growing understanding of psychology that we need all of our emotions and thoughts if we are to live well-rounded and fulfilling lives.

      You’re right when you say that our minds throw out seemingly random thoughts that we don’t need to change, but simply defuse from them and accept them for what they are, just thoughts. This is one of the main pillars in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which is an upgrade to the current CBT model used by most psychologists.

      All the best.

  7. Hello. I am so glad I found your page. A very good friend of mine recommended Dr Leaf’s book ‘Switch on Your Brain’.
    I am an ordinary Christian mom. I have 2 children with significant but very different disabilities; the concept of neuroplasticity is not new to me. I have, however, always kind of poo-pood the ‘rewiring’ side of it because I do that with most things, lol.
    Dr Leaf sounded legit, I had reservations but mostly I was alarmed when I saw that she is recommended by Joyce Meyers (I hope I don’t have to explain this). Also her credentials seemed out of place for her profession. And numerous other things that I observed to be ‘off’ but cannot quantify because i’m just a high school dropout 40 something mom of 7 kids who is sleep deprived. People will often say autism can be ‘cured’- I hate that. People have also told me my quadriplegic daughter (who has microcephaly) can be cured by rewiring her tiny, badly damaged brain. Please insert my silent scream here.
    I am generally a positive person, I love my life and am always trying to improve it even though I am under a tremendous amount of stress caring for my spevial needs and ‘normal’ kids. My husband is loving Dr Leafs cd’s but I am very wary.
    Sorry for the long post, any advice?

    • Hi Naomi,

      Thanks for your comment. I guess there are a few things I can touch on here.

      First of all, seven children!! Wow, you’re amazing. I only have two which is more than enough for me. So I wouldn’t say you’re just an ‘ordinary’ mom.

      I understand that not everyone agrees with Joyce Meyer’s theology or teaching. I’m honestly not familiar with it, so I can’t really comment.

      With regards to Dr Leaf’s credentials, I don’t believe that Dr Leaf can legitimately call herself a cognitive neuroscientist, although her she and her husband disagree.

      Neuroplasticity is one of sciences new frontiers. It offers very exciting potential, but it has fallen victim to the self-improvement life coaching fraternity, and unfortunately it’s has become a cliched buzzword. So it’s no wonder that you’re first response is to poo-poo it. The reason why neuroplasticity isn’t the key to unlocking the untapped human potential is because there are controlling factors to neuroplasticity which vary person to person. We all have some level of neuroplasticity although some people will have a greater capacity for neuroplasticity and some people will have less.

      Like you, I don’t like it when people claim that autism can be ‘cured’. People with autism can augment their weaknesses and adapt, and neurotypicals can meet them half-way by understanding how they think and why, which will help those with autism and Aspie have the opportunity to better use their strengths.

      If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend reading my book “Hold that thought: Reappraising the work of Dr Caroline Leaf” (iBooks = https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/hold-that-thought/id908877288?mt=11 or Smashwords = https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/466848). In chapters 2 and 3, I discuss how our genes, nerve cells and thoughts all relate, and what that means for each person.

      When it comes to Dr Leaf’s teaching, I encourage you, like I encourage everyone, to stay open minded. Read Dr Leaf’s books, then read mine, and decide for yourself. The same goes for your husband. There may be some positive messages that you can take from her teaching. I disagree with Dr Leaf, obviously, because I think that if you take her at her word, she blames congenital disorders like your daughters condition on the parents and grandparents ‘toxic’ thoughts, and suggests that simply eliminating ‘toxic’ thinking will help those people with brain disorders and injuries recover. I don’t think that’s very scientific at all. So I think you’re right to be wary, but don’t simply take my word for it, ask questions. Ask doctors, ask your daughters therapists, ask your pastor, talk to your friends. If you have any specific questions about my writing, I’m happy to clarify (I just can’t give specific medical advice on the blog). I understand that seven children and sleep deprivation makes this difficult, but give yourself the space and time you need to come to a conclusion that you’re happy with.

      I hope this helps a bit. All the very best.

  8. Good to see someone pointing out problems here with the Dr Leaf sales pitch. I don’t think her relationship with ‘Christian Company’ PRO MA Australia (Amway) has been pointed out but does make me think that she is benefiting from well understood marketing techniques to people with a vulnerability due to their Christian beliefs. Any academic or scientific researcher can see the inconsistencies in her writing and claims of expertise. Sadly most lay people will not. It’s a shame because some of the issues and developments in mental and physical health she talks about are very important. Luckily there are other reputable medical practitioners and researchers also working and publishing in this field.

    • Thanks Grant. I appreciate your feedback.

      I agree that “Any academic or scientific researcher can see the inconsistencies in her writing and claims of expertise”. It would be helpful to the lay-population if those academics, scientists and doctors were willing to raise their concerns about Dr Leaf with their churches and their church leaders. It is only through voicing concern about Dr Leaf that she will lose traction amongst the church population.

      I’m not aware of any connection that Dr Leaf has with PRO MA / Amway. If you have any definitive evidence of this, I’d be happy to look at it.

      All the best to you.

  9. I wanted to thank you Dr Pitt for your thoughts on Dr Caroline Leaf, and recommend a book for people who are considering their thought life. A friend of mine highly recommends Dr Leaf’s writings and so I simply googled “review drcarolineleaf” to get to this site, as I found it very interesting because I have been struggling with anger and negativity for some time, even though I am a follower of Jesus by his grace. Some would say that I haven’t let the work of God on the cross be “complete” for my salvation and restoration but I only partly agree with that; we need to “work out our salvation” Phillipians 2:12 (not work for our salvation) in other words the cross is not a superstitious saving act, it is Jesus’ offer of forgiveness and relationship that we can only receive if we accept it and hence enter into it using our brains. So that’s where I’m coming from.

    I would encourage anyone considering Dr Leaf’s views, to read Dr Pitt’s main review, Dr Leaf’s husband’s reply, and Dr Pitt’s reply to that. These writings give a good summary (but necessarily longish) by applying basic principles of critiquing the claims by Dr Leaf. While we may want to believe peoples offers of hope, and may find it hard to believe someone could be wrong, it is very important to carefully test teachings as instructed in God’s word (I’m sure anyone can find the references if interested), and this is not being hateful or negative, in contrast it is making sure your hope is based on facts, not wishful thinking, and for that we can be thankful to Dr Pitt. People must be allowed to respectfully disagree as Dr Pitt has done, without the claim to “hate” in attempt to stifle proper discussion. Dr Pitt’s reviews have prompted me to be careful about believing Dr Leaf’s claims as a neuroscientist, and the claims that nearly all illnesses are caused by toxics thoughts, without evidence. As Dr Pitt said, claims to be associated with eminent academics is not evidence, and I found these claims to be a disturbing way to back up Dr Leaf’s writings.

    Can I recommend a book that I have just finished which I believe is on topic and may be one better option. It is “Choosing Gratitude” by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. While this book is about our thought life, it is also about our responses in relationship to others and God. So the difference with this book and some others is that it is not just about me and improving myself, but about being the person God intended me to be in the wider context of relationships with others, in worshipping Him and serving Him and the people in our lives. It’s not just about gratitude because it works, it’s because it is an appropriate response to the God who blesses all of us so richly every day compared to what we deserve. Believe me I am a beginner at this gratitude stuff and it is hard work rebutting my negative, ungrateful thoughts, but I highly recommend it. Sorry this was so long, not my intention.

    • Hi Jeff. Thanks for your encouragement and support, and for your honesty and humility in sharing your journey. Your second paragraph is very pertinent, and is actually quite a good way of summarising what I do what I do. I may even borrow your phrasing from time to time if that’s ok. One other thing, talk to others in your church and friendship circle about your concerns with Dr Leaf’s teaching so that as many other people can have the chance of seeing Dr Leaf’s from an alternative perspective. All the best to you.

  10. Can i ask if you may be able to comment on Dr Norman Doidge’s book The Brain that Changes Itself and in particular the Pons device on trial which appears to be showing real results already for creating permanent new pathways in the brain for such things as strokes and MS. I am not a medical professional (RN) but i have a dad affected by strokes who would benefit from this.

    • Hi Jeff. I can’t give any specific advice on the Pons device, as I’ve not looked at any independent trials performed on it. Dr Doige’s book is a good read, and offers some interesting insights, but he writes about neuroplasticty as if it’s uniform across every person, when in reality, it tends to be variable. He discusses case studies which seem to be the best example of neuroplasticty or response to treatment, not the typical. While that sort of cherry-picking is good for book sales, it’s not very scientific, so my best advice is enjoy the book, but take his findings with a pinch of salt, and look for independent evidence for benefit from the therapies he discusses before buying into them too much. Cheers.

  11. Hi Dr. Pitt. I am interested in knowing what are your credentials and scientific research completed in neuroscience. Are you suggesting that proven scientific research is complete in its findings and free from any further investigation or discovery? Can you please refer me to some proven scientific or medical research that is based on infallible truths completed in its findings and requires no further research and investigation? I am also interested in how you as a doctor and a christian, have seamlessly reconciled medicine, science and God? Does your spirituality have any bearing or influence on how you understand science or practice medicine? In order for my to understand your post better, answers to these questions would be greatly appreciated.

    • Dear Trice,

      Thanks for your interest. From the tone of your questions, you sound very passionate about the quest for truth, which is something I deeply respect.

      In regards to my credentials, I am a medical doctor by training. I have an MBBS from the University of Queensland, which was a six-year degree at the time I did it, spanning basic science, clinical science, and clinical medicine. Further, I have completed post-graduate fellowship training in the specialty of General Practice, which was another three years of work and study. I have also done a number of further clinical courses in various aspects of sub-specialty clinical medicine, as well as training in clinical research. I have recently written an article for a major Australian medical journal, which has been accepted for publication, although its publication is still pending.

      I am not a cognitive neuroscientist, and have never claimed to be one. And to pre-emptively answer the inevitable follow-on question, neither do I have to be one in order to critique the work of Dr Leaf. In all of my training, from the basic sciences at university through to my post-graduate subspecialty modules, I have been taught to understand the scientific and clinical strengths and weaknesses of various theories and research articles. Throughout the entirety of my critique of Dr Leaf’s ministry, this is what I have endeavoured to do.

      You ask, “Are you suggesting that proven scientific research is complete in its findings and free from any further investigation or discovery? Can you please refer me to some proven scientific or medical research that is based on infallible truths completed in its findings and requires no further research and investigation?” Respectfully, I think you may have misinterpreted my work. If I have not adequately explained myself, or if I’ve appeared to suggest that my work is infallible, then you have my sincerest apologies. Science is never infallible, and neither am I. But science is built upon the scientific method, logic and critical thinking. One may postulate anything, but the strength of that hypothesis is in the robustness of the factual evidence on which it’s based, which in turn is determined by how well it holds up to external critique.

      Dr Leaf has made several scientific statements. I have countered them, citing what I believe is the best evidence currently available. You, Dr Leaf, or anyone for that matter, are welcome to agree or disagree. Future scientific evidence will eventually come to light, and I will need to review my stance based on that new evidence. There may be other evidence currently available that I did not consider in reaching my conclusions, and if such evidence is pointed out to me, then I’m happy to review my conclusions accordingly. However, the same applies to Dr Leaf. As a scientist, she should be willing to re-evaluate her theories in light of the evidence I have presented. If she disagrees, she should at least explain why and cite evidence to support her unchanged position.

      How do I reconcile medicine, science and God? Well, first, medicine is an art and a science, but good medicine relies on good science. Good science, as I stated before, is a study of the natural world using logic, critical thinking, and the scientific method. God, on the other hand, is supernatural, above nature, not something that can be studied by the scientific method, but a sentient being who is outside the confines of space and time. My favourite quote, which reflects my philosophy in this, comes from William H. Bragg, British physicist, chemist, mathematician and Nobel Prize recipient, “From religion comes a man’s purpose; from science, his power to achieve it. Sometimes people ask if religion and science are not opposed to one another. They are: in the sense that the thumb and fingers of my hands are opposed to one another. It is an opposition by means of which anything can be grasped.”

      To conclude, I do want to make it clear that I’m not a neuroscientist and I’m not infallible, but I do know what constitutes good research, and I am willing to call bad science when I see it. You’re welcome to disagree if you wish. I only ask that you weigh up the strength of each argument, not how you feel about the people making them. If you feel that any of the points I’ve made in my book or my various blogs need correction, please feel free to point out where you think I’m wrong and the citations that you have to support your position. If I’m wrong, I’m happy to correct my work.

      Thanks for requesting clarification. I hope that my answers have helped. All the best to you.

      • Dr. Pitt, the greatest error committed is spiritual. I am very taken a back at the lack of humility, patience, and love displayed in handling your disagreement with Dr. Leaf. And that scientific proofs are a justification for a persons approach and behavior. It may be socially and culturally acceptable, but the question at hand is it spiritually. If spiritual people are not held to a higher, then why mention it or preface your argument with it. I would hope you and Dr. Leaf as professionals and spiritual people would be able to come together to reason with each other. You have every right to disagree with her findings and challenge them. But the earnest is on you to prove your position is the infallible truth. This day the truth is overshadow by real spiritual injustices. Thank Dr. Pitt for your time.

      • Hi Trice,

        I’m going to reply by working my way back through your comment. Firstly, the burden of scientific proof is on any and all that claim they speak scientific truth. However, even if the onus did legitimately rest on me alone, I would hope that my 68,000 word rebuttal with hundreds of references and citations, reviewing the scientific evidence and comparing it to Dr Leaf’s teaching, would be satisfactory. See for yourself – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/466848 or https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/hold-that-thought/id908877288?mt=11.

        Though personally, I think the onus is on Dr Leaf to respond. She has chosen not to at this stage. My offer to publish any reply she makes remains indefinitely open. The ball is in her court. The same goes for meeting with her. I, like you, would like nothing more than to sit with Dr Leaf face to face and discuss the differences in her teaching to the modern scientific evidence. I have left an open offer on this blog to do so, and I even tried to introduce myself to her when she was last in my home city, but I was blocked by her minders. So it’s not for a want of trying on my part.

        As for my perceived lack of humility, patience and love … well, I’m sorry that you feel that way. If Dr Leaf felt aggrieved, then I would be willing to apologise to her, if I ever meet her face to face. But I don’t apologise for my passion. And let me assure you that my primary motivation is love:
        Love for the body of Christ, love for those members of Christ’s body that are suffering from mental health and its stigma, love for those who live stressed and distressed because they care for those with chronic illness or pain, love for those parents who live with special-needs children, whose lives have already worn them down to little more than raw emotion and adrenalin, and love for those Christians who are vulnerable, sick, and down-trodden. I am standing up for Christians who are weak, vulnerable, stressed and down-trodden.

        In contrast, is Dr Leaf really showing ‘love’ when she incorrectly teaches that ADHD doesn’t exist and that medications for depression are harmful, or when she advocates for treatments that have already bee proven not to work? Her teaching on the power of the mind frames mental and neurological ill-health as self-induced, which makes living with mental illness, or caring for someone with mental illness, all the more difficult. Is she showing love then too? Personally I don’t think so, but I guess it’s a matter of individual opinion.

        One final thing, I don’t think there’s anything morally wrong or spiritually wrong with justifying a persons approach and behaviour with science. If we understand why we are the way we are, then we can better focus on our strengths, learn to accept our weaknesses, and put all of our resources into changing those things in us that really can be changed. It is empowering, not enslaving.

        I’m not sure what you meant by, “If spiritual people are not held to a higher, then why mention it or preface your argument with it.” Sorry. If you can please clarify, I’ll do my best to discuss it.

        If you have any other comments, I’m happy to discuss them further.

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