Dr Caroline Leaf – Serious questions, few answers (Part 2)

Yesterday I published the first part of an essay discussing the presentation of Dr Caroline Leaf, Audiologist, Communication Pathologist, and self-titled cognitive neuroscientist, at Kings Christian Church, Gold Coast.

Tonight I want to continue dissecting some of the more pertinent statements that she made, including her view of the mind-brain connection, a smattering of smaller issues, her over-reliance on case studies, and her opinion on the cause and treatment of ADHD.

Tomorrow I will publish the last, and most important part of my essay – That Dr Leaf believes that ‘toxic’ thoughts are sinful, and why this single statement unravels her most fundamental premise.

THE MIND IS IN CHARGE OF THE BRAIN

A large part of her sermon was based on her next premise, that the mind changes the brain, and not the other way around. That is half true. The mind influences the brain, and how we think will have effects on neural pathways within the brain. But for a cognitive neuroscientist to state that the brain does not influence the mind is somewhat concerning.

There are several reasons why her assertion is deeply flawed. For starters, where else does the mind or thought come from other than our neural networks? Thought is built on our neural connections. To say that the brain does not influence thought is like saying that the foundation of a building doesn’t influence the bricks.

There are clinical reasons as well. These come from a few areas – firstly the research that showed that newborn babies (who do not have thought like we have thoughts) are pre-wired for emotions which are refined as we learn. There is no time for neonates to have enough stimulation to form those emotions and reactions if it was from our mind.

Secondly, people with brain injuries or tumours can have personality or mood changes. The most famous was a man in the 1800’s called Phineas Gage, who on 13 September 1848 was packing explosives into rock with a tamping iron (a long, tapered, smooth crow-bar). History says that the explosives sent the tamping iron through his left face and skull, taking a fair chunk of his frontal lobe with it. Depending on who you believe, Gage’s personality changed after his physical recovery, reportedly from a moral, respectful man into a cursing, angry one (Kihlstrom 2010). Some reports of his story were that Gage made an almost full recovery, but assuming that some of the historical record is true, changes to his brain changed his mental function, ie: his thoughts.

Further, I have personally seen two patients with personality changes secondary to brain tumours. The first was a woman in her late 20’s who had six months of worsening anxiety, who did not seek help despite my referrals, until she had a seizure and the diagnosis was made. Then there was the sad case of a girl in her pre-teens who had only two weeks of rapidly escalating sullenness then aggression then violence. Her parents initially thought she was moody, and when they brought her into the Emergency Department they thought she was perhaps in the middle of a psychotic episode. It turned out that she had a very aggressive tumour near her frontal lobe.

It is clear from these cases, and from a basic understanding of the concept of thought, that changes to the brain result in changes to thoughts and the mind, and vice versa.

SOME MISCELLANEOUS ISSUES

If I had the time I would like to look at many others issues that she raised, but this isn’t a book. Suffice it to say that she claimed that stress prunes our “thought trees” although the evidence is only in animal models and only related to severe stress (Karatsoreos and McEwen 2011). She also stated that EVERY thought we EVER have is stored in ALL of our cells (so some random fibroblast in my big toe is somehow affected by my thought about tonights dinner), and that ALL our thoughts are stored in our gametes (our sperm and eggs) and are passed down to our 4th generation (but packed, like in a metaphysical zip-lock bag, and only opened if we choose to have the same thoughts.) And here I was thinking that nurture had something to do with learned behaviour.

ASD/ADHD – MORE OPINION THAN FACT?

She also claimed that 55-70% of ASD/ADHD cases are over-referred and the problem is in educational modeling. This one made me mad.

Not even professorial level researchers know exactly what’s going on in ASD/ADHD, so her statement is a brave one to make, especially without referencing her evidence.

She then espoused the party line of ADHD ignorance – that Ritalin is evil and all you need to do is stop their sugar intake and feed them organic foods and give them supplements. Ritalin isn’t perfect, to be sure, but it is the most effective treatment that’s currently available. If dietary measures and educational measures were effective, then ritalin wouldn’t be prescribed. I have never met a parent that has wanted their child on ritalin. Most of them have tried educational/psychological measures or dietary controls first. The reason why ritalin is prescribed is because dietary and psychological interventions on their own do not adequately control the symptoms, or fail altogether.

To confirm that I’m not just having a rant, there is published scientific literature to back me up. In their recently published meta-analysis, Nigg et al (2012) state, “An estimated 8% of children with ADHD may have symptoms related to synthetic food colors.” Eight percent. That’s all! That’s ninty-two percent of children with ADHD (real ADHD, not just rambunctious children with lots of energy) DID NOT have symptoms due to food colourings. Their conclusions: “A restriction diet benefits some children with ADHD. Effects of food colors were notable but susceptible to publication bias or were derived from small, nongeneralizable samples.” In terms of sugar, Kim and Chang (2011) note that, “children who consumed less sugar from fruit snacks or whose vitamin C intake was less than RI was at increased risks for ADHD (P < 0.05).” (emphasis added) The study was only of about 100 children, but the result was statistically significant. It wasn’t a chance effect.

The misinformation she stated as fact from the pulpit promotes scare-mongering and ignorance throughout the church, which has flow on effects. Church members with children with ADHD or ASD will avoid standard medical treatment on Dr Leaf’s advice. When her treatments fail in the majority of cases, those parents will either live with unnecessarily heightened stress because of their child’s poorly controlled condition, or the guilt of using ritalin, all the while believing that they are ruining their childs brain.

This also places the hosting church in a bind. Do they stand behind their guest speaker, or do they support the advice of the medical community? Is their duty of care to the reputation of the guest speaker or to the congregation under their protection? What would happen if Dr Leaf’s advice lead to the death or disability of a person in their congregation? Would they be libel?

CASE STUDIES – INSPIRATIONAL STORIES, BUT POOR SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE

Dr Leaf also told a lot of stories of how everyone afflicted came to her and how she healed them all. If you took her at face value, she would have you believe that people with ASD, ADHD, anorexia, OCD, depression etc, just needed a glimpse of their self-worth and their inner gift and they would be cured. While her stories were inspirational, the world of scientific research demands more. If Dr Leaf’s insights are worth more than the hot air she produces when espousing them, then they should be put to the wider research community so they can pass through the fire of peer review. If peer review prove her insights to be valid, I would be happy to apply them and promote them.

Tomorrow, I will publish the last, and probably the most important part of my essay – that Dr Leaf believes that ‘toxic’ thoughts are sinful, and why this single statement unravels her most fundamental premise.

REFERENCES

Crum, A. J., P. Salovey and S. Achor (2013). “Rethinking stress: the role of mindsets in determining the stress response.” J Pers Soc Psychol 104(4): 716-733.

Karatsoreos, I. N. and B. S. McEwen (2011). “Psychobiological allostasis: resistance, resilience and vulnerability.” Trends Cogn Sci 15(12): 576-584.

Kihlstrom, J. F. (2010). “Social neuroscience: The footprints of Phineas Gage.” Social Cognition 28: 757-782.

Kim, Y. and H. Chang (2011). “Correlation between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and sugar consumption, quality of diet, and dietary behavior in school children.” Nutr Res Pract 5(3): 236-245.

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

Nigg, J. T., K. Lewis, T. Edinger and M. Falk (2012). “Meta-analysis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms, restriction diet, and synthetic food color additives.” J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 51(1): 86-97 e88.

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14 thoughts on “Dr Caroline Leaf – Serious questions, few answers (Part 2)

  1. Dear Dr Pitt,

    THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! Finally a sane voice amongst the chorus of unthinking adulation for Dr Leaf, as she wows the crowds with fast talking, psuedo science laced with lots of medical terminology!

    I have so appreciated reading your intelligent, sound reasoning in response to Dr Leaf’s ideas and in some cases extreme and dangerous theories.

    It was when I was at Sistas conference this week and Dr Leaf suddenly threw out of left field a completely unsubstantiated and inflammatory comment that “by the way ADD doesn’t exist!” that she lost any credibility in my eyes!

    I had hoped that our leaders. or someone, may have had the courage to pick her up on this, and say that this was probably an inappropriate statement to put out there to an audience that would have had people struggling with ADD either personally or with a family member. But no, they all seemed to be in awe of this woman with the “scientific speak” who was referred to on a number of occasions as “the Brain” reiterating how super intelligent she was in comparison to themselves!

    So, unchecked, yet again at Life Church, Auckland, this morning, she threw out, as you said on one of her other comments, a throw away line, with the power of an exploding grenade!!
    that ADD doesn’t exist!!! no explaination or back up to this statement – so I am still in the dark as to why she should think this.

    I have emailed Dr Leaf and said that she should think twice next time before she makes such explosive and inflammatory statements to a general audience that more than likely has people with ADD or those looking after others who have it, like myself – it is highly insensitive and most inappropriate and unprofessional.

    Anyway, I have really enjoyed reading your commentaries on Dr Leaf’s seminars and sermons, and I can only hope and pray that many more key into your website and get a balanced argument before making up their minds on Dr Leaf’s theories and somewhat extreme views on complex mental health issues.

    Kind regards,

    Carolyn Flint

    • Thanks so very much for your feedback Carolyn. It’s very encouraging.

      In addition to e-mailing Dr Leaf, please consider e-mailing the organisers of Sistas, and the leaders of Life Church in Auckland. I will continue to fight the good fight, but the more people to politely request that Dr Leaf’s teaching is reviewed, the more likely that change will take place. Tell your friends too. If you are looking for a more in-depth resource on Dr Leaf’s teaching to use or refer to in your e-mails, my book can be found at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/466848.

      Again, thanks for your feedback, and good luck.

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  3. Yes! Thank you! I am a member of a Christian forum and Dr. Leaf has been the subject of many threads…in fact it seems that some of the members of the forum are now HER disciples and her teaching and terminology are spilling over into every subject no matter what it may be. I have not listened to her teachings and doubt that I ever will because of the obsession I have seen regarding her. That is a warning sign to me. I believe that Christ is the Healer and Restorer. I do believe that thoughts and right thinking play a role, but not to the extent that is being presented by Dr. Leaf and those who hang on her every word. It would seem that my thoughts could bring perfection and diminish even the need for a savior according to what I have been reading from her proponents. Thank you for sharing your perspective and knowledge!

    Respectfully,

    Michelle Klindworth

    • Hi Michelle, thanks for the feedback. Dr Leaf’s teaching is very popular, and she does have some incredibly loyal followers. It’s good that people are loyal and show appreciation, but as you’ve observed, sometimes that loyalty can metamorphasise into obsession and blindness to other points of view. Feel free to share any of my blogs with the forum, and if they’re willing to listen, then all well and good. If they’re not, then that’s fine. It’s a free world. But presenting alternative points of view is the only way people will have the ability to choose who or what to believe. If you or they have any questions, they can post them as a comment and I’ll do my best to reply.

      All the best.

    • Hi Jo, thanks for the enquiry. I’m not an expert, but according to the WordPress help site, you can follow using a button the appears in the bottom right corner of the screen when you look at any blog. See https://en.support.wordpress.com/following/ for more details. If you are still having trouble, please let me know and I’ll see if I can post some pictures or something like that. Cheers!

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  5. you can believe whatever you want with your free will, but what she says has started working for me. so your discovery about her lies is to late to be followed by me.

    • Hi Adebanjo. So the same goes for you. You can believe whatever you want with your “free will”, and if you would prefer the mirage generated by Dr Leaf’s teaching and you choose to ignore my warnings, then so be it. However I would say to you that it’s never too late. If you explore Dr Leaf’s work and you realize the shiny veneer is supported by mistruths and misrepresented facts, you’re welcome to continue to explore the work I have done to understand what is mistruth and what is actual truth. All the best to you.

  6. Dr Caroline Leaf is not worth the fixation and distraction. Life is too busy and short. We need to get to know Jesus and these things are often Satan’s way of taking our eyes off Jesus and masking it as a Godly pursuit. Forgive her and bless her and get on with pressing into the fullness of joy only to be found in the presence of Jesus. Time better spent and so much more rewarding! Just imho of course. God bless, from someone who has been side tracked into what I thought was a Godly pursuit and the end of it was that I just wasted precious time.

    • Hi Esther, thank you for your kind words and for looking out for me. It’s very touching. Your advice is duly noted and appreciated, but don’t worry, I’m not particularly fixated on Dr Leaf or letting her get in the way of the rest of my life. I have a lot of other things that demand my time, believe me 🙂

      I have spent a lot of time researching and writing about Dr Leaf and I will continue to do so until the leaders and elders of the Christian church stand up for the truth and hold her accountable. Until then, I will continue to ensure that she doesn’t get a free pass to say whatever she likes without accountability, and also because her teaching is something that people can often become mislead by, and without a voice to the contrary, how could anyone know? “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”

      Thank you again for your kind exhortation. All the best.

  7. The first question in the fifth paragraph indicates that the writer does not understand the Biblical, triune nature of man: he is a spirit, he has a soul (mind, will, intellect,etc.), and he lives in a body.
    Natural science, apart from acknowledgement of the super-natural Creator, is flawed.

    • Hi Tim,

      Thanks for sharing your opinion.

      So the first question in the fifth paragraph that you refer to is: “where else does the mind or thought come from other than our neural networks?”

      Based on this single sentence, you then assert that “the writer does not understand the Biblical, triune nature of man: he is a spirit, he has a soul (mind, will, intellect,etc.), and he lives in a body.”

      I’m intrigued. How do you know the writer (which is me, for the record) does not understand the Biblical, triune nature of man? And further, how do you know that your understanding of the Biblical triune nature of man is indeed accurate?

      You then follow up with a non-sequitur. It’s fallacious to argue my statement is wrong just because it’s based on natural science. Natural science is flawed. So are you. Do I not believe everything you say because you’re flawed? In the same way, just because natural science is flawed doesn’t mean that everything science says is inaccurate.

      If you’re interested, you’re welcome to read my essay in which I explore the Biblical and scientific aspects of the triune being hypothesis (https://cedwardpitt.com/2014/07/25/dr-caroline-leaf-dualism-and-the-triune-being-hypothesis/). I’m more than happy to discuss it further if you still think I do not understand the Biblical, triune nature of man.

      All the best to you.

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