Dr Caroline Leaf – Contradicted by Dr Caroline Leaf

“Who am I?”

It’s one of life’s most fundamental questions. It’s such a quintessentially human question, one that speaks to the importance of our identity as individuals.

It’s a question that Dr Leaf thinks she has the answer to.

Dr Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist and self-titled cognitive neuroscientist. Recently she launched an on-line program called “Perfectly You”, based on her 2009 book, “The Gift In You” [1]. In “The Gift In You”, Dr Leaf promised that by using her program, you could enable your gift and increase your intelligence to the level that you desire. According to Dr Leaf, your gift is something that’s hardwired into your brain, which makes your gift uniquely yours. For example, she wrote:

“Your gift lies in something so profound yet so simple that we tend to overlook it: the combination of your life experiences with the measurable structure of how your brain has been wired to think and process information.” (p24)

“Neurologically, you are not wired for someone else’s gift. You can try as hard as you want. You can listen to as many teachings as you possibly can. You can buy all the books with an instant formula for a business mogul’s success. You can adopt all of the popular motivational sayings. But even then, you will never have someone else’s gift.” (p11-12)

“You were not built to struggle. Your brain is wired to function according to a specific sequence. When you discover that sequence, that structure, you unlock great potential.” (p13)

“When you know how your gift is structured, how your brain is uniquely wired, and how to achieve lasting success, you will unlock your truth-value – your gift.” (p17)

“The exciting result of this plasticity of the brain that we hold power over is that no two brains are alike: We are uniquely, fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). There is diversity in brain structure and organisation and function, which results in the way we think and approach life.” (p18)

So according to Dr Leaf, our gifts are something that is uniquely hardwired into our brain, something that we cannot change even if we wanted to, and that brain structure gives rise to the way in which we think and the actions that we take.

Then, as I was rereading this book, I came across a sentence that I must have read before when I first got it, but which I hadn’t fully appreciated the significance of until now.

On page 47, Dr Leaf said,

The mind is what the brain does, and we see the uniqueness of each mind through our gifts. This, in itself is delightful and, intriguing because, as you work out your gift and find out who you are, you will be developing your soul and spirit.” (Emphasis added)

This quote in and of itself isn’t actually that significant until we compare it to a quote from the first chapter of Dr Leaf’s 2013 book, “Switch On You Brain.” [2]

“The first argument proposes that thoughts come from your brain as though your brain is generating all aspects of your mental experience. People who hold this view are called materialists. They believe that it is the chemicals and neurons that create the mind and that relationships between your thoughts and what you do can just be ignored.
So essentially, their perspective is that the brain creates what you are doing and what you are thinking. The mind is what the brain does, they believe, and the ramifications are significant. Take for example, the treatment of depression. In this reductionist view, depression is a chemical imbalance problem of a machinelike brain; therefore, the treatment is to add in the missing chemicals.
This view is biblically and scientifically incorrect.” [2: p31-32] (Emphasis added)

So … Dr Leaf believes that the mind is not what the brain does. So our gifts aren’t uniquely hardwired into our brain, and we should be able to change our gifting if we want to, since it isn’t our brain structures that give rise to the way in which we think and the actions that we take, but it’s all related to our choices.

This must be really embarrassing for Dr Leaf, to so directly call your own beliefs biblically and scientifically incorrect, and then not to notice.

Now, we all make innocent mistakes. No one is perfectly congruent in everything they say. But this isn’t just getting some minor facts wrong. These statements form the foundation for Dr Leaf’s teaching, and are in print in two best selling books, from which she has used to present to countless churches and seminars around the globe.

Which makes her major self-contradiction important for three reasons:

  1. It calls her self-titled expertise as a cognitive neuroscientist into question.
  2. It calls her teaching into question.
  3. It calls her ministry into question.

Firstly, in majorly contradicting herself, Dr Leaf shows desperately little basic knowledge about cognitive neuroscience. Even first year neuroscience students consistently know how the brain works, and are able to build on this to grow their knowledge about the brain. The fact that Dr Leaf can’t get her basic facts straight on something so fundamental as the relationship of the mind and the brain clearly demonstrates that she is not the expert in cognitive neuroscience that she claims to be.

Secondly, in majorly contradicting herself, Dr Leaf undermines all of her teaching. If she can’t be trusted to consistently state basic facts on which she is supposed to have high level training, then how can she be trusted with anything more complicated scientifically. Indeed, how can she be trusted to interpret scripture, in which she has no formal training. Thus, her whole ministry is now thrown into doubt. Dr Leaf may get some facts right in the rest of her writing and in her teaching, but unless you’re an expert in the field, it would be impossible to know. And since she doesn’t reference her work properly, it makes it impossible for the average person to go back to her sources and validate her teaching.

Thirdly, in majorly contradicting herself, Dr Leaf makes it very difficult for churches who have her ministering from their pulpits. Pastors aren’t experts in neuroscience or medicine. How are they supposed to have confidence that what Dr Leaf is saying? How can they be sure that what Dr Leaf is teaching to their congregations is factual or is contradicted by real scientists or her own teaching? How can they be sure that Dr Leaf is not causing some of their more vulnerable parishioners unnecessary harm because her teaching is contradicted by modern science and medicine?

Dr Leaf may believe that she has many answers, and is motivated by the best of intentions. However, to call your own beliefs “biblically and scientifically incorrect” does not instil confidence. Dr Leaf needs to take a serious look at her teaching and the quality of the science that undergirds it, and until that happens, the churches that have invited Dr Leaf to minister from their pulpits should seriously reconsider that decision.


  1. Leaf, C.M., The gift in you – discover new life through gifts hidden in your mind. 2009, Inprov, Inc, Texas, USA:
  2. Leaf, C.M., Switch On Your Brain : The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health. 2013, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan:

13 thoughts on “Dr Caroline Leaf – Contradicted by Dr Caroline Leaf

  1. Pingback: “Touching the hem of her garment” – A Review of Dr Caroline Leaf at Nexus Church, Brisbane, 2nd August 2015 | Dr C. Edward Pitt

  2. Pingback: Dr Caroline Leaf – Better graphics, same content | Dr C. Edward Pitt

    • Hi Judith,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I respect your right to an opinion, and your right to express that opinion. You’re more than welcome to judge me, and make assumptions about my motives. Though it’s a pity that you’ve approached what I have to say with such a closed mind. I don’t mind fair criticism, but if the best rebuttal you can muster is a reference to a chiropractor and a speculative assumption about my motivation, then that’s rather pitiful. And ironic, trivialising my experience as an actual medical doctor while blindly accepting the work of two ‘doctors’ who may use the title but have no actual medical training. At least Dr Leaf has a PhD, but your reference to “Dr” Dispenza simply exemplifies a facile ignorance.

      I suggest you read my post ‘Dr Caroline Leaf and the nonsense of negative thinking’ https://cedwardpitt.com/2016/02/09/dr-caroline-leaf-and-the-nonsense-of-negative-thinking/ because I have gone into great detail why Paul wasn’t telling all Christians to ‘take every thought into captivity’. I also suggest that you read https://cedwardpitt.com/2014/07/25/dr-caroline-leaf-dualism-and-the-triune-being-hypothesis/ or https://cedwardpitt.com/2015/01/18/dr-caroline-leaf-and-dualism-revisited/, or just about any other of the dozens of posts about why the mind does not control the brain.

      Or go and find the mother of a child with Cerebral Palsy and suggest to them that their child’s condition has nothing to do with their brain, but it’s all to do with their mind. Quote Dr Dispenza to them if you want. See how they react. Probably not well, because insisting that the mind controls the brain is not only unscientific and nonsensical, but also insensitive and insulting to those with brain injuries, strokes, or any number of developmental disorders including those with ADHD and autism.

      You may think that my beliefs are archaic, but I strongly urge you to reconsider.

      All the best to you.

  3. I don’t understand why you guys are fighting on the internet. i assume all of you are professionals that want to help people so instead of calling out each others faults and miss-comings why don’t you all work together? Three minds are better than one.

    • Hi Loretta

      Thanks for your comment. I agree with you. I would prefer to work with Dr Leaf, but my concerns were dismissed outright by Mr Leaf, and every offer to meet with Dr Leaf over the past three years has been ignored. The ball is in Dr Leaf’s court. I’m more than happy to work with Dr Leaf if she’s willing to listen.

      All the best.

  4. Dear Dr Pitt,

    Whilst I can understand your perspective on Dr Leaf’s work, her books and seminars have clearly helped a lot of people. The physical body cannot function without soul and spirit, hence our human understanding from a medical point of view is just physical. Whilst your point of view is a valid one, as we are all entitled to our own opinion, as a Christian, I don’t believe we are entitled to descredit another other, in this case Dr Leaf, other than for leading away from true Salvation, which is not what she is doing. Nor is it useful.
    I leave you with this quote from Luke chapter 9 v 49-50: “Master, said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he doesn’t accompany us”. “Do not stop him”, Jesus replied, “For who is not against you is for you”.

    Yours Sincerely

    • Dear Annabelle,

      Thanks for taking the time to share your viewpoint.

      While I understand where you’re coming from, respectfully I don’t agree. That’s not to say I don’t agree with your right to believe whatever or whomever you wasn’t to believe. If you or anyone else wish to agree with Dr Leaf, that’s fine by me.

      However, there are a number of assumptions within your general reasoning that I don’t think really hold true, and I think you have to be very careful about accepting Dr Leaf’s ministry (or anyone’s ministry for that matter) based on these assumptions.

      For a start, you suggest that “Dr Leaf’s work, her books and seminars have clearly helped a lot of people”. It may be the case that many people feel like they have been helped by Dr Leaf’s teaching, but accepting Dr Leaf’s teaching on this basis is Argumentum ad populum (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argumentum_ad_populum), the fallacy that because someone believes that an idea or position is held by a large number of people, then it must be right. There are lots of people that feel like astrology has helped them. Does that mean that astrology is right? An idea or a group of ideas must be shown to be valid in it’s own right, irrespective of its popularity. Besides, where’s your evidence that “a lot of people have been helped”? Dr Leaf’s own studies haven’t shown any evidence of benefit from her programs, and Dr Leaf and her team go to great lengths to block anyone with any negative or dissenting views from her sites and seminars, so while it looks like there’s widespread acceptance of and benefit from her teaching, that may be a mirage.

      You suggest that the physical body can not function without a spirit or a soul, but where our soul is and if our physical body depends on it is not easily defined. I think it’s more likely that our soul is dependent on our physical body in this universe (if you want to know more, see https://cedwardpitt.com/2014/07/25/dr-caroline-leaf-dualism-and-the-triune-being-hypothesis/). And personally, as someone professionally and actively involved with ‘the medical point of view’, I think that the physical, psychological, social and spiritual are more intertwined and interdependent than what you may think.

      You also say, “Whilst your point of view is a valid one, as we are all entitled to our own opinion, as a Christian, I don’t believe we are entitled to descredit another other, in this case Dr Leaf, other than for leading away from true Salvation, which is not what she is doing. Nor is it useful.” Let’s break this down.

      “we are all entitled to our own opinion” – “We’re all entitled to our own opinion” is not the same as “all opinion is equal”. This is a balance fallacy, an epidemic malaise afflicting our current post-modern society. There are two types of claim, subjective and objective. Subjective claims depend on a personal viewpoint, objective claims do not. Subjective: “I like vanilla ice-cream more than I like chocolate ice-cream.” Objective: “Ice-cream in it’s solid state is very cold.” We’re all welcome to our personal, subjective opinion. No one can argue with a person who says, “I like Dr Leaf’s teaching.” That’s a personal, subjective claim that’s true for that person. However, we can and should critique objective, factual assertions like, “75 to 98 percent of mental and physical illness comes from ones thought life”. That statement of Dr Leaf’s is either true or it’s not. It’s provable with current evidence or it’s not (it turns out it’s not supported by evidence – http://www.debunkingdrleaf.com/chapter-10/).

      “I don’t believe we are entitled to descredit another other … Nor is it useful” – So there’s no confusion, I want to point out that I’m not discrediting Dr Leaf personally. My critique is directed to what she teaches why she teaches it, not her personal opinions or her individual character. Critiquing other people’s work is a legitimate, and indeed, an essential part of science. Since Dr Leaf claims to be a scientist discussing scientific facts, then her work is open to scrutiny. Critiquing is also necessary for Christians too. “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” Ephesians 5:11; “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21; “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ,” Ephesians 4:14-15. Is critique useful? I think it is. Do you let preachers say anything they like from the pulpit even if it’s errant, with no accountability? What if someone was claim from the pulpit that God wants everyone to be rich, or that it’s ok to not pay taxes, or that God wants everyone in the church to sell all their property to pay for a private jet for the pastor? What about if the preacher says that taking medications for sickness is faithless and sinful? None of these things lead people away from Salvation, but all are equally wrong. So then, is it useful to speak up or to discredit the teaching of the person who would preach such false notions? Any rational person would say so. Dr Leaf’s teaching is just as errant and deserves the same level of accountability. So while Jesus said, “For who is not against you is for you”, but is Dr Leaf’s teaching really for him? She would say she is, but it’s up to each person to decide if it’s truely justifiable to use out-of-context scripture to try and validate unscientific factoids.

      I’m sorry this reply has became a bit of an epistle. Please don’t take my reply the wrong way – I’m not out to pull your comment apart out of spite or vengeance or anything. I appreciate your honesty and your time in putting your point of view forward – your views are broadly reflective in the modern church. And I think you’re right in that ultimately it’s up to you to decide what or who you believe. I would just hate to see you or anyone else make your decision based on what I think is bad information.

      Many thanks for taking the time to contribute. All the best to you.

      • Dear Dr Pitt,

        I thank you for your reply. I don’t dispute that we need to test and challenge Eph 5v 11 etc. I’m sorry that you put me in the category of having the mindset of a modern church, which is about rationalising and making the Bible more relevant to today’s modern living. I don’t go along with that at all. I am all for challenging and questioning. I believe in what scripture says literally and I don’t agree blindly what is said to me from the pulpit, we are all responsible to challenge and question what is said and to be open to the Holy Spirit for His understanding.

        My only concern is that whilst you may have a justifiable reason for challenging objectively Dr Leaf’s teaching, is it understood that way by your readers? As my first letter pointed out, my understanding, as some of the other readers comments, is that you are questionning whether or not Dr Leaf ‘s work is credible. You disect everything, and whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with that, is it always useful for the audience or some of the audience who is reading your blog?
        Whatever we say has weight, and can be taken a step further by someone else. If Dr Leaf and her team don’t reply to criticism on the ministry, that is clearly sad, yet still another issue.

        So I return to my point of usefulness: is it useful? If it is fine, but if it isn’t, then it is just a indirect to justify one’s point of view and destroy another’s, well then I cannot agree. I believe there is a fine line here and we need to be very careful, because there is so much division within the Church, it explains why Christians have little or no credibility to the post modern society in which we live.
        Consider a non-christian reading your blog, you are sending out mixte signals. It also reinforces the idea that Christians are seemingly always criticising one another rather than appraising where they do agree.
        We are to uphold one another in Love and this doesn’t mean blindly agreeing with everything the other says, Mark 12 v30-31 : We are to love God with all our heart, soul, understanding and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. This is what we are to show to the non-believer.

        I thank you for your time in reading
        All the best

      • Hi Annabelle,

        Thanks for your reply. I’m very sorry if I accidentally mislabelled you. When I suggested that your views were “broadly reflective in the modern church”, that was meant in terms of Dr Leaf, not doctrine generally.

        Specifically in regards to your question about whether my review of Dr Leaf’s teaching is useful, that’s a difficult question to answer. It’s ultimately “in the eye of the beholder” so to speak. Personally, I think it’s very useful otherwise I wouldn’t be wasting my time doing it. There are many people who agree with me. Then again, there are many that don’t agree. Each to their own I guess.

        Think of it this way, is it useful for you to challenge what you are taught from the pulpit? From your previous reply, the answer is clearly yes. That’s how I feel about Dr Leaf and her teaching. It’s not about destroying her personally, or even her ministry for that matter. If Dr Leaf started teaching evidence-based science and context-based sound theology, then I’d let her ministry be. While Dr Leaf continues to teach pseudoscience that has the real potential to cause harm, then I’ll continue my critique.

        In terms of non-Christians reading my blog, I think it’s more damaging in the eyes of unbelievers to have a popular Christian speaker who teaches pseudoscience than it is to have someone willing to stand up for the truth. The non-Christians (that I know of) that have reviewed Dr Leaf’s work and mine have been much more accepting and respectful of my work and derisive of Dr Leaf’s. Besides, if standing up for the truth is causing division in the church, then the church has a much bigger problem on its hands.

        While the Bible does ask us to love one another, I would ask, “love for whom”? Isn’t it loving that I would fight for the truth so that Christians would not fall for teaching that’s inaccurate? Is the greater love to protect the one or protect the many?

        Ultimately if you think I’ve gone to far in what I say, then you’re welcome to your opinion. I appreciate that you’ve looked at both sides of the debate, and have offered your opinion in a respectful way. I take your concerns on board, and I’m mindful about making sure I don’t cross the line. I have accountability partners, people I trust who read my work and let me know if I’ve overstepped. However, I don’t think it would be ethical to stay silent given what’s at stake for individual Christians and the church as a whole.

        Many thanks for your comments, and all the best to you.

  5. Dr Pitt
    I welcome your reply to Anabelle. This type of respectful interaction between two points of view is very needed in these times of intense “us and them”. Arguing with facts verses emotions should always prevail, however history shows that human behaviour rarely conforms to this common sense approach. Again thank you for a sensible reply to an inteligent chalenge.

  6. Hi Dr Pitt,

    I’m a bit of a “neuro-newby,” only recently starting into content like this so bear with me. Caroline leaf’s material is the first of it’s kind that I’ve read so I don’t have a lot to go off of, but I did notice the contradiction you mentioned in the two books (“switch on your brain” and “the gift in you”). I’m currently reading “Think, learn, succeed” and she talks a lot about neuroplasticity and how that works with hardwired gifts/customized thinking. It’s probably best summarized in the epilogue, pg. 241 which states “mindsets contain power; customized thinking activates this power; the five-step process builds this power into long-term, sustainable change.” I interperet the whole thing as hardwired thinking/gifts are a result of life experience and brain chemistry and are the way we digest and interperet information and stimuli. These qualities are unique to everyone. Identifying, understanding and cooperating with those gifts, however, allow us to control our thought life and make more deliberate decisions on what we choose to think. I think Dr. Leaf posits that this concious thought path helps us change our mindsets more effectively which can have permanent effects on our personality and emotions and brain chemistry and even our gifts (how we interperet information), which harmonizes with her neuroplasticity and “mind over brain” positions. I would agree with you that mindsets aren’t a cure-all for serious definiciencies and ailments (to address your cerebral palsy example), but some of the cited work makes for a strong case of helping depression, anxiety, even Alzheimer’s, in my estimation. Let me know what you think. Great article and definitely got me thinking! Can’t wait to read more of your work.

    • Hi Joshua,

      Many thanks for your comment. You might be a ‘neuro-newbie’ but I really respect and appreciate your curiosity and willingness to think critically about the information you read. They seem to be increasingly rare qualities in our post-modern world.

      I get what Dr Leaf is trying to say, but she’s still wrong. The problem is that her fundamental premise is wrong – the mind does not control the brain. Everything else that she teaches from this point on, no matter how much she obfuscates with buzzwords and irrelevant jargon, is still wrong. She skirts around all of the areas which don’t fit her model, and while that makes her appear like an expert on the surface, it’s just a house of straw, where even the most gentle puff of analysis brings the whole thing tumbling down. If her model was correct, then it could cope with issues such as those with severe brain injuries or developmental disorders. Neither would she constantly contradicting herself.

      Dr Leaf likes to use sciency buzzwords like neuroplasticity and quantum mechanics without really knowing what they mean. For example, neuroplasticity is just an every day brain function that is happening in our nervous system all the time. It’s not dependent on thought. The highest rate of neurogenesis and synaptogenesis (new nerve cells and new branches) takes place when we’re an embryo/foetus. Synaptogenesis happens when we are awake and asleep, or even in a coma. So while thinking about something often enough will lead to some structural changes in the brain, that’s not proof that our minds control our brains like Dr Leaf would have us believe.

      When you look at the research, the conscious mind / stream of thought is dependent on our brain. Again, simple logic proves this – if someone gave me LSD, I would have a change to my brain chemistry which would alter my thinking. If someone injected me with propofol, I would not be thinking at all – the changes in the chemistry of my brain would turn off my conscious stream of thought completely. Our brain is in control of our mind, not our mind is in control of our brain. There is a lot more to this scientifically, most of which I cover in my book on Dr Leaf’s teaching. Chapter 1 goes through the basic neurobiology, and there is a discussion on the Global Workspace / Intelligent Distribution Agent Model which talks more about the neurobiology of our conscious stream of thought – see http://www.debunkingdrleaf.com/chapter-1

      Dr Leaf may posit that conscious thought helps change mindsets, but again, that’s an over-estimation on the power of thought, again built on the incorrect premise that thoughts can control the brain. But again, the model is backwards. Our thoughts are as a result of our personality and our emotions which are in turn dependent on our brain chemistry. I discussed this in my discussions about the Cognitive Actions Pathway model, which is a synthesis of information from the neuroscientific literature (https://cedwardpitt.com/2014/11/08/dr-caroline-leaf-putting-thought-in-the-right-place/).

      You said in your comment that “the cited work makes for a strong case of helping depression, anxiety, even Alzheimer’s”. However, I would not put any stock in Dr Leaf’s citations. Most of them are scientifically weak or just plain irrelevant, and don’t actually prove anything that she asserts. Again, Dr Leaf is very good at cherry-picking and often misquoting sources to try and support her erroneous statements. As one example, I took a good look at how Dr Leaf approached Alzheimer Disease recently – see https://cedwardpitt.com/2019/07/21/all-in-a-tangle-dr-caroline-leaf-tries-to-explain-alzheimer-disease/. One of the many examples of how Dr Leaf’s citations are worthless is here:

      Dr Leaf’s baseless exaggerations don’t stop there.
      “It is therefore unsurprising that professor Stuart Hammerhoff of Arizona University, who has done groundbreaking research on consciousness and memory, argues that the kind of thinking and resultant memories we build impacts our cell division and can contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s and the dementias.”

      Dr Leaf includes a hyperlink which when clicked, takes you to this article: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/conditions/new-theory-targets-different-origins-of-alzheimers/article4210442/.

      It’s not a scientific paper, but a newspaper article which is more than seven years old. The only thing it says about Professor Stuart Hameroff is this:
      “One of the co-authors, Stuart Hameroff at the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona, has argued that microtubules may also be involved in consciousness.”

      That’s it. There’s nothing else in the article about Prof Hameroff at all, nothing to back up Dr Leaf’s wild claim that our thinking and our memories alters cell division and contributes to the development of Alzheimers and dementia. Dr Leaf is just confabulating.

      Like I said before, I really respect your open-minded curiosity and willingness to think through the information which you read, and look for other sources. By all means, review Dr Leaf’s work, and review mine. I think Dr Leaf’s work is so error prone that it’s a sad indictment on the western church that she is still considered to be an expert. Have a look and see for yourself, and if you have any other specific questions, I’m always happy to try and answer them.

      All the best to you!

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