Dr Caroline Leaf – Not a mental health expert

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Dr Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist and self-titled cognitive neuroscientist.  She wrote a PhD on a learning program developed for an educational setting.  She is not a medical doctor.  She is not a psychologist.  She has no experience or training in the diagnosis and management of mental illness.  She is no more qualified to give advice on mental illness than my hairdresser is.

And it shows in her latest social media post: “Lets really start loving as a church- true unconditional non judgmental love – pushing people away and locking them up and drugging them against their will is not the solution to the the problems of life.”

Her statements is a nonsense, nothing more than a scarecrow fallacy.  Yes, pushing people away and locking them up and drugging them against their will is not the solution to the problems of life, that’s why no one does it.  If people were locked up or drugged against their will because of “the problems of life” then we’d all be locked up and drugged.

The only people that are forcibly treated are those with the most serious of mental illnesses whose condition has deprived them of the insight they need to make the decision for themselves.  Even then, the consent for treatment is given by the next of kin, and if no next of kin can provide consent, then the consent is usually made by a independent statutory body so there’s no conflict of interest.

That Dr Leaf continues to make such inane statements about mental illness confirms that she is not fit to give the church, or anyone else for that matter, any advice on mental health.  She may have a PhD in communication pathology but that is a highly specialised field that doesn’t even begin to cross over to clinical knowledge of mental illness.

Dr Leaf has chosen to fill her vacuum of mental health experience with the opinions of Mad In America, a group that’s irrationally biased against modern mental health care.  She regurgitates their creed almost verbatim – mental illness is over diagnosed, psychiatric medications are useless and dangerous, and Dr Leaf also claims that psychiatric medications are only prescribed to bring the cabal of the American Psychiatric Association and the pharmaceutical companies more power and money.

Psychiatric medications are more helpful than harmful (Leucht et al, 2012, Torniainen et al, 2015).  I’ve discussed this in blog posts in the past.  Yes, they’re not without their side effects, and they’re not for every patient, but they have their place in psychiatric care.  That Dr Leaf can’t or won’t review this evidence is just another indictment against her ministry.  That she actively promotes the idea that pharmaceutical companies and the APA are actively attempting to harm people for their own power and riches is scandalous.

If Dr Leaf was serious about promoting good mental health through the church, she should stop promoting baseless anti-psychiatric propaganda, and start encouraging Christians with mental illness to seek the best treatment available, whether that be medications or counselling or both.  She should also start teaching the church the truth about mental illness … That mental illness isn’t caused by poor choices or toxic thoughts, but because of genetic abnormalities that make the affected persons brain more vulnerable to external stress.

Because to stop turning pain and trauma into shame, anger, fear and then hate, people need correct information to allow them to offer real loving understanding and nonjudgmental support to move through the pain.  At the moment, Dr Leaf isn’t offering the church anything even close to that.

References

Leucht S, Tardy M, Komossa K, et al. Antipsychotic drugs versus placebo for relapse prevention in schizophrenia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet 2012 Jun 2;379(9831):2063-71.
Torniainen M, Mittendorfer-Rutz E, Tanskanen A, et al. Antipsychotic treatment and mortality in schizophrenia. Schizophrenia bulletin 2015 May;41(3):656-63.

10 thoughts on “Dr Caroline Leaf – Not a mental health expert

  1. Great blog thus far Dr. Pitt! I am an aspiring neuroscientist in undergrad, and through my Christian ties and acquaintances I have been told many many times that this lady is the link between science and religion. While I do believe there to be a link, she does not present it well. I was extremely excited to see who this exciting neuroscientist was who was linking the brain and mind with God, but was severely disappointed. Her credentials are a huge exaggeration bordering on outright lie, and her lectures are filled with pseudoscience charlatan “quackery”. I am glad there is someone that is showing the other, and particularly more peer reviewed and critical side of the story. I mean, c’mon. The heart is where the mind is located? That the mind is a completely unphysical entity that interacts with the brain? This dualist thinking does absolutely nothing to further science or religion.

    Anywho thank you for your critiques. To be frank, it is exactly people like her that give a bad name to Christians and people of faith. She arms religious people (including some of my friends) with poor knowledge and then expects that the scientific community will respect the Christian belief system? Again, thank you for your blog.

    • Hi Ben

      Many thanks for the encouraging comment. I wholeheartedly agree with your summation about Dr Leaf. All the best to you in your studies … study hard! We desperately need Christians who are good scientists and scientists who are good Christians. We need people in the church who value truth, whether it be scientific or Biblical. Please share your concerns about Dr Leaf’s teaching with your friends and your pastors. The more people stand up for the truth, the more people will start to question Dr Leaf’s pseudoscience charlatan quackery.

      Thanks for your feedback and all the best to you mate 🙂

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  3. An interesting post. I ran an Alternative to Violence program based on a model that states power and control to be the driving mechanism behind the myriads of violence. One of the methods used are those that belittle people by name calling in effect dehumanizing them to justify the violence perpetrated, similar to the tactics used in this article.
    I have also worked as and still do as a Mental Health Approved Home operator and have worked with many individuals who are on medication against their wills. So, to open with a statement about her opinions being nonsense and scarecrow fallacy really lack logic. Is there a deep unfulfilled need that is not met in your life that drive the need for psychological and emotional violence?
    At present, I don’t have an opinion on Dr. Leaf’s work, however, it would be great if posts like this dealt with the issues that need to be debunked versus using savagery.

    • Dear Mr Thrun

      Wow …

      I’ve had a lot of people direct ad hominem criticism towards me over the years because of my stand against Dr Leaf’s teaching – that I’m stupid, that I have no right to question God’s anointed, that I’m in it for the money or for the fame. I’ve even had someone say that I’m working as a child of the Devil.

      Your comment is certainly the politest of them, but it still remains argumentum ad hominem, because, respectfully, suggesting that I’m engaging in “psychological and emotional violence” is really taking it a step too far.

      I get the feeling that you’ve locked on to one of my statements without looking at it in context. I never suggested that people are not on medication against their wills. Many people on medication either are, or feel like they are – I’m entirely pragmatic about that. Yet if you read the entire post, you would see that I talked about the safeguards in place to ensure that the balance between informed consent, individual rights and public safety were maintained.

      It IS a scarecrow argument by Dr Leaf to suggest that people are locked up and medicated against their wills for “the problems of life”. If you really are a mental health practitioner of any form then you would know that her statement is a nonsense, a gross over-exaggeration designed to play on people’s ignorance and fear, not to educate and dissuade them.

      I have hundreds of pages of material in which I have carefully, factually and logically debunked Dr Leaf’s teaching. You’re welcome to review all of it. In particular, start with this post https://cedwardpitt.com/2015/07/22/dr-caroline-leaf-still-contradicted-by-the-latest-evidence-scripture-and-herself/ or my book https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/466848 or http://www.debunkingdrleaf.com/hold-that-thought/

      If you still think that I have “a deep unfulfilled need that is not met in your life that drive the need for psychological and emotional violence”, then you’re welcome to your opinion, though If you think intelligent critique and standing up for the truth are forms of psychological and emotional violence, then I think most people would strongly disagree.

      All the best to you.

  4. Thank you so much. I just started reading a friend’s copy of Switch on Your Brain by Leaf and was appalled. She essentially discounts the experience of someone lacking enough dopamine to get out of bed, where he or she instead chooses with the mind to be miserable. She is dangerous and can surely trigger suicidal ideation in some.

    • Thanks for the comment. I agree with you, she is misinformed and spreads misinformation to all who will listen. She is like an intellectual virus. We need to counter her misinformation with the right information so please spread the word about your concerns with her teaching.

      All the best.

  5. Last night I went to Caroline Leaf’s meeting at my church where I was told that Schizophernia and Bipolar are not actual illnesses, that there is no such thing as a chemical balance and that psychiatric medicines do not work. Well I was diagnosed as Bipolar in 2006 and it took a year and a half for my doctor to find the right medicine for me but once he did it was like a miracle. I have not had another manic episode for the past 13 years because I take my medicine every day. I was also suicidal once and was prescribed Lithium and again it was like a miracle. Medicine works, Bipolar and Schizophernia are real mental illnesses and antipsychotics and antidepressants work. I think Carolina Leaf is totally irresponsible to the Mental Health Community for what she is teaching.

    • I think you misunderstood her. What she said is that the mind ‘can’ cause plasticity to take place. When that happens, physiological changes that are very physical and real…do take place. The thoughts and the mind are not the only thing that can cause changes – and she didn’t say that. They are, however, much more powerful than people think.

      Other things also create changes. Outside forces. Accidents, etc. If you listened carefully to her talks you would have heard her speak of that as well.

      I’ve learned over the years to take everything that every person says – including any type of doctor, yourself included – with a grain of salt. No person is perfect, nor do I pretend to be. Your anger shows insecurity and that is an immediate red flag for me.

      • Hi Alicia,

        I think you misunderstand me. My anger shows insecurity? It’s a very interesting viewpoint. The assumption there is (a) I’m angry and (b) anger is a sign of insecurity. I’m not sure I would agree with either point, but if you think I’m angry, then you’re certainly welcome to your opinion.

        Ultimately you’re welcome to judge what I have to say in whatever way you would like. If you’re judging my critique of Dr Leaf’s work based on a perception of an emotion, then that’s fine, but I would encourage you to look deeper than that. I have, over the course of many years, dissected Dr Leaf’s teaching and checked her ‘facts’ against the scientific literature, and Dr Leaf’s work has been shown to be in error. And not just a few errors here and there, but profound error within the fundamental premises of her teaching which skew her entire teaching so fact away from the accepted scientific position that Dr Leaf’s work is bordering on science fiction, and this is true irrespective of my emotion.

        If you disagree with the citations I’ve quoted and how I have interpreted them, then I would have absolutely no problem with that. You should take everything that a person says – including any type of doctor, myself included – with a grain of salt. No person is perfect. I don’t pretend to be, either. That’s why I have put my research up there and the citations that I have used so that people can review and critique my work in return.

        In fact, Dr Leaf has been welcome to respond to my critique. I offered her a full right of reply at the very beginning of this journey, and the only response I have every received was an arrogant ad hominem dismissal from her husband. If I was clearly out of line, she could have easily dismissed my critique scientifically. She has chosen not to. There are many ways in which her inaction could be interpreted, and I will leave it up to you do consider it for yourself. I have my theories.

        As for your original contention, that Dr Leaf has said that the mind ‘can’ cause plasticity to take place, which causes physiological changes that are very physical and real, I would welcome a direct quote from her books, with a citation/page number.

        However, I have a number of quotes for you:

        “Thoughts influence every decision, word, action and physical reaction we make.” [Who Switched Off My Brain?: p13]

        “Our mind is designed to control the body, of which the brain is a part, not the other way around. Matter does not control us; we control matter through our thinking and choosing.” [Switch On Your Brain: p33]

        “Research shows that 75 to 98 percent of mental, physical, and behavioural illness comes from ones thought life.” [Switch On Your Brain: p33]

        “DNA actually changes shape according to our thoughts.” [Switch On Your Brain: p35]

        “The main point in this chapter is that mind controls matter.” [Switch On Your Brain: p38]

        “It is very interesting that every cell in the body is connected to the heart, and the brain controls the heart, and the mind controls the brain. So whatever you are thinking about affects every cell in our body.” [Switch On Your Brain: p94]

        “Everything you do and say is first a thought in your physical brain. You think, then you do, which cycles back to the original thought, changing it and the thoughts connected to it in a dynamic interrelationship. If your thinking is off … then your communication through what you say and do is off, and vice versa.” [Switch On Your Brain: p98-9]

        “Quantum theory converts science’s conception of humans from being mere cogs in a gigantic, mechanical machine to being freethinking agents whose conscious, free choices affect the physical world.” [Switch On Your Brain: p120-1]

        “Thought signals seem to move faster than the speed of light and in ways that classical physics cannot explain. This means our mind controls matter, and is therefore a creative force.” [Switch On Your Brain: p121]

        Do any of these quotes from her books sound like she supports the idea that other things outside of our thoughts can create changes to our brain? I don’t think so. Fundamentally, Dr Leaf’s base premise is this: “Our mind is designed to control the body, of which the brain is a part, not the other way around. Matter does not control us; we control matter through our thinking and choosing.” [Switch On Your Brain: p33] And that premise is fundamentally incorrect.

        Thoughts do not control our brain, our lives, or physical matter. Thoughts are a function of our physical brain, one small part of our brains overall activity. Thoughts are not faster than light, and they do not control physical matter.

        Specifically, thoughts are an explicit (conscious) projection of information, formed as working memory utilises a larger area of cerebral cortex to process specific parts of a much larger, ongoing stream of information, as directed by the implicit executive systems of our brain. Thoughts are like the image on the monitor on your computer. Billions of calculations are being performed by your computer every second, but all you see of them are what is projected onto your monitor.

        Thoughts, and the mind, are a product of the brain. They do not control the brain. Disorders of the brain, such as tumours or infections, confirm the influence of the brain on our thought content. Again using the computer/monitor analogy, the information on the monitor doesn’t control the billions of calculations going on underneath, the billions of calculations controls what is on the monitor.

        Dr Leaf uses the term “thought” to refer to all brain activity, but her definition is so broad that she invalidates her own arguments. The structure of the brain changes during thought, but the structure of the brain changes with all activity of the brain, just like the structure of all tissues changes with its use. Thought is not required for neurological changes to occur.

        If thoughts cannot control the brain, then they certainly cannot control any other form of matter. This is intuitively obvious, because you can’t think yourself thinner, think yourself taller, or think yourself younger. You can’t move objects with your mind, change the weather, or change other people. Thought does not control matter.

        I would be happy to be proven wrong, but I’ve looked at Dr Leaf’s work over and over. I have had other doctors and neuroscientists review my work as well. They do not disagree with me. Lots of people in the church blindly accept Dr Leaf because they latch on to small chunks of text that seem plausible, and ignore the rest of it which is utterly implausible, some of which they simply reinterpret … “oh, she didn’t really mean that our thoughts can control our DNA, she was just speaking metaphorically” … but that’s a failure of logic and reason. Again, I would be happy to be proven wrong.

        I’m sure you’re being very gracious in your acceptance of Dr Leaf and her teaching, and I appreciate that. And like I said before, it’s up to you how you want to interpret her work, and mine. If you think I’m wrong, or you think I’m angry, then fair enough, but I’m going to agree to disagree with you on both counts.

        Still, I appreciate the time you have taken to comment and for reading and considering my work. All the best to you.

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