Dr Caroline Leaf – Still Contradicted by the Latest Evidence, Scripture and Herself

Leaf Cognitive Neuroscientist

Dr Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist, world renowned author, public speaker, and self-titled cognitive neuroscientist. Her influence continues to grow. She is regularly invited to speak at some of the world’s largest churches. She spoke at her first TEDx conference in February, and she’s about to host her own conference for the second time. She has more than 120,000 Facebook followers, with many more on Twitter and other social media platforms. And she continues to top the sales charts of Christian best sellers.

She is a self-marketing machine.

But there are cracks appearing. More and more, people are realizing that beneath the facade of her numerous Instagram posts, happy snaps, and the allure of popular success, Dr Leafs teachings on science and the Bible don’t match up with actual science and good theology. While many in the church adorn themselves with her teaching, a growing minority are starting to realise that the Emperor has no clothes.

Almost two years ago to the day, I sat in the congregation of Kings Christian Church on the Gold Coast, and heard Dr Leaf speak live for the first time. What I heard troubled me, and I blogged about my concerns to open a dialogue on Dr Leaf and her teaching. Her husband, Mr Mac Leaf, dismissed my concerns out of hand, which only steeled me to take further action. Now, two years of intense research, dozens of posts and a book later, people are starting to take notice.

Not that Dr Leaf has changed her tune. Her fundamental teaching still relies on the idea that our thoughts control our physical and mental health, and toxic thinking causes disease because our thoughts change our DNA and the expression of our genes through epigenetics. And, if we ‘detox’ our thoughts, we will be restored to the health that God intended. Dr Leaf is also expanding her ministry to the subject of mental health and she plans to release a book on food in early 2016.

Dr Leaf can spruik whatever she likes, but her claims of expertise and her scientific and scriptural legitimacy are crumbling.

This post is a little longer than usual, but I’ve divided it up for easier reading:

  1. Dr Leaf is contradicted by her own qualifications
  2. Dr Leaf is contradicted by science
  3. Dr Leaf is contradicted by scripture
  4. Dr Leaf is contradicted by Dr Leaf

1. Dr Leaf is contradicted by her own qualifications

In her books, on TV, at churches, and in promotional material, Dr Leaf describes herself as a ‘cognitive neuroscientist’.

However, Dr Leaf does not have formal qualifications in neuroscience, has not worked at a university as a neuroscientist, has not worked in any neuroscience research labs, nor has she published any papers in neuroscience journals.

Actually, Dr Leaf is trained as a communication pathologist. A communication pathologist is an allied health professional which seems to be unique to South Africa where Dr Leaf trained. It’s a synthesis of audiology and speech pathology. It qualified her to work as a therapist, which Dr Leaf did for children with traumatic brain injuries. Dr Leaf also researched a narrow band of educational psychology as part of her PhD, and she also worked in a number of schools and for educational boards in South Africa. Dr Leaf hasn’t performed any university based research since her PhD was published in 1997.

In contrast, true cognitive neuroscientists actively carry out research into the biological basis of thoughts and behaviours – either mapping behaviours to certain brain regions using electrical currents from the brain, or with functional brain imaging like fMRI, or stimulating or suppressing the activity of a region of the brain and seeing how a person responds.

Simply having some training in neuroanatomy and psychology doesn’t make you a cognitive neuroscientist. Completing a PhD that involved a model for learning doesn’t make you a cognitive neuroscientist. Reading a lot of books on neuroscience doesn’t make you a neuroscientist either, just like reading the Bible doesn’t automatically make you a Pastor.

So no matter how much Dr Leaf may try to convince us that she’s an expert cognitive neuroscientist, truth be told, she is not.

Of more concern is that Dr Leaf is also trying to position herself as an expert in the fields of mental health and nutrition. But if she can’t get her facts right in an area in which she’s had some training, then it’s unlikely Dr Leaf’s teaching will be reliable in areas that she’s had no formal training or experience whatsoever.

I might add, Dr Leaf’s insistence that she’s a cognitive neuroscientist and an expert on mental health and nutrition is also quite insulting for real psychologists, neuroscientists and nutritionists whose opinions are ignored in favour of a self-titled expert whose only ‘authority’ comes by popular demand, not training or experience.

2. Dr Leaf is contradicted by science

There are so many examples of Dr Leaf being directly contradicted by the science that she claims expertise in that I don’t have room in this blog to outline them all. What I can do in this limited space is to outline Dr Leaf’s most egregious and ironic fallacies as a taster.

The 98 percent

One of Dr Leaf’s most fundamental assertions is that “75 to 98 percent of mental and physical illness comes from ones thought life” [1]. She uses this little factoid all the time to justify her belief in the power of thoughts.

However, her statement is completely wrong. When considered in the historical and global context [2], most of human illness is related to preventable diseases that are so rare in the modern western world because of generations of high quality public health and medical care.

For example, Hunter et al state that, “diarrhoeal disease is the second most common contributor to the disease burden in developing countries (as measured by disability-adjusted life years (DALYs)), and poor-quality drinking water is an important risk factor for diarrhoea.” [3]

De Cock et al write, “Recent estimates of the global incidence of disease suggest that communicable diseases account for approximately 19% of global deaths” and that “2.5 million deaths of children annually (are) from vaccine-preventable diseases.” [4]

Routine screening with the much-maligned pap smear has decreased the death rate from cervical cancer in women by as much as 83% [5]. And having a competent midwife and obstetric support during childbirth can decrease the odds of dying in childbirth from 1 in 6 to less than 1 in 30,000 [6].

Midwives, vaccinations, pap smears, clean drinking water and internal plumbing have nothing to do with our individual thought life. We take all of this for granted in the first-world, so the impact of our thought life becomes artificially inflated. In reality, modern medicine and civil engineering, not our thought life, have everything to do with our good health..

Though what makes this meme such a good example of the weakness of Dr Leaf’s teaching is not just because it’s contradicted by actual science, but in trying to justify her conjecture, Dr Leaf has resorted to twisting, misquoting, and generally fudging information from her ‘sources’ in order to make them support her false conclusions.

For example, Dr Leaf quoted a source on genetics that was over thirty years old, from a time when genetic studies were still in the dark ages. She also misquotes her sources, significantly changing the meaning of the quotes in the process. One source didn’t even mention the figure she attributed to it. As if that’s not bad enough, Dr Leaf also cites biased sources, pseudoscientists, and other sources that directly contradict her assertion [7; Ch 10].

This pattern of relying on mistruths and factoids to paper over the gaping cracks in her irrational assertions is repeated throughout her teaching.

The heart is a mini-brain

Dr Leaf believes that the human heart acts as a mini-brain. She states that the heart has its own thought functions, is an electrophysiological regulator of every cell in the body, and is the source of the human conscience.

Such an assertion is ludicrous, and science proves it to be so – the “still small voice” comes from our brains [8-10], and everyday office-based medical tests prove that the electromagnetic signal from the heart is too small to have any meaningful influence on our body’s cells, let alone our thinking [7: Ch 11].

You control your DNA with your thoughts

Dr Leaf believes that our thinking can influence our DNA. She said this in her 2013 book [1: p35], and several times on her social media streams. The problem for Dr Leaf is that there is no credible scientific evidence that DNA is controlled by thoughts.

Her main evidence comes from a poster presentation at a 1993 psychotronics conference titled, “Local and nonlocal effects of coherent heart frequencies on conformational changes of DNA” [11]. She describes this paper as, “An ingenuous experiment set up by the HeartMath Foundation (which) determined that genuine positive emotion, as reflected by a measure called ‘heart rate variability’, directed with intentionality towards someone actually changed the way the double helix DNA strand coils and uncoils. And this goes for both positive and negative emotions and intentions.” [1: p111]

Actually, the experiment was based on faulty assumptions, and so full of flaws in the methodology and analysis, that it could show nothing at all [7: Ch 13]. All it could prove was that Dr Leaf was so desperate to grasp hold of anything that seemed to support her theory that she was willing to use a twenty-year-old study from a group of pseudoscientists that also believe in occult practices like ESP and telekinesis (http://psychotronics.org).

On and on, the same pattern continues. She claims that our thoughts are powerful enough to control our DNA and our brain, except that the opposite is true – it’s our DNA code, with some influence from our environment, that creates our pattern of neurons responsible for our stream of thoughts. She teaches that thoughts cause stress, when again, the evidence is the opposite – psychological stress starts as a subconscious process which changes our stream of thoughts. Dr Leaf teaches that in order to improve our mental and physical health, we need to fight any ‘negative’ or ‘toxic’ thoughts, when studies show that cognitive therapy isn’t effective when compared to behavioural activation. (This is explained in more detail, and with the appropriate references, in my book [7]).

Dr Leaf even goes so far as to say that our thoughts can control physical matter! [1: p33,38]

Over and over again, Dr Leaf’s teaching conflicts with modern science. That Dr Leaf also regularly misquotes her sources and relies on unpublished opinion from pseudoscientists and new-age practitioners also brings her reputation as an expert scientist into disrepute.

3. Dr Leaf is contradicted by scripture

In her books and on social media, Dr Leaf often quotes scripture in an attempt to reinforce her reputation as some form of Biblical expert. Everything’s fine when she simply quotes scripture, but problems arise when she tries to interpret it. Like her use of science, Dr Leaf often misquotes or paraphrases scripture, or uses it out of context, in order to try and Biblically justify her tenuous hypotheses.

2 Timothy 1:7

One of Dr Leaf’s favourites is 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Dr Leaf interprets the phrases of “spirit of fear” and “a sound mind” as “anxiety” and “mental wholeness” respectively. For example, on the 12th of May 2014, she posted to her social media feeds, “Your mind is all-powerful. Your brain simply captures what your mind dictates. 2 Timothy 1:7” And in her book “Switch on your brain” [1], she said on page 33, “For now, rest in the assurance that what God has empowered you to do with your mind is more powerful and effective than any medication, any threat, any sickness, or any neurological challenge. The scripture is clear on this: You do not have a spirit of fear but of love, power and a sound mind (2 Tim 1:7).”

Simply checking the verse in its full context, and in a different translation, shows it in a completely different light to the way Dr Leaf promotes it. From the NIV, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” (2 Timothy 1:5-8)

The Greek word for “fear” in this scripture refers to “timidity, fearfulness, cowardice”, not to anxiety or terror. The Greek word that was translated “of a sound mind” refers to “self-control, moderation”, not to mental wholeness. So Paul is teaching Timothy that God doesn’t make him timid, but full of power, love and self-control. Paul is simply saying that through the Holy Spirit, we have all the tools: power, love and the control to use them, so we don’t have to be afraid.

This scripture has nothing to do with our mental health. It certainly doesn’t say that our minds are “more powerful and effective than any medication, any threat, any sickness, or any neurological challenge”. Dr Leaf’s use of this scripture is misleading.

Proverbs 23:7

Another favourite of Dr Leaf’s is Proverbs 23:7, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he”.

She used this scripture a number of times on her social media feeds, including on the 4/2/2015, “‘The more you believe in your own ability to succeed, the more likely it is that you will. Shawn Achor’ – ‘For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he …’ Proverbs 23:7”, and the 29/5/2015, “Mind In Action: ‘Genes cannot turn themselves on or off. In more scientific terms, genes are not ‘self-emergent’. Something in the environment has to trigger gene activity.’ Dr Bruce Lipton’ – That ‘something’ is your thoughts! Read Proverbs 23:7”. Dr Leaf also used the same scripture to try and explain how the woman with the issue of blood managed to obtain her healing [1: p111].

What’s interesting is how Dr Leaf only ever uses the first half of this verse. The whole verse (in the King James Version) reads, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.”

So what’s with the second half of the verse? What’s the eating and drinking half of the verse got to do with our thought life?

The explanation is that this verse has nothing to do with our thought life at all. Dr Leaf has simply been misquoting it for years, and no one checked to see if she’s right. According to the Pulpit commentary found on the Bible Hub website, “The verb here used is שָׁעַר (shaar), ‘to estimate … to calculate’, and the clause is best rendered, ‘For as one that calculates with himself, so is he’. The meaning is that this niggardly host watches every morsel which his guest eats, and grudges what he appears to offer so liberally … He professes to make you welcome, and with seeming cordiality invites you to partake of the food upon his table. But his heart is not with thee. He is not glad to see you enjoy yourself, and his pressing invitation is empty verbiage with no heart in it.” (http://goo.gl/nvSYUh)

Thus, the scripture does not prove that our thoughts define us as Dr Leaf would suggest. Dr Leaf’s use of this scripture is misleading.

James 1:21

Another example, on the 26 May 2014 on her social media feeds, Dr Leaf said, “James 1:21 How you react to events and circumstances of your life is based upon your perceptions” and then a week later, “James 1:21 Our thoughts and perceptions have a direct and overwhelmingly significant effect of the cells of our body” (4/6/2014).

Except that James 1:21 actually says, “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls”, and has absolutely nothing to do with our perceptions and our cellular biology.

The same pattern is repeated on social media and in her books. Dr Leaf finds scriptures where one version mentions words like “thinking” or “choice”, isolates them from their context and reinterprets them to suit her meaning, rather the actual meaning of the verse in the original language and the original context.

4. Dr Leaf is contradicted by Dr Leaf

Not only is Dr Leaf’s teaching contrary to science and scripture, but even her own teaching contradicts itself. Dr Leaf also makes claims about her research and achievements that aren’t backed up by her published papers.

To gift or not to gift …

In her 2009 book, “The gift in you” [12], Dr Leaf teaches about the gifts that we have, specifically, our gifts are something uniquely hardwired into our brain, something that we cannot change even if we wanted to, and that it’s our brain structure that gives rise to the way in which we think, the actions that we take, and the gifts we are given from God.

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 your brain.” [1]

“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.” [1: p31-32] (Emphasis added)

So … our gifts are hardwired into our brain and can’t be changed because our mind is what our brain does OR our brain is what our mind does, so our gifts aren’t uniquely hardwired into our brain, and we should be able to change our gifting if we want to, based on our choices. Which is it? It can’t be both. Dr Leaf’s fundamental philosophies are mutually exclusive.

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 major works, and are in print in two best selling books, from which she has used to present countless sermons and seminars around the globe.

To summarise, Dr Leaf has directly called her own beliefs and teaching “biblically and scientifically incorrect”, and not noticed. The confusion and embarrassment are palpable.

But wait, there’s more.

(Not) Making a Difference

From the pulpit, in her books, and in her promotional material, Dr Leaf refers to her ground-breaking research – how her “Switch On Your Brain 5 Step Learning Process” and the Geodesic Information Processing model (which underpins her program), have helped thousands of children to increase their learning and improve their academic results.

For example, Dr Leaf claims that, “The Switch On Your Brain with the 5-Step Learning Process® was assessed in a group of charter schools in the Dallas [sic]. The results showed that the students’ thinking, understanding and knowledge improved across the board. It was concluded that The Switch On Your Brain with the 5-Step Learning Process® positively changed the way the students and teachers thought and approached learning.” (http://drleaf.com/about/dr-leafs-research/ – Original emphasis)

In her TEDx talk, Dr Leaf stated, “I wasn’t sure if this was going to have the same impact cause until this point I’d been working one on one. Well I’m happy to tell you that we had the same kind of results … The minute that the teachers actually started applying the techniques, we altered the trend significantly.” and,
“I stand up here saying this with conviction because I have seen this over and over and over in so many different circumstances … in this country I worked in Dallas for three years in charter schools, and we found the same thing happening.” [13]

Though there is the minor problem of her research results not demonstrating any actual change.

In Dr Leaf’s first case, Dr Leaf herself admitted that the demonstrated improvement of her single patient was just as likely to be related to spontaneous improvement, and not Dr Leaf’s intervention. In Dr Leaf’s PhD thesis, the students improved almost as much in the year without Dr Leafs intervention as they did with her program. In the Dallas charter schools study, Dr Leaf’s intervention either disadvantaged the students or showed no significant difference. In academic circles, Dr Leaf’s research hasn’t so much as generated a stale whimper [14].

So while Dr Leaf may claim that her research has changed the learning and lives of thousands of students all over the world, but her own published research disputes her claims.

The Emperor has no clothes, but no one wants to say anything

In Hans Christian Andersen’s legendary tale, the Emperor was conned by two swindlers into believing that “they were weavers, and they said they could weave the most magnificent fabrics imaginable. Not only were their colors and patterns uncommonly fine, but clothes made of this cloth had a wonderful way of becoming invisible to anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid.”

If you don’t know the story, you can read it here. In the end, the Emperor was duped so badly that he paraded in front of all his subjects au naturel, but “Nobody would confess that he couldn’t see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No costume the Emperor had worn before was ever such a complete success.”

My analogy here is not to suggest that Dr Leaf is deliberately conning the church. Rather, our natural instinct is to suppress our own judgement, even when it’s right, in favour of everyone else’s. We assume information to be true because others in authority tell us it is. We assume that the Emperor must be wearing something because the trusted ministers and noblemen are holding his imaginary train high in the air.

Likewise, it’s very natural for Christians to believe that Dr Leaf’s teaching must be ok because our pastors and leaders vouch for it. Our pastors and leaders vouch for Dr Leaf’s teaching because it’s been endorsed by world-renowned Christian leaders like Kenneth Copeland and Joyce Meyer. And no one wants to say anything, because they don’t want to look sheepish (or be ostracised). Dr Leaf’s ministry may look like a complete success, but only until someone finally says, “But, the Emperor has no clothes …”

It’s time to call Dr Leaf’s ministry for what it is. In my humble opinion, I suggest that Dr Leaf’s ministry is not based on scientific acumen, but on popularity and reputation. And her reputation, in turn, is based on slick self-promotion and an availability cascade (a self-reinforcing process by which an idea gains plausibility through repetition).

Dr Leaf’s teachings are not supported by science, nor by scripture. Her own fundamental philosophies contradict each other. Her assertions about her title and the results of her work are in conflict with her own official data.

Our church leaders need to come clean about why they publicly endorse Dr Leaf’s ministry. I can justify why I think Dr Leaf should not be preaching from our pulpits – in this and many other blog posts, and in my 68,000 word rebuttal to Dr Leaf’s published works. Can Kenneth Copeland and Joyce Meyer, or churches such as Cottonwood Church or Hillsong Church, produce evidence where they performed due diligence on Dr Leaf’s scientific credibility before endorsing her ministry? I would be happy to publish any responses they may be willing to make, complete and unabridged.

If Dr Leaf is preaching at your church, politely ask your pastor to produce his or her evidence that Dr Leaf’s teaching is scientifically and scripturally sound. If your church leaders can’t show that Dr Leaf’s teachings are scientifically and scripturally accurate, then politely ask them why she’s been invited to preach from their pulpit or to sell her wares in your church? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section.

Critics and sceptics love to use any opportunity they can to embarrass the church, but by parading our own naivety, we’re simply embarrassing ourselves.

It’s time we dressed ourselves in God’s glory, not our own ignorance and ignominy.

References

[1]        Leaf CM. Switch On Your Brain : The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2013.
[2]        World Health Organization. GLOBAL HEALTH ESTIMATES SUMMARY TABLES: DALYs by cause, age and sex. In: GHE_DALY_Global_2000_2011.xls, editor. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization,, 2013.
[3]        Hunter PR, MacDonald AM, Carter RC. Water supply and health. PLoS medicine 2010;7(11):e1000361.
[4]        De Cock KM, Simone PM, Davison V, Slutsker L. The new global health. Emerging infectious diseases 2013 Aug;19(8):1192-7.
[5]        Dickinson JA, Stankiewicz A, Popadiuk C, Pogany L, Onysko J, Miller AB. Reduced cervical cancer incidence and mortality in Canada: national data from 1932 to 2006. BMC public health 2012;12:992.
[6]        Ronsmans C, Graham WJ, Lancet Maternal Survival Series steering g. Maternal mortality: who, when, where, and why. Lancet 2006 Sep 30;368(9542):1189-200.
[7]        Pitt CE. Hold That Thought: Reappraising the work of Dr Caroline Leaf. 1st ed. Brisbane, Australia: Pitt Medical Trust, 2014.
[8]        Mendez MF. The neurobiology of moral behavior: review and neuropsychiatric implications. CNS spectrums 2009 Nov;14(11):608-20.
[9]        Zysset S, Huber O, Ferstl E, von Cramon DY. The anterior frontomedian cortex and evaluative judgment: an fMRI study. NeuroImage 2002 Apr;15(4):983-91.
[10]      Glascher J, Adolphs R, Damasio H, et al. Lesion mapping of cognitive control and value-based decision making in the prefrontal cortex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2012 Sep 4;109(36):14681-6.
[11]      Rein G, McCraty R. Local and nonlocal effects of coherent heart frequencies on conformational changes of DNA. Proc Joint USPA/IAPR Psychotronics Conf, Milwaukee, WI; 1993; 1993.
[12]      Leaf CM. The gift in you – discover new life through gifts hidden in your mind. Texas, USA: Inprov, Inc, 2009.
[13]      Leaf CM. Ridiculous | TEDx Oaks Christian School | 4 Feb 2015. YouTube: TEDx, 2015;20:03.
[14]      Pitt CE, The TEDx Users Guide to Dr Caroline Leaf, cedwardpittcom; 2015   Mar 26, https://cedwardpitt.com/2015/03/26/the-tedx-users-guide-to-dr-caroline-leaf/

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68 thoughts on “Dr Caroline Leaf – Still Contradicted by the Latest Evidence, Scripture and Herself

  1. Pingback: Dr Caroline Leaf – Contradicted by the latest research | Dr C. Edward Pitt

  2. Well said ! I have a tertiary qual in Ed & Teach with an interest in behaviour, but this doesn’t make me a Neuroscientist ! Christians are trusting,( & some are stupid!) -Paying money to detox!?Thanks for your emails.
    Nanette Warland

    • It makes me profoundly sad that you would actually come on here to comment and call some of your brothers and sisters in Christ “stupid”

      • Hi DJ,

        It makes me profoundly sad that Christians fall for the incoherent nonsense that Dr Leaf espouses. Each to their own I guess.

        All the best to you.

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

  4. What a relief to find your blog. When I heard the outlandish claim that 75-98% of physical and mental health problems were caused by problems with one’s thought life, I was alarmed because the claim is unsubstantiated — but also I was alarmed at the problematic theology of blame that this kind of message leads to. If one follows this logic to its end, it is probably the fault of most sick people that they are sick because they are thinking ‘toxic thoughts’. This message facilitates not compassion for the suffering, but condemnation. What about Job? Was he in torment because of his toxic thoughts? Reading Job shows that he was suffering in spite of his loyalty to his God.

    I found myself wondering if some of Dr Leaf’s material might have been influenced by findings on cognitive therapies such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, which can help people cope with stress, depression, and pain, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15256293, through influencing an individual’s relationship with their own thoughts. It may be that changing thinking patterns can help some people cope with some mental health difficulties, but that does not necessarily mean that thinking patterns always cause mental illness, and certainly does not indicate that thinking patterns induce physical illness.

    Lastly, thank you for your persistence and faithfulness in explaining your understanding of where these teachings are not in line with science or scripture. In today’s church I feel it is very difficult to find a space to challenge messages like this and I appreciate you taking the time to outline your challenges. In the bigger picture I think it says something about the structure of churches needing to change to allow for more robust discussion, rather than teachings given to congregations by individuals, without room for questions or examination. But that is another topic completely… 🙂

    • Hi ‘Contemplative’,

      Thanks for your support and encouragement. I sincerely appreciate it 🙂

      I agree with you 100%, and you make some very pertinent observations. I think you’re right that the logical outcome of Dr Leaf’s ’98%’ meme is condemnation. And I like your point about Job, who I hadn’t actually considered in this context before, so, thanks! Though on further reflection, the same could be said for many Bible heroes – someone like Paul in particular springs to mind.

      I think Dr Leaf’s is mainly influenced by Beck’s classical cognitive-behavioural theory, that change in thinking is required for a change in behaviour. And I guess that’s understandable as Dr Leaf trained in the 90’s when CBT was peaking and before Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and other therapies such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy were still in their infancy. MBSR and ACT are interesting. They are certainly shown to be effective in anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and many other psychiatric problems. They fundamentally differ from CBT because while CBT postulates that thought must be changed before behaviour can be changed, ACT and MBSR propose that behaviour can be changed irrespective of thought. So rather than fighting to change our thoughts as per CBT and Dr Leaf, ACT and MSBR simply propose to ignore the thoughts and focus on adaptive behaviours. Though irrespective, as you say, that doesn’t prove or is even related to the suggestion that thinking patterns are in any way related to our physical and mental health.

      As for the church … you’re right, it is another topic completely! I get the feeling that it’s difficult to find a space to challenge unsound teaching because church leaders are generally not open to being challenged, or are unwilling to take appropriate action. I’ve discussed my concerns a few times with pastors of various levels, and I’ve had a range of reactions, from being ignored, through to open indifference, to being accused of deliberately isolating myself and taking offence!

      I don’t, for a moment, think it’s easy for the average church pastor. You can’t please everyone, and there will always be someone who’s critical. But each pastor does have a responsibility to shepherd their flock, and significant concerns need to be dealt with accordingly. Ideally, each church would perform a process of due diligence before they have guest speakers, especially for those speaking from an area in which the average pastor does not have expertise … (i.e.: making either medical, scientific or financial claims), so that contentious speakers are weeded out before they make it to the platform. But hey, that’s just my opinion.

      So, thanks again for your positive feedback. Can I encourage you, like I encourage everyone, to discuss your concerns about Dr Leaf’s teaching with your friends, pastors, and the National Executive of the church denomination you belong to. If everyone makes their voice heard, then the truth will eventually win out.

      All the best to you.

      • Dear Dr Pitt, thank you for your ‘expose’ on Dr Leaf. I have a growing interest in understanding neuroscience and comparing, contrasting and measuring as best one can against scripture … recognising that the Bible is far from a science ‘textbook’! In raising that with other members of the church congregation with which I worship someone had bought Dr Leaf’s book ‘Switch On your Brain’ and had passed it on to another member of the congregation. I ‘scanned’ some of its early chapters and found little that made any sense with the very limited knowledge of neuroscience but more significant engineering related ‘system of systems’ and ‘artificial intelligence’ knowledge from my training. I am also concerned with the nature of MBSR and wary of its roots which I understand are in ‘eastern mysticism’; particularly Transcendental Meditation. What are your views on this?

      • Hi GB,

        Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a legitimate tool in the cognitive-behavioural therapies toolbox. The meta-analyses for MBSR generally show positive effects for healthy individuals (Khoury B, Sharma M, Rush SE, Fournier C. Mindfulness-based stress reduction for healthy individuals: A meta-analysis. Journal of psychosomatic research 2015 Jun;78(6):519-28) and in mood disorders like anxiety and depression (Fjorback LO, Arendt M, Ornbol E, Fink P, Walach H. Mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Acta Psychiatr Scand 2011 Aug;124(2):102-19) although there’s variability in the study designs and so more research needs to be done to confirm these findings.

        I understand your concerns about mindfulness and it’s potential connection to Eastern religious practices. Mindfulness is really just a fancy way of describing the process of drawing your attention to the present moment and considering it without judgement. So, at its most fundamental level, I think mindfulness is areligious.

        There is a form of mindfulness which is based on meditation, and meditation is often found in Eastern religions, but the Bible also talks about meditation. Therefore, I think of meditation as a neutral tool – meditating isn’t the issue in terms of new age practices, it’s what you’re meditating on that’s important. If you’re meditating on a spirit guide, then that’s an issue for a Christian. If you’re meditating on scripture, then that’s good. If you’re practicing mindfulness, that to me is neutral.

        I hope I’ve explained myself properly. I’m happy to clarify if you like.

        Good on you for thinking more deeply about scripture and neuroscience. I hope you find it a fruitful endeavour!

        Thanks for the interesting comments and questions. All the best to you 🙂

      • Hi GB,

        So, it appears that you sent me two comments, but unfortunately your other comment was picked up by WordPress’s spam filter, and seems to have disappeared into the great void of cyberspace. I only found it as a seperate message just now as I was going through my e-mail.

        I should also point out here that I’ve read your entire comment, and even though I can’t publish it because it disappeared, I thought I would reply as best as I am able here.

        It sounds like you’re going through a really difficult time with lots of very complicated physical, psychological, social and emotional forces in play, all pulling and pushing in different directions. And I say this very sincerely, that’s a tough gig. Health systems are difficult to navigate (especially the NHS from what I’ve heard about it in Australia). They sometimes add to the difficulties. Personality disorders are also some of the most challenging in mental health, both in diagnosis and in treatment. They take time and patience and a lot of work. Ethically, I can’t comment specifically on your case, but I do want to encourage you: stay open, stay strong, one day at a time. You will grow stronger and things will become clearer. Keep embracing your faith.

        In regards to some of your other queries:

        I agree with your comment on perception. In the CAP model there’s an arrow that goes from “Executive Systems” back to the Thalamus which was to represent the top-down function that occurs in neural processing. My arrow is rather thin – a limp wave to the top-down processes that occur – and since coming up with my model, I realise the error of my ways. In fairness, that arrow should be much thicker because the top-down process deserves more respect. It’s a lot more influential to our perception and processing than I’ve given it credit for.

        Our brain is very probabilistic and predictive. It’s essentially a prediction and pattern recognition engine. So in terms of our perception, the brain is essentially predicting what we will perceive based on our model of the world that we’ve built up over time. So our perception is based on our sensory organs and what they’re actually perceiving from the bottom up, as well as the prediction of what our brain expects that we will be perceiving, and we tend to only become consciously aware of that information where there’s a significant mismatch of the two.

        So you’re right – the incoming information is compared to a standard measure, but this standard measure for the brain is the ever-adapting model of the world that we have learnt from our past experience, which in turn is modelled on the information that has already been processed through our sensory organs, and our memories, and the emotional interpretation attached.

        In terms of the triune brain theory – I’m not sure how it would map on to my model. My model is more of a schematic representation of function where as the triune brain is more trying to map function onto structure. The functions that I talk about in my model tend to be found in different parts of the brain, and in some cases (like physiology) aren’t specifically brain functions per se. I guess my model is a representation of a hierarchy of influences over our thoughts more than anything else. I hope that makes sense. I’m happy to clarify further if you wish.

        All the best mate.

    • I really appreciated seeing your thoughtful and well-stated reply. It is encouraging to find other Christians who find these statements to be off mark and incorrect. Lately I’ve felt alone in my community due to the quick following of these televised teachers and pastors. It was so helpful to come across Dr. Pitt’s blog and others lile you. Thanks.

      • Thanks for the comment CWil. I always appreciate the encouragement. You certainly aren’t alone. Stand up for your concerns. Tell others about the alarm bells that ring when you listen to Dr Leafs teaching. Dr Leaf will continue without accountability unless we all stand up for what is right and what is truth. Spread the word. All the best mate.

  5. Hi Dr. Pitt,
    I appreciate you taking time out to show some of the errors in Dr. Leaf’s teachings. I went to a local church a few weeks back – a friend said Dr. Leaf was speaking – and he said it would be worthwhile to listen to her. After about 5 minutes of hearing her speak, I felt alarm bells ringing, I felt what she was saying was quite wrong. In the talk she gave to us, she was attempting to tie in Quantum Physics with her “mind healing” and christian faith. I am not a quantum physicist by any means, but I have read a lot on the subject. One thing that she said that seemed quite un-scientific was her use of the quantum physics idea of “superposition”. My understanding of the origins of the quantum idea of superposition is where it was discovered when an electron gun, fired through a sheet with 2 slits in it to a wall on the other side, firing one electron, would leave one mark on the end wall when they observed it, but when not observed, they discovered more than one mark that indicated that a single electron had taken more than one position; but only when not observed. Dr. Leaf has attempted to extend this quantum physics observation by applying it to us humans, saying that when we have a choice, we are essentially in the “superposition”! It seems that whilst Dr. Leaf has some understanding of quantum physics, she is attempting to apply it to areas that have not ever been shown to be the case. In this case, my understanding of the superposition is that to date it only has been shown to apply to sub-atomic particles, and not to humans faced with a decision with many choices. The latter to me is simply “potential”. Before any choice, there is a potential myriad of outcomes. This is not the “superposition” as she tries to describe it.
    But the congregation applauded, and seemed oblivious to the strange and unscientific conclusions she was attempting to draw.

    Thanks for your time.

    • Hi Justin,

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m not a quantum physicist either, but I did a lot of reading on QP in preparation for a chapter in my book (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/466848 or https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/hold-that-thought/id908877288?mt=11). I think you’re right about the meaning of being in superposition … I think Dr Leaf really likes QP because of the role of the observer in making the superposition of something collapse. She likes to tie this in with choices, that is, she proposes that it’s our choices to change our superpositions and can thus influence physical matter. It’s a long bow to draw in my opinion, and one only has to remember Schrödinger’s cat to see that her conclusions about the superpositions of macroscopic physical systems is tenuous. If you haven’t seen it yet, the chapter on QP is chapter 13 in my book, which you can also access here: http://www.debunkingdrleaf.com/chapter-13/.

      As is my custom, I want to encourage you to discuss your concerns about Dr Leaf’s teaching with your friends, pastors, and the National Executive of the church denomination you belong to. If everyone makes their voice heard, the truth will eventually win out.

      Again, thanks for taking the time to share your experiences and opinions, and all the best to you.

  6. Thanks Dr. Pitt. When you wrote:
    “..remember Schrödinger’s cat to see that her conclusions about the superpositions of macroscopic physical systems is tenuous.” that echoes my understandings exactly. That the strangeness of the quantum world is that it isn’t reflected in our, or the macroscopic event world.
    The church that hosted Dr. Leaf is not my usual church, it is one that is affiliated with Hillsong, and is a local church, and my experience with them in general is that they often get speakers in that are both un-biblical and un-scientific, and they usually don’t listen to any criticisms. The best I can do is talk with my other church friends, who do listen and have a strong desire for the truth.
    Anyway, thanks again!

  7. Dear Dr. Pitt,

    I appreciate your careful critique here and in your previous site. My concern about Caroline Leaf’s work pertains to the method of application. It is certainly worthwhile to examine the sources of negative thoughts and emotions. However, it is not always wise or beneficial to do so on one’s own. I have been fortunate to have had individual counselling at various times from licensed therapists and from trained pastoral counsellors. These counsellors would guide me into facing up to difficult truths about my emotions that I most likely would not have faced up to via a private personal journaling type of method. On the other hand, they also would guide me step by step so that I was able to make progress in spite of the very painful sources of my negative emotions. (When I did have a series of sessions with a counsellor who proceeded very rapidly through more than one issue at a time, I was overwhelmed and despairing.) As Christians we are all called to self-examination and confession. However, as a mental health self-help method, I am quite concerned about Caroline Leaf’s recommended process.

    I would like to thank you for a particular analogy about mental health that you used in a response to a posting on your previous site. You compared a depressed person’s difficulty in accepting God’s love or love from other people to the situation of someone speaking a foreign language. Based on my own experiences, I find this to be a very apt analogy.

    Very cordially,
    Anne

    • Hi Anne, thanks for your very gracious feedback. I’m glad you found the analogy and the other information useful.

      I understand your concern about the method of application of Dr Leaf’s teaching, though I don’t think it’s the method of application that’s her problem, but the material itself. If the material is faulty, it doesn’t matter how it’s applied or who applies it, it’s still faulty. Though that’s just my opinion.

      I agree with you in general about our need to both self-examine and confess, and I also agree that assistance from Christian counsellors can be useful. As you say, there are certain times and certain issues that benefit from self-contemplation, and other times in our lives or other situations in which good counselling can be extremely helpful. I certainly encourage my patients to engage with a psychologist for mental health issues as psychological therapy is just as useful as medication, sometimes slightly more so. But as you’ve observed, the counselling is sometimes only as good as the counsellor providing it.

      I guess it just goes to show that assisting those with mental health issues is not a one-size-fits-all approach. I appreciate you taking the time to add your insights to the conversation.

      All the best.

      (PS: I’ve taken the liberty to fix any typo’s I came across. No offence was taken. Nothing to apologise for 🙂 )

    • Dear Anne and Dr Pitt

      I have found all this information very helpful. My wife has recently started to watch a lot of Dr Leaf’s shows on TBN in the UK and seems very taken by her approach. She encouraged me to order one of Dr Leafs books to try and help our marriage, which I have done though with some hesitation.

      My wife has a history of depression which can very clearly be linked to a traumatic childhood. She is showing all the signs of being severely depressed at the moment but will not acknowledge this and is pursing Dr Leaf’s suggestions on how one manages ones thoughts (that is simplistic i know but i havent read the book yet). My wife has been a christian since she was very young and for her God is her father in a very real way, and it isn’t for me to challenge that. But whilst she watches a lot of christian tv and studies the bible and prays she does not go to a church and has little if any contact with other christians, which i feel lacks balance. She is seeing a counsellor, although my own psychologist has suggested that particular counsellor is not really qualified to give the level of support which is perhaps necessary.

      In recent years I have also been suffering with depression and at the moment i am finding it pretty bad. This has been described by one counsellor as “situational” depression because of the stresses of my relationship with my wife and our domestic arrangements. When i share this with my wife she tells me to man-up and that it is my thoughts that are wrong aka Dr Leaf. I find this entirely counterproductive – what i need is just some understanding and taking the pressure off, but instead i am being given more tasks and more blame.

      My brother committed suicide 20+ years ago and my wife’s family have a history of alcoholism. I do not necessarily believe these things are passed on between generations, but i do know that having direct experience of them makes one very aware of the need to tread carefully. But my wife takes what i would call a more extreme view, believing one can overcome all such things by personal commitment and conviction. She is prone to latching onto a “method” and pursuing it 110% to the exclusion of all other advice, and i am very concerned that this is what she is doing now with Dr Leaf.

      And that is really my point. From the little i know of Dr Leaf she seems to say some good things which have helped many people, but not everything she says is good and some things will be counterproductive if forced onto people with serious needs. Everything in moderation…

      On a side note, as per some of the other comments I have wondered why you, Dr Pitt, have decided to take such an intense interest in Dr Leaf’s work to put together all this material together. I am grateful that you have because it has helped me this morning, but would be interested to know what prompted you to do this beyond the introductory comments provided on your site.

      My reality is that i am now seriously considering separating from my wife. I cannot focus on my work and business because of my depression, and so irrespective of any thing else the current situation is simply not sustainable. I dont want the marriage to end, i dont want to walk out on my wife because i feel she is in a very fragile state, despite her outward show of strength, but i fear that the constant overt antagonism which we are living with will do long term harm to the mental health of our whole family (wife + 2 young adult children) if allowed to continue.

      With thanks for your work

      Ran

      PS. I am living in the UK but am Australian originally, and my wife South African.

      • Hi Ran,

        Many thanks for reaching out. I appreciate your bravery and your openness. In many ways, I’ve been in your shoes, and I know how harrowing it can be at times. Your situation is clearly challenging, and I pray that God will give you the grace and the strength to move forward and to come through this very difficult time.

        It would be unethical for me to try and give you advice specific to you, but I can give a few general points and encouragements. I have written a book on mental health for Christians, but it’s currently in the final stages of publication, and won’t be available for a month or so. But I have written some blogs on Christians and depression (the link to the first part is here: https://cedwardpitt.com/2015/10/10/the-prospering-soul-christians-and-depression-part-1/) which I hope might give you a bit of background, and a framework to use to help guide your recovery.

        The other thing to say here is that I’m glad that both of you are seeking professional help. Of course, there are good counsellors and there are bad counsellors just like there are good doctors and bad doctors. If seeing the current counsellor doesn’t seem to be helping, then it may be time to up the ante, and it might be time to see a clinical psychologist or even a psychiatrist. In Australia, the person that might help you navigate that is your local GP, although the UK’s health system is different, so I can only give you a general answer on this point. The other thing to possibly consider is couples counselling. It’s ultimately up to both your wife
        and yourself.

        If you are finding yourself in a spiral and you need urgent assistance, Samaritans in the UK offer a 24 hour help line, on 116 123.

        With regard to Dr Leaf, your initial observation is pretty much right … she does “seems to say some good things which have helped many people, but not everything she says is good and some things will be counterproductive if forced onto people with serious needs.” Dr Leaf’s teaching is a blend of humanist pop psychology with some scripture thrown in to make it sound Biblical. She takes normal human emotions, tells people they’re toxic when they’re not, and then sells people a ‘solution’ to a ‘problem’ that never existed in the first place. She is a charismatic speaker, and what she says sounds intuitively obvious, so it doesn’t surprise me that you wife has been drawn in by her teaching. Unfortunately Dr Leaf’s teaching doesn’t stand up to any level of scrutiny, and personally I think Dr Leaf owes her success to the placebo effect and regression to the mean. Dr Leaf doesn’t acknowledge the broader models of serious mental illnesses or their treatments, which makes it much harder for Christians with serious mental illness.

        As for my ‘intense interest’ as you politely put it 🙂 , while there are a number of Christian ‘experts’ preaching various perversions of science in the church, Dr Leaf is probably the most popular, and therefore the most misleading and potentially damaging. And there’s only one of me and I’m working full time and trying to manage my family demands and other projects on the side. So therefore I’m concentrating my efforts to try and maximise the efficiency of my time. I have written on many other topics as well, and like I said before, I have a book coming out which has nothing to do with Dr Leaf, so I’m not obsessed with her or anything. It was really a pragmatic decision more than anything else. If Dr Leaf is willing to recant, or the Christian church is willing to hold her accountable, then I’m happy to go back to being a boring mild mannered GP in the suburbs.

        A couple more things … I know it’s hard at the moment, but if at all possible, I hope you can stay with your wife. I understand how stressful the relationship is and how it’s affecting you, but sometimes the separation can be just as maladaptive as the relationship. And so often, depression clouds our judgement so that the marriage may seem hopeless but in reality, there is still a way to make it work. As I said before, perhaps working with a good relationships counsellor is in order.

        There are also some resources you might find helpful. The video by of the TEDx talk at Portsmouth by Alan Watkins is excellent and can help you understand the thoughts hierarchy (https://youtu.be/q06YIWCR2Js), as well as some blog posts that I wrote which also discuss the place of thoughts as they relate to the rest of our biology (part 1 = https://cedwardpitt.com/2014/11/08/dr-caroline-leaf-putting-thought-in-the-right-place/). Also, “The Happiness Trap” is a very good (secular) book which is an excellent introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a new paradigm in modern psychology.

        I wish you all the best mate. “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

      • Hi Dr Pitt

        I really appreciated your prompt and detailed reply. Your inclusion of phone numbers and GP suggestions here in the UK shows me just how diligently and seriously you take this whole issue, so thank you. And I was interested by your description of why you are focusing on Dr Leaf which makes complete sense of your work.

        I will read/watch your suggestions with interest, and will read Dr Leaks books when they arrive to make my own call on them.

        All the best,

        Ran

  8. A well researched and thought provoking post. Do you interrogate each word of the scriptures with such scrutiny as you do the verses Leaf holds central to her argument? Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic… Which etymological nuances take primacy in your day to day understanding of the bible? The fallibility of the Chinese whispers that culminated in The 17th c king James version to the NIV you mention is truly laughable. That an entire argument of yours is based on poking holes in Leafs interpretation of words estsblishes part of your perspective just as tenuous as her faux neuro science. I see a critical and inquiring mind here that is wasted on the faith you’ve inherited. Look up the word “Almah” if you love semantics.

    • Hi Stevie.

      Thanks … I think …

      I’m assuming that your penultimate statement was meant in a complimentary way. I must admit, I’ve received my fair share of criticism on this blog, although no one has criticised me before for my tenuous semantics. But fair enough, your comment is noted and appreciated.

      I try and understand things to the deepest level that my brain will allow me, so I will always try to go back to the original text when looking for a deeper understanding of scripture. Part of having a critical and inquiring mind, I guess.

      Thanks for your comment. All the best.

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  14. Thanks for clearing this up. I’ve listened to the audio book about 5x’s and my head was spinning with all the steps aND the re visit process. Very very confusing. Love how you lay it out and put it into perspective.

  15. Wow, you are a bitter little thing, aren’t you?? If you don’t like Dr Leaf’s work then fine, but keep your negativity to yourself.

    • Hi Kym. Thanks for your rather ironic comment. It appears you’re a bitter little thing. If you don’t like my work then fine, but keep your negativity to yourself.

      Or perhaps you could try and see past your presumptive judgement and attempt to understand that my writing against Dr Leaf is not out of bitterness, but out of love and care for those who are being mislead by Dr Leaf’s inaccurate teaching. That’s why I continue to write what I write, despite the criticism that I inevitably attract from those who are myopic and judgmental.

      All the best to you.

  16. I have listened to Dr Leaf several times and was challanged to actively take responsibility for the thoughts that i entertained in my head.
    Admittedly I’m not as intelligent as yourself or those commenting here, however I fail to see the harm in working toward a healty thought life.
    Hope you’re not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    • Hi Greg, thanks for your comment. I completely understand why you felt challenged when listening to Dr Leaf. She’s a compelling speaker. She could sell ice to eskimos. Many people have undoubtedly felt the same way.

      There is also no harm in working towards a healthier thought life.

      The pertinent question is whether Dr Leaf’s teaching actually results in a healthier thought life. My other concern is the integrity of her message. It’s easy to pander to people’s prejudices and misunderstandings and gather a large following. Look at Sanders and Trump as two very current examples. Dr Leaf has a message that sounds strong, but if it’s nothing more sand, whatever you base on her teachings will inevitably crumble.

      So I don’t think the baby in the bathwater is in any danger. I would encourage you to review Dr Leaf’s teachings in more depth before you build anything lasting on them, but if you have considered everything and you still feel Dr Leaf’s teaching is for you, then so be it.

      All the best to you.

  17. You sounded like a down to earth, intelligent person until you brought politics into the mix and thus tried to bash Sanders and Trump! Tisk tisk!

    • Hi Dee.

      Well, I am still a down-to-earth intelligent person 🙂 I wasn’t trying to bash Sanders and Trump necessarily, I guess I was using them as an example of the post-modern political process where you could appeal to populism instead of truth and gain a large following of disaffected voters. I thought that was a simile of Caroline Leafs teaching which is based on popular psychology and humanism, with the few factoids sprinkled in for good measure.

      I admit that I have may have misjudged the Bernie Sanders following … from stuff that I’ve been watching lately here in Australia, Sanders was more radical than populist and he did make a reasoned argument for his platform. Trump … well … the jury’s still out, but his popularity is certainly not due to his steady, logical, political debate. That said, I take your point that politics is a passionate subject right now, and maybe I should use a different example next time. So I apologise … my bad.

      Thanks for the comment.

  18. Thank you for your diligent and thoughtful research and rebuttals of Dr. Leaf’s work. My boyfriend recently mentioned her name, said he had seen her at a church service once. At his suggestion, I listened to part 1 of a 4 part series that she had online, and instantly I felt something was off about her. Her claims are outlandish, especially that most illnesses are caused from toxic thinking. I just could not wrap my brain around how that could be true. I’ve read some of her blog and her conclusions are so illogical, even to a lay person with no scientific background. I knew someone would have to be contradicting what she’s saying, so I searched the internet and luckily found your site. Thanks for validating the thoughts that I was having. Keep it up!

    • Hi Liz, Thanks for the support and encouragement. It’s always welcome 🙂 Spread the word about your concerns with Dr Leaf’s teaching. If enough people stand for the truth, the truth will eventually win out. All the best.

  19. Hi Dr Pitt

    A number of people in our church have been pointing our family to Dr Leaf’s teachings (we have some serious health issues in our family and Dr Leaf will be speaking at a women’s conference that many ladies of our church will be attending in the near future). Each time I encountered someone singing her praises it didn’t feel quite right. I decided to do some research and came across your work and thank you so much for it! It saved me a lot of time! Most importantly your work helped me understand what didn’t seem right and I was able to share this with the family member with health problems. It has strengthen us in the face comments that seem to subtly blame the ill person for their illness and increase the stigma for people getting the help they need when it comes to mental illness.

    Your resources made it easier for me to raise the issue with my church and conference leaders. While I can’t say this has changed anything overtly I am hopeful that at least bringing this to their attention may mean they are more alert to possible fall-out from having Dr Leaf speak and more vigilant about speakers in the future.

    I really appreciate the work you have put into this matter!

    • Hi Lee. Many thanks for the comment and the encouragement. Though the kudos really goes to you for your willingness to listen to the check in your spirit, and then follow up and look for alternative explanations. And good on you for talking to your church leaders and conference organisers about your concerns. You’re right, it isn’t going to overtly change things, but they’re forewarned and they can’t claim ignorance any more. I’d encourage you to write to the national executive of the church denomination that you belong to, and share your concerns with them as well. The more people share their concerns about Dr Leaf with those in leadership, the more likely they will take the concerns seriously and take action.

      All the best to you and to your family.

  20. Hi Dr Pitt, Here in in the U.S. we have good water, sanitation and immunization. But it seems that in the last couple of decades, especially, the increase in sickness/disease has done so alarmingly. Commercials on the television have indicated that this increase, depending on the specific disease, has been anywhere from 400 to a 1000% in the last 10 to 25 years. I appreciated your response to Dr Leaf and do not hold her “interpretation,” so I am wondering what is the cause for this drastic change?

    • Hi David, thanks for the question. Honestly, I don’t think I could give you the exact answer to this question, but a couple of points just touching the surface … 1. I would be wary of your source. TV commercials, news and current affairs shows, and even some documentaries, often use some pretty dubious statistics. It may be that there isn’t a 400 to a 1000% increase in illness after all, that figure could be wildly inflated depending on what vested interest or other bias was involved in the production of the piece. 2. Disease patterns have changed constantly over time especially as medical science has intervened. As one disease is conquered, another fills the void. Overall our life expectancy continues to climb, so even if some diseases are on the increase, more diseases are probably on the decrease. 3. It also depends on point of reference and what you’re measuring and in whom. There are more people with cervical cancer now than in the 1700’s, but that’s because there are more women alive now, and they’re living longer much longer now than in the 1700’s. If I were to pick a different set of reference points, I could show that there is a decrease in the rate of cervical cancer in the last 50 years because of the population I’m measuring and the time periods used – there are less cases of cervical cancer in the developed world because of population screening with smear tests than there were 50 years ago.

      Lies, damn lies and statistics … be wary of statistics. They can be twisted to suit different stories depending on who’s using them, so I would always take them with a grain of salt.

      All the best.

  21. Dr. Pitt,
    Oops. In reading another post, I saw that one of the organizations I cited a moment ago about stress is biased in your opinion. Obviously, I need to research that organization a bit more, too.

    • One thing is for sure you underestimate or don;’t know the power of God. I will be reviewing your comments and the subsequent posts as you conveniently ignore anything whatsoever that Dr. Leaf proposes as being helpful. What are your solutions to these problems, if any?

      • Dr Harris,

        Thanks for sharing your opinion. I welcome constructive criticism, so please feel free to correct me on anything and everything you wish. If you could attach your citations to back up your view, that would be greatly appreciated.

        I haven’t conveniently ignored any of Dr Leaf’s teaching. Over time I’ve commented on the aspects of her ministry that I believe are scientifically accurate to give credit where credit is due, but since most of her ministry and teaching is inaccurate, then most of my writing will be about pointing out such inaccuracy. You’re more than welcome to comment on any positives of Dr Leaf’s teaching on your own site.

        As for your odd presumption that I don’t know, or at least underestimate God’s power, perhaps you’d like to clarify what God’s power has to do with the scientific accuracy of Dr Leaf’s ministry? Does God’s power legitimise poor science, or sanction any narrative no matter how far-fetched? Personally, I don’t think so, so I fail to see how my knowledge of God’s power has anything to do with what I’ve written on this blog.

        Thanks for taking the time to comment. All the best to you.

  22. We have just returned from a family visit to the in-laws, during which my mother in law presented my two children with a book she had self published based around the teachings of Dr leaf. The fictional story follows the adventures of Max who is visited by one of his brain cells. The brain cell takes him on a journey into his own brain where he is taught that if he could just get rid of all his toxic thoughts and subsequent toxic trees growing in his brain, then he can be a happier, healthier person. She is a believer. As soon as I read the book the alarm bells were ringing. I checked out Dr Leaf and found your website which was so helpful. Thank you. I will not be letting my children read this book. Dr leaf’s teachings seem to contradict the truths of the gospel on many levels. God’s word and his precious gospel is what my children need to bring about change in their hearts and minds. It is through a relationship with Christ and the sanctifying work of the holy spirit they will find peace and fulfilment. I will need to challenge my mother in law at some point. But I will need to do this graciously and with love. Pointing her to your website will be very helpful.

    Warm regards

    • Hi Lu,

      Thanks for the feedback. Kudos to your mother-in-law for having the initiative to self-publish a book, but I agree that the subject matter is a major drawback.

      People often wonder why I focus so much on the teaching of Caroline Leaf, and you’ve provided a perfect case-in-point. Dr Leaf’s teaching is pervasive and insidious. It is now being passed on as fact to our children. The church is about to start seeing Dr Leaf’s misinformation passed down to our most vulnerable generations ’sins of the fathers’ style. There are other preachers out there whose teaching is unbiblical, but Dr Leaf’s is the most subtle while being the most damaging.

      Please continue to spread the word, to your mother-in-law, but also to the people you know in your circles on influence, including your pastors and the leaders of your movement. If we all raise our concerns, they will eventually be taken much more seriously.

      Thanks again, and all the best to you.

  23. Hello,
    I have a couple of friends who are very taken with Dr. Leaf…they seem to be under the impression that she is some kind of miracle worker. So many Christian “ministers” want to convince us that they alone have discovered some new, God-inspired idea. Bottom line: her message is highly insulting to people like me who have been diagnosed with cancer. So…basically my thoughts were the cause? Really? I never gave ovarian cancer a thought until my diagnosis. Thankfully I am 3½ years out with a good prognosis. I would like to see how Dr. Leaf would react to a cancer diagnosis? Or Sid Roth for that matter. I believe in “taking every thought captive” and don’t need Dr. Leaf to tell me how it’s done. The last 3 years have been difficult and I have to battle my negative thoughts…but I certainly don’t need people like Dr. Leaf to postulate that my thoughts caused the cancer. That really does not help in my mental recovery. It seems to me that people like Carolyn Leaf, Sid Roth, Henry Wright and others are defending God…when He needs no defense. If they can somehow make physical problems self-caused…it lets God off the hook. Basically, we live in a messed up world where bad things happen. I agree in staying positive and try to abide by Philippians 4:8 but Dr. Leaf’s philosophy seem dangerously close to New Age-ism.
    Thank you for taking a stand.
    Sincerely
    Jennifer Lopez

    • Hi Jennifer,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree with you, one of the (unintended) themes of Dr Leaf’s ministry is victim blaming, something which helps neither the person suffering from the condition or the church at large. Yet it’s amazing how people accept her ministry without questioning it. There is one pastor’s wife I know who has suffered from cancer herself, but still wholeheartedly accepts Dr Leaf’s explanation of how her toxic thinking and sin has caused her cancer.

      It’s very kind of you to suggest that Dr Leaf, Sid Roth and Henry Wright et al are defending God. Personally I don’t think they are, or if they are, they aren’t doing it Biblically. I’m not up with Roth or Wright, but I know that Dr Leaf rarely quotes or interprets scripture correctly, and most of her teachings aren’t Biblical, they come straight from books like “The Secret” and others of that ilk.

      Bottom line – don’t let Dr Leaf affect your good recovery. Your thoughts have nothing to do with your cancer diagnosis. Here’s to your good prognosis and a long and meaningful life well lived.

      All the very best to you.

      • Thank you for your reply and kind words. It helps when my docs tell me nothing I did caused the cancer. There are a lot of survivors like me who wonder what they did wrong to cause their illness. Many suffer from anxiety and people like Dr Leaf only serve to increase it. Thought process becomes a vicious cycle of trying not to think negative thoughts, becoming frustrated with the struggle, then berating yourself for having any anxiety…It’s exhausting.
        My daughter is an RN at a children’s hospital specializing in oncology. What would Dr Leaf say to these children and their parents? ‘Your toddler had wrong thinking and now has leukemia”? Or does she site a specific age when ones thoughts suddenly control the body? Again thank you for what you are doing!

      • “My daughter is an RN at a children’s hospital specializing in oncology. What would Dr Leaf say to these children and their parents? ‘Your toddler had wrong thinking and now has leukaemia’?” – That is exactly right! You’re right on the money. And if you wrote to her with that question, she wouldn’t answer the question. If you got any reply at all, it would probably be dismissive and/or avoidant. Her theory breaks down when it comes to children, babies, those with cerebral palsy, acquired brain injuries etc, but why let the truth get in the way of pure unadulterated speculation.

        When it comes to struggling with negative thoughts, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy talks about the “struggle switch”, that cycle of being frustrated because you’re anxious about being anxious, which makes you more frustrated which then makes you more anxious. Rather than trying to suppress the negative thoughts, we need to stand back and let them be – https://cedwardpitt.com/2016/05/24/running-of-the-elephants-why-thought-suppression-doesnt-work/

        So, thanks for the comments. Please spread the word!! And with your permission, I’d love to be able to quote your statement in future posts or other material (not sure exactly how yet, but it’s golden!)

        Thanks again, and all the best.

      • Thank you for the reply Dr. Pitt. I enjoyed the “Elephants” article…spot on with the way I tend to process thoughts ! Feel free to use anything I wrote in your articles. The type of rhetoric that Dr. Leaf and others use, which normally includes victim blaming, infuriates me to no end. Corresponding with you has helped me not only “vent” my frustration with this inaccurate and ridiculous type of thinking…it has also helped me realize that anxiety and depression are very real and one cannot simply “think happy thoughts” to escape the cycle. I believe God can do mighty things weather through medical or psychological intervention or a divine intervention…, it is not my place to tell Him what avenue to work through…all the best to you and your family. Jennifer Lopez

  24. Good evening. I’ve been looking into the TEDx and TED speakers lately and have listened to Caroline Leaf for a couple years. Some of the content is similar to The Secret by Bob Proctor when discussing quantum physics. I am much like you in my research of people prior to taking their words at full value. My father always told me, “Believe nothing of what you hear and half of what you read.” I have always been called a “Thomas the doubter” because I am diligent in my research of something someone says before I accept it as truth. I like to consider myself a “Berean” which we are called to do as Christians anyway. I was locked into the Kenneth Copeland thing for a couple years and always had a gut check when listening to his teaching. I believe God showed me the truth of his teaching and when I saw Caroline Leaf was a guest on his show, alarm bells were ringing loudly. I didn’t take this post as a personal bash against her but rather an opposing view that should be considered for my own benefit. I have an undergrad in psychology and just from those 4 years doing tons of research papers, I’ve learned that unless someone has reputable, published research, there are likely flaws which should absolutely be considered when deciding if someone’s information is credible. I found no condemnation in your article. What it has done is reinforced the fact that we should all check the scriptures for the truth. I, like you, like to go directly to the original verbiage because the translation has been lost many times over. You have enlightened me. So thank you!

    • Hi k8ynal,

      Thanks for the feedback 🙂

      It’s a shame when Christians who are diligent, open-minded and willing to think are dismissed as ‘doubters’. I agree with you that “Berean” is a much better description, and it should be pattern all Christians should follow.

      You’re right in what you say about quantum physics – Dr Leaf’s is not the first person to misuse the concepts of quantum physics to sell their metaphysical nonsense. In fact, I wrote about the near word-for-word correlation between Dr Leaf’s teaching and text from the book “The Secret” here: https://cedwardpitt.com/2016/10/19/the-secret-teaching-of-dr-caroline-leaf/

      And I agree 100%, as Christians, we should all check the scriptures for the truth. So often Christians confuse being faithful and obedient with being gullible. There is a lot of misinformation being spoken from church pulpits, Dr Leaf being but one source. Please spread the word regarding Dr Leaf – tell your friends, your pastor, your denomination’s national executive. It’s only by joining our voices together that Dr Leaf’s misinformation will be corrected.

      All the best to you.

  25. Pingback: On sperm and common sense | Dr C. Edward Pitt

  26. I have to say, this was possibly the most relieving thing I have ever read. I was raised in a Christian home, went to a Christian college, where I received a minor in Biblical Studies to go along with my Science credential, and am currently serving in leadership at my church. Our pastor asked us to read one of Dr. Leaf’s books, and upon reading all the great reviews, I have to admit, I was truly excited. However, only one page in, and I immediately felt like something was wrong. My strong foundation in theology and science were on high alert as I turned each page thinking maybe I was not correctly understanding what Dr. Leaf was saying.
    After finishing the first chapters I was shaking with tears swelling up in my eyes as I struggled to not immediately call my pastor. I pondered how in the world we could be asked to intake and even more accept such a misconstrued paradigm. I went back to research the reviews, thinking maybe I needed to look at different sources and was speechless at I was finding online…I mean, how could a whole population of Christians be so misled?
    With all that being said, your perspective is a breath of fresh air as I’ve been drowning in trying to figure out if I was the only one who had not been persuaded by Dr. Leaf’s work. Thank you for not only putting your reasoning out there for people to have a resource of truth, but also for updating it (unlike some people we know…), so that it is a relevant source of information.

    • Hi Vicki, thank you very much for taking the time to share your experience. It’s comments like yours that make all the time and effort I’ve put in over the years well and truly worthwhile 🙂

      It is really difficult to fathom just how smitten the Christian world is with Dr Leaf (and believe me, I have wrestled many times with the same feelings as you’ve expressed). We don’t have to stay silent though. Raise your concerns with your pastor, and politely ask him to explain why s/he thinks Dr Leaf’s work should be taught at your church. You’re welcome to refer them to this blog and to my book. I’m also happy to chat over e-mail if they have specific questions. Also, tell your friends, in the church, on social media … it’s only when good people stay silent that the truth will stay suppressed.

      Again, many thanks for your comment and I wish you, your pastor and your church all of God’s richest blessings.

  27. This was so helpful! It was nice to see in writing what I was feeling inside. I am sad that Christians still cling to such a stigma around mental health that they are unwilling to check facts. Just because someone is a Christian does not make them an expert in any field they so choose. I feel super weird about her exegesis of Scripture and probably even more weird about her research on mental health. How discouraging for those of us who can’t just switch on our brain and change our DNA. Acting like it’s that simple is disrespectful to everyone’s mental health journey and story. We are so much more complex than that. Thanks again 🙂

    • Hi Heather, thank you so much for your kind comments. I’m very glad that I could be of help.

      I agree with you, Dr Leaf is flippant with mental illness. Her teaching is shallow, blaming the victim and demonising evidence based treatment options. It is a real shame that the church does not hold her accountable for her teaching. Please share your concerns with your pastors, family, on social media … It’s when we speak up, make our voices heard and stand up for the truth that the truth will win out.

      Again, thanks for the encouragement. It’s always welcome!

      All the best.

  28. Last Thursday, Dr Leaf spoke in the Netherlands.
    For the weeks before, I was confronted with her by the enthusiasm of church members including the leaders (who have been to the meeting and aid for it). So I watched some movies on YouTube from her because i was serious interested. When I heard her preaching, but never heard a scientific speech and because she made sharp statements, I went to search for publications of her research but could not find anything. All of my alarm bells went ringing and I’m happy to find this article that shows exactly what I felt and what I found as objections.
    – The 98% rule made me frown that a scientist said this; Where is that research?
    – Where are her publications of research?
    – Is she a doctor?
    I think it is very dangerous and again a “wind of doctrine” which many Christians are in harmony with, risk being disappointed and spending too much money.

    • Hoi PLoo, heel erg bedankt voor uw opmerkingen!

      I agree with you – Dr Leaf rarely lets accurate science get in the way of her narrative, and still she continues to woo so many people, which I find incredibly sad in so many ways. All you can do is politely disagree and tell the facts to anyone who will listen. Unfortunately that’s not always your pastors and leaders, but still, be ready to give an answer to those who ask. God will take care of the rest in his own good time.

      Again, thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Het beste voor jou 🙂

  29. Dear Dr. Pitt, Have recently participated in a study with a group of other Christian women using Dr. Leaf’s book, “Switch on your Brain”. Knew little about her from her YouTube videos and after perusing her book I found questions forming about some of the claims she was making. I have been challenged my whole life with chronic depression but intensely for the last 25 years (I am approaching 60) with depression and GAD and most from a traumatic childhood. I have worked hard at finding answers to this awful disease but I now know that Dr. Leaf does not have the “magic bullet”. While things are slowing changing, the stigma in society and especially, “the church” concerning mental illness, are strong. I am so glad I found your posts as it seems no one else on social media is speaking out against what could be so devastating to those that believe the outright lies of Dr. Leaf and what does that say about “me” if changing my toxic thoughts doesn’t make me well? We already beat ourselves up all the time that we are weak and unloved with this horrible illness. You mention ACT. I live in California and never heard of this therapy from Psychiatrists or Therapists. Is it still a viable therapy and is the Happiness Trap still the book to read about it? I am enjoying your posts and will continue to follow and pray.

    • Hi Christine,

      Thanks for getting in touch. Dr Leaf certainly doesn’t have a magic bullet as you so rightly point out, and it’s also true that there still is a lot of stigma in the church and society at large about mental health and illness. And you are so right, Dr Leaf’s teaching is essentially misguided victim blaming. Dr Leaf’s logic is that all you have to do to fix your mental illness is just to think better, so if you’re still suffering from a mental illness, then it must be your own fault for not choosing to think better. Essentially she is heaping more stigma and misunderstanding on those of us with mental illness rather than making the situation better.

      In terms of books, there are a couple I recommend although I have to stress that no book is going to have all the answers and each book isn’t really a ‘therapy’ in that sense, but each book may help in terms of giving you more information to work with and/or pray through. I still recommend the Happiness Trap. I’m not sure of its penetration into the US, but it is a well-known book in Australia.

      I’ve also written a book specifically on mental health for Christians called “Kintsukuroi Christians”. In the book I talk about ACT but from a Christian perspective. I also talk about what you alluded to before, about how we already beat ourselves up all the time, that we are weak and unloved with mental illness, but I talk about how as Christians we can approach it in a different way.

      You’re welcome to have a look at it if it might help. Please don’t feel under any obligation – I don’t want to turn this into a sales pitch. In fact, please have a look at the free sample first before you buy it and see if it might be something that’s right for you (Sample: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/720425) You can buy it from Smashwords or from other online stores like Amazon (Amazon US = https://goo.gl/7ZLI3H or iBooks https://itunes.apple.com/book/kintsukuroi-christians/id1231172522?mt=11) if you are interested.

      As you said in your story, you have been fighting depression and anxiety for a long time. I’ve been there. I know how hard it is at times. Stay strong – you’re not weak, you’re not useless, but you are worthy of God’s love – “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35,37-39)”

      All the best to you.

  30. Thank you so much for all of your evidence based research on this topic. Currently our work (a school) is doing a course on Dr Leaf’s teachings and there were several red flags for me. However, not having a strong background in psychology or neuroscience I did not have the scientific evidence to reinforce this. There is no basis for this to be taught to teachers in schools honestly.

    • Hi Ashleigh, thanks for your comment. I’m always perplexed as to why schools have anything to do with Dr Leaf or her teaching. Her program “The Switch On Your Brain with the 5-Step Learning Process” failed to show any benefit at all, even in Dr Leaf’s own study on her own website. So why a school would outlay any money and waste their time implementing a white elephant is simply beyond me.

      Anyway, kudos to you for being cognisant and recognising the red flags and to go looking for answers. Advise your school principal of the lack of evidence of Dr Leaf’s teaching or talk to your local school board and ask them to explain why they have allowed significant money to be spent on a program without independently verifiable benefit to the school. It’s only through grass roots action from intelligent and discerning people like yourself that the scourge of Dr Leaf’s teaching will be driven from our schools and churches.

      All the best to you 🙂

  31. Dr. Pitt…

    Juat a quick thank you for the time you’ve put into writing and evaluating Dr. Leaf’s material. As someone who studies psychology and the Bible, I was cautious when a friend lovingly suggested I might find Dr. Leaf’s books interesting. After seeing some of the people who have endorsed her, people popular that I find unbiblical teachers, I felt the need to investigate further. This is how I came across your blog and posts. I found them to be so helpful and encouraging…so thank you. I personally know how it is difficult to go against the grain of popular thought in our Christian communities and fully appreciate you doing so, bringing both biblical truth and scientific fact. They are not mutually exclusive, nor is it up to us to pick and choose, manipulating information to fit our beliefs. You did a wonderful and respectable job of showing that. Thank you.

    • You’re very welcome. And your gratitude and encouragement are a blessing to me – sincerely appreciated. Please spread the word regarding your concerns so that others will also benefit. All the best.

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