Refutation of the disinformation about Monica Pignotti

Archive for June, 2010

The Benevolent Tutelage of Monica Pignotti: Free Critical Thinking and Geography Lesson

The anonymous bloggers on that other WordPress blog are at it again, putting words in my mouth. They claimed that I said one could prove a negative. No, I did not say or write that. However, since this is a commonly misunderstood point, I consider it worthy to elaborate on. While true that one cannot prove a universal negative, it is possible to falsify a positive. In essence this means that in some cases, a person can prove their innocence indirectly by showing proof positive of a contradictory fact. Perhaps they need to add Karl Popper and Aristotle to their reading list.

Here is an example. I can absolutely and very easily falsify the lie that was posted that my PhD was revoked. All I have to do is have FSU send a sealed copy of my official transcript to the appropriate parties. A classic example is that of the alibi for a crime. A person can prove they are innocent by providing proof they were somewhere other than the scene of the crime at the time it was committed. A person obviously cannot be in two places at once. Game over.

However, in the US justice system, as anyone who has ever been a juror as I have learns, the State in criminal cases and the Plaintiffs in civil cases have the burden of proof. In a criminal case, that means the person is innocent until proven guilty. The defendant does not have to prove he/she did not commit the crime. Of course, it helps if he has an alibi or can provide DNA evidence, but that is not what is required.

I will preface my remarks by saying that I have the utmost respect for actual clerks in the legal system who do their jobs and don’t misrepresent the legal systems in postings. The problem I have with this particular person who claims to be a hacker clerk is specifically with the way he misrepresents the legal system and seems to imply that the courts “like” Federici (is he claiming that they are biased in favor of him?). I can’t imagine his employer would approve of this. Recently a poster who appears to be a Federici supporter (although he denies knowing him) claiming to be a clerk at the courthouse posted to Fairfax Underground displayed egregious ignorance of US libel law, stating that the defendants he is suing have the burden of proof to show that the statements they made were wrong. That is the case in the UK, which is what made Simon Singh’s legal case so difficult, but it is not the case in the US. In the US, the plaintiff has the burden of proof to demonstrate that the alleged libelous statements made were factually false. This makes libel cases very difficult to prove, because the plaintiff has to come up with a way to falsify the statements made. Virginia is in the United States, not the UK.

In my case, if I could identify who is lying about me, it would be easy as I can easily falsify the lies that I was fired from FSU or had my PhD revoked by providing the relevant documents. However, the ACT website used fair use quotes directly from Federici’s self-published book, Help for the Hopeless Child. If Federici could produce a copy of his book showing that the quotes were nowhere to be found, he could win, but of course he cannot do that because these quotes are, in fact in the book. and anyone can look at the page numbers cited and see that.

The little anonymous “clerk” (I don’t know if he actually is a clerk — in my opinion he is someone who is lamely trying to scare me — but for convenience’s sake I will refer to him as that) also displayed incredible ignorance of what is required as evidence. He seems to think that unless people observed first hand, they cannot make any claims. Somehow in his little mind, he seems to be confusing the concepts of courts requiring direct evidence vs. heresay with what is permissible to say that would not be considered libel. If someone really could be sued for writing about anything other than direct observation, the courtrooms would be filled with journalists and anyone who has ever written a negative book review. That is just more nonsense that shows the little clerk, or whoever he actually is, didn’t learn much from his job. If he is really a clerk, I wonder what his boss would think about his mouthing off his ignorance, misrepresenting and making a mockery of the legal system and the fact he called himself a hacker clerk. The little clerk also seems to think that what he considers ranting about a person is actionable. No, it is not, unless the rants contain lies about facts. Fortunately, the little clerk does not get to make up the rules. The law is the law and the justice system is obligated to follow the law.

So yes, it is perfectly legitimate to critique someone else’s writings and recommendations that are being made in those writings and if the writings are recommending prone restraint procedures, it is perfectly fine to offer up an opinion on the danger of prone restraints, especially since several states agree and have banned them entirely and there is a large body of literature showing their dangers.

Being licensed and proclaiming oneself an “expert” does not mean that people cannot write about that person. Any person in the US is free to criticize anyone at any time for anything as long as they do not make a statement that is factually incorrect that damages the person’s reputation.  If Federici follows through with his threats to appeal the case which he must do within 10 days of his previous legal loss in small claims, as plaintiff, he will have the burden of proof to show that a factually false statement was made maliciously that damaged his reputation.

Here’s a geography lesson. Virginia is in the United States, not the UK. In the UK, defendants have the burden of proof in libel cases. However, in the US, the plaintiff has the burden of proof, so unless Virginia has seceded from the US and become part of the UK, Federici will have the burden of proof, plain and simple.

Again, if Federici follows through with this lawsuit what is at stake here is academic freedom and freedom of speech on the internet. Rest assured that those who care about either of these issues will not be happy. If people can be hauled into court from out of state without sound basis, this would have a chilling effect on both because even if he loses, the defendants would be put through the time and expense of having to hire a lawyer, show up in court and present a defense.  As I understand it, an appeal case is considered essentially hitting the reset button, meaning that certain things from the small claims case cannot be carried over, including possibly the jurisdiction issue which can once again be argued. Cases involving the internet are such a new area, they are difficult to predict, so let’s wait and see and hope that precedents get established that do not have chilling effects on a person’s right to free speech and academic freedom.

Late Breaking Update: Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch has just been sued by Doctor’s Data Laboratories. For details and to contribute to his legal defense fund, click here and  here.

Press Release: Debunking the myths of therapy

Press release on my latest coauthored peer reviewed journal publication in the journal, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, which I coauthored with Sunil Bhar, James Coyne, Aaron Beck and others. The press release issued by Dr. Bhar’s university, which contains a link to the full article, can be read here [note that not all the names of the authors are on the press release, but my name is on the actual article itself. Press release links to the full text journal article.

Debunking the myths of therapy – Swinburne Media Centre.

Special Article
Psychother Psychosom 2010;79:208–216
DOI: 10.1159/000313689
Is Longer-Term Psychodynamic Psychotherapy
More Effective than Shorter-Term Therapies?
Review and Critique of the Evidence
Sunil S. Bhar a Brett D. Thombs b Monica Pignotti c Marielle Bassel b
Lisa Jewett b James C. Coyne d Aaron T. Beck d

Click here to access the full PDF

Monica Pignotti: An Objective Account of My Work

Much lip service has been paid to the word “objective”. There have been people who are obviously selectively presenting the most negative parts of my past they can find, while ignoring the rest. I provide the following link, not to toot my own horn, but to provide some balance to the selectively negative and inaccurate misinformation that exists on the internet, written by people who are upset by my scholarly criticisms.

There is, however, an account on the internet of my experience that I do consider objective: When Pseudoscience Takes Hold: in Clinical Psychology: The Saga of Thought Field Therapy (TFT). Read it here. Although this was written by someone who is a Doctoral Candidate at Florida State University, Michael D. Anestis, M.S., he has never met me in person (he is in a different department that is across campus from the one I was in at FSU) and had never even corresponded with me until he contacted me after writing this article about me, so he has no reason to have any sort of favorable bias towards my work or an unfavorable one. Here is an excerpt:

I have two goals for today’s post:

  1. To discuss the impressive (on multiple levels) work of Monica Pignotti. Pignotti not only conducted the only trial to date involving an empirical investigation of TFT components, but also published a remarkably honest description of her journey from a devotion to scientific principles to a time spent as one of the most prominent TFT proponents, and then back to the scientific community.  Furthermore, she published retractions of prior work she had published in which she had made strong claims regarding the efficacy of TFT.  I have never before seen a professional hold her own work up to scrutiny on a public stage in this manner and I find myself remarkably impressed by her actions.
  2. To explain the many flaws in the claims of TFT proponents, while demonstrating the many ways in which it exemplifies the core of pseudoscience.

In accomplishing these goals, it is not my intent to criticize anyone personally or to imply that there is malice involved in the proliferation of TFT.  That being said, it is well within the bounds of this endeavor to openly critique the methods utilized to support the claims of efficacy for TFT and to discuss the dangers of therapeutic modalities that charge excessive sums for training and require that trained individuals keep the specific techniques secret.

And this:

Pignotti’s Journey

There is simply no way I can do justice to this story in a short PBB summary tucked into a larger article on TFT in general, so I hope that you will take the time to read the original article, which was incredibly well-written (see our References page for the full citation).  In short, Pignotti received her master’s in social work (MSW) in the early 1990’s with a strong background in research methods.  At that time, she had every intention of pursuing a Ph.D. in a scientifically-oriented program.  She first heard about TFT through a list serv and immediately attacked it as pseudoscience.  After an extensive exchange with a number of people on the topic, she eventually got in touch with Callahan himself and realized that they shared some common background info (e.g., they both graduates from the University of Michigan) and their conversation turned civil.  Callahan asked Pignotti to try the technique out on herself and she obliged (of course, she was told to keep the methods secret).  Much to her own surprise, when she tried an algorithm for anxiety, her own anxiety immediately disappeared and she felt an “emotional high.”  By her own admission, this experience led Pignotti to stop thinking critically about TFT.  Incredibly complimentary and supportive interactions with Callahan further contributed to this shift in mindset.

Shortly after this experience, she began a meteoric rise in the TFT community.  At her peak in this community, she was the fifth person to ever receive VT training, she was Callahan’s go to person to take phone calls from his clients when he was not available, she was the only person in the US allowed to teach an approved training of TFT Diagnostics, and she had co-written several pieces on TFT.  In the Pignotti (2007) article, she elegantly describes how, even with her impressive research background and education, the promise of TFT was alluring enough to pull her in and lead her away from her training.

Over the course of several years, Pignotti began developing nagging discomforts with particular aspects of TFT.  These discomforts were sometimes met with anger by other TFT proponents and sometimes simply explained away in a manner that would not hold weight in a scientific debate, but which felt compelling in the midst of a saga like this. Eventually, however, her discomfort became strong enough that she felt compelled to collect data on her own, as Callahan refused to engage in such activities along with her.  She randomly assigned clients (n = 66) to receive either Callahan’s algorithms or a completely arbitrary pattern of tapping and found that the two groups exhibited equivalent outcomes.  In other words, Callahan’s specific algorithms had no impact on the outcome.

For a while after conducting this study, Pignotti did nothing with the results.  She was still working through her thoughts with respect to TFT and whether to stay the course with this direction she had chosen in life.  In 2003, Pignotti discovered two books that, ultimately, played a pivotal role in her eventual reversal of her position on TFT: Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology by Scott Lilienfeld, Steven Lynn, and Jeffrey Lohr and Remembering Trauma by Richard McNally.  After reading these books and having a subsequent frank and extended conversation with Dr.McNally, Pignotti found herself at a crossroads that ultimately led her back to her roots.  She had come to realize that the methods used to explain and promote TFT ran completely counter to her scientific ideals and she ceased practicing TFT with clients.  In 2005, she published the results of her study (Pignotti, 2005) and, just recently, she graduated with her Ph.D in social work.

I can not overstate how impressive it is that Pignotti not only wrote the article that details this saga, but also published public retractions of prior work she had written hailing TFT’s efficacy.  Her actions are an impressive display of devotion to the principles of science and the goal of ensuring that misinformation is put in its place, even at her own expense.  In a profession in which many of us are loathe to admit to even our smallest of errors, this represents a stunning and invaluable gesture.

Click here to read the entire article.

Mr. Anestis also wrote an excellent review of another recently published article that I co-authored.

Although, of course, my detractors have tried to argue from authority, make obscene innuendos about my relationship with him when he and I have never even met in person, belittle Mr. Anestis and the article by pointing out that Mike Anestis is a “student” (actually he’s a Doctoral Candidate who will soon be defending his dissertation and will be doing his final predoctoral internship in 2010-11), many people don’t realize what it really means to be “only a student” in clinical doctoral psychology programs in major research one universities such as FSU. These programs are highly competitive to get into in the first place and they have very rigorous standards for completion, in both clinical practice requirements and scholarly research.

Typically, a good PhD clinical psychology program receives from 200-400 applications and only accepts around 6-8 new students each year. There are even very bright students with stellar GPAs, high GRE scores and impressive publications, who cannot get into such programs, so people who do get in, are the proverbial cream of the crop.  One guide for graduate programs in clinical psychology advised people who were having difficulty getting in to consider going to medical school for psychiatry instead, since medical school is easier to get into than a PhD Clinical Psychology program in a good university.

This is very different from PsyD programs in free standing, non-university based professional schools of psychology which, although most are accredited and legitimate, accept many students each year, provided they can pay the tuition and meet minimal requirements. A graduate of such a freestanding PsyD program is no position to trash a PhD candidate such as Mike Anestis, who has completed all his coursework and his dissertation in a highly rigorous program, for both clinical work and scholarly research. This is not to say all PsyD’s are bad, I know some very good ones, but the good ones usually don’t turn up their noses at PhD candidates.

I consider this a highly accurate, fair and objective account of my work, so if people do not care to read my lengthier account, I highly recommend Mike Anestis’ synopsis. The blog contains a number of other highly informative, excellent articles as well.

P.S. To the commenter who perhaps thought she was being helpful by telling me to “get a job”, I have a job and as I always have, I fully support myself.  I do not “talk to myself in comment threads”. I respond to refute the lies that are being spread about me, just as rape victims sometimes choose to fight back. Click here to read more dos and don’ts about what I feel, based on my own experience, is and is not helpful to victims of cyber abuse. At this point, we have no research, so experience of the victims is all we have.

Your assumption that I do nothing but post all day long is incorrect. I do work and in addition to that, I have had two additional articles accepted for publication in the past few months. Your comment is not the least bit helpful to me and only tells me how little most people understand cyber abuse. This only makes me more determined to stand up to my cyber abusers and help the world to understand this very new form of abuse that few people have any clue about. Put yourself in my shoes, get some compassion, and stop blaming the victim. Just because I take time to stand up to cyber abuse does not mean I do nothing else. I work for a living, as always.

Thankfully, not everybody is gullible enough to believe the lies that have been posted about me. Thankfully, there are people in the world who have the intelligence, insight and sensitivity to understand that my standing up to a cyber abuser is a legitimate choice and does not make me crazy and such people, unlike the commenter, appreciate that I am in a situation where I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Thankfully, there are people willing to hire me who recognize that I continue to be the stable, dependable worker I have always been who gets the job done and I have been told by several employers I have worked for over the years, that they feel lucky to have me. For those who want to believe the negative propaganda against me, their loss. And again, I am not claiming I am perfect or “unlimited awesome” as one of the cyber punks put it. I am a human being with strengths and weaknesses and here, I am highlighting my strengths in order to provide some balance.

Ronald Federici, PsyD: An Open Letter

This is an open letter to Ronald Federici, PsyD, a psychologist in Virginia who I believe is one of the ring leaders in the smear campaign against me. Before I begin, here is some background Although he denies being involved in the actual postings, just before the smear campaign began, according to Wayward Radish, a survivor of abusive therapy who runs a blog blowing the whistle on those who practice such methods she claims receiving the following e-mail from him:

While I am a patient man, my limits are about done as you have done some egregious things on this internet. I know all of your names, and could post what I know about your personal and family issues of atheism, scientology, handicaps, depression, mental health issues, sexuality, etc.

The alleged letter was written after people who said they knew him had come forward on the blog and said some things about him which, suffice it to say, were not favorable. Although I had nothing to do with the blog or the postings, my past history made me an easy scapegoat and target. It was shortly after this that the attacks on me and on my colleagues began to appear and in July, 2009, he sent a letter to my Dean that was filled with lies about me, including the assertion that I was “not of sound mind” even though Dr. Federici was in no position to make that assessment of me, given he has never met, much less examined me. He tries to distance himself from the ugly postings about me, but he advised my Dean to do a Google search on my name, pointing to the libelous and defamatory postings about me, as if this were evidence. My Dean took no action whatsoever on Federici and his colleagues’ letters about me because he considered them to be completely irrelevant to my work at FSU. Contrary to the lies that are being circulated by anonymous individuals, I graduated from FSU and left in good standing in every way.

Federici’s assertion that I have many enemies and attempts to imply that maybe they are responsible for the postings simply is not credible for a number of reasons:

  • While it is true that there are other proponents of treatments I have criticized (e.g. Hulda Clark followers, TFT proponents, Scientologists) who are quite upset with me, none of them have any reason to attack my colleagues Jean Mercer, Larry Sarner, Linda Rosa, Charly Miller (who have been attacked along with me) since they have not been involved of criticism of any of these things. What they have been involved in, is criticism of the methods of Ronald Federici and his colleagues.
  • Many of the attacks on me denigrate me for my past involvements in TFT and Scientology so they are slamming TFT and Scientology. Obviously, proponents of TFT and Scientology would not be slamming their own practices.
  • Word has gotten back to me that the Callahans and other leaders in the TFT association are strongly recommending to their members that they not attack me. Although I have been critical of their claims, at least this shows that they are wise enough to recognize that personal attacks would make them look very bad and thus they are choosing to refrain. They obviously do not want to be associated with the crackpot attacks on me.
  • Although there were a few isolated attacks on me, the widespread smear campaign did not begin until after I had published scholarly criticism of one of the attachment therapists and it became known I am on the professional advisory board of Advocates for Children in Therapy.

Here is my open letter.

Dear Dr. Federici,

As a human being, in all good conscience, after seeing the methods you are recommending for children, I have to say that in my opinion, I feel they are inhumane, atrocious, and just plain wrong . [Readers can view these methods in his self-published book and form their own conclusions.]

Click on “Look Inside” and search in the book for “SEQUENCE ONE HOLDING” and go to where this phrase appears on page 111.

Fortunately, I live in a free country and I have the right to free speech, which includes expressing my opinions, whenever and wherever I deem appropriate. What free speech does not give people the right to do is libel and defame others, as you and/or your friends have done to me. At the very least I know that the attackers are your friends because the same ones who post blogs and ads attacking me, post ads and blogs praising you. I have not libeled or defamed you. I have documented every fact I have stated about you and have clearly labeled my feelings and opinions as just that. In contrast, outright fabrications are posted about me, such as saying I do sexual favors for people in exchange for endorsement, was fired from FSU for being a voyeur and other ridiculous, crazy lies.

The methods you are recommending for children are in and of themselves, problematic enough, especially given that there are no published studies to support their safety and efficacy (and I mean studies in peer reviewed journals that directly test your intervention with randomized controlled trials, not fifth author on a book chapter that did not test your intervention).

I asked you to name institutions that currently use the restraint procedures you recommended in your book and you named Cook County Hospital, an institution that as far as I have been able to determine, no longer has an inpatient psychiatric unit, which has been defunct for quite some time and you named another institution, Jasper Mountain, which it turns out is highly controversial and has been sued because children ended up with broken bones. You have not produced a rebuttal to the conclusions I have made from my own literature searches, showing that deaths have occurred from prone restraints, even when the procedures were done correctly under supervised conditions and that there is very little empirical evidence for the safety and efficacy of restraint procedures and hence, the recommendation is to do everything possible to avoid using them and when they are used, to use the least restrictive possible methods, not the face-down prone restraint methods your book recommends parents use, with no one in the immediate environment to supervise their use, as there would be in a residential facility.

Instead of addressing the issues at hand that I have raised, the anonymous outrageous, libelous and outright obscene attacks on me continue. Although you may not have noticed, with the advent of evidence-based practice in clinical psychology, the days of the therapy guru who can simply assert his authority and place himself above challenge are coming to an end. No one, is above challenge, even licensed PsyDs such as yourself .  You can puff up your chest and assert those credentials all you’d like, make all the legal threats you want and take people to small claims court, but it does not mean that you are above being challenged. It might seem that I am belaboring a point here, but the reason for that is that much is at stake. If people like you can succeed in intimidating critics from challenging you, then there is no hope for the mental health profession to become an evidence-based profession that produces interventions for people that help, rather than harm. Take away a person’s ability to criticize and what we will end up with a cult run by therapy gurus, not a profession. Obviously, I have paid the price for my criticism of having my reputation smeared with libel and defamation all over the internet, but if that’s what it takes to be an advocate for vulnerable children, so be it.

Quite frankly, I am appalled by your book and what you are recommending be done to already vulnerable children who have serious histories of neglect and in some cases, severe trauma and sexual abuse and rest assured, I will not be silenced. Additionally, the fact that you work with children does not make you immune to criticism from people who are not currently actively doing so. One does not have to be working with children to be appalled by your book and in fact, I know plenty of professionals who work with children with severe behavior problems who use evidence-based treatments to deescalate situations who have not had to resort to the methods you recommend.

If you would like to discuss the actual issues with me, feel free to respond, but what I will not tolerate are any further personal attacks. I would still like to know, for starters, on what basis you are claiming the restraint procedure you recommend in your book is safe. And no, the fact that it was used by hospitals in the past who for the most part are no longer using them, is not evidence, since more recent reviews of the evidence have shown that there is no empirical evidence for these methods safety or efficacy and that these are authority-based, not evidence-based methods. And no, co-authoring a study reported in a book chapter, especially one that was not a controlled efficacy study of your intervention, does not count. What is needed to provide evidence and meet the APA’s standards for the efficacy of interventions are replicated randomized, controlled studies published in peer reviewed journals, not book chapters.

Emotional appeals that Dr. Mercer or I would not know what to do if we were confronted with an out of control child, just do not cut it. If I were to work with this population, I would make sure I was properly trained in evidence-based deescalation methods and safe, JCAHO-approved restraint methods. The last thing I would want to use is what you are recommending and I say this is just for starters, because the emotionally harsh, boot-camp nature of your proposed intervention is also highly problematic, especially when used on a population of already vulnerable children.

You constantly try to misportray me as “fringe” due to my past long-ago repudiated associations, but your methods, as stated in the BBC production of your work, are highly controversial and strongly criticized by mainstream experts on attachment, such as Peter Fonagy, who had this to say about your methods on a BBC program featuring your work from a transcript:

PROF PETER FONAGY: I’ve major worries about this notion of knocking things down in order to build them up. The normal approach to cheating behavioural disorder of this kind is to help the parents understand the child better. What is so vulnerable in these children is their sense of themselves, their sense of who they are. Now if you are systematically undermining that very fragile, that very vulnerable sense of who that child is you could end up in the situation where the child becomes really very much more depressed and hopeless and helpless.

and this:

PETER FONAGY: I think there’s a real danger in assuming that we know what’s going on in the child’s mind. How do we know that that child is going to interpret two parents trying to restrain him physically as an act of affection?

RON FEDERICI: You understand that this is practice, but you know it’s for real under…

PETER FONAGY: It’s presumptuous of us to assume that just because it involves that close physical contact it will undoubtedly be interpreted as something that’s positive.

On the contrary, my position and the position taken by Advocates for Children in Therapy is quite mainstream and not “fringe” at all and since the APA has no certification or approval process for advocacy groups, it is meaningless to say ACT is “fringe” because it is not listed by APA. Neither are a number of other reputable organizations. You are the one who is outside of the mainstream. When I did a search on your name as author on the PsycInfo and Medline databases, I did not get any peer reviewed journal articles and no, the mere mention of your name in a journal article does not make you a mainstream expert, nor do your media appearances. The media loves controversy and you definitely fit the bill.

So how about some responses to the issues at hand, rather than calling me fringe?


Monica Pignotti, PhD

[update: My own further investigation of Federici’s claimed reference to coauthoring research is that the book chapter is actually the (6th) conference proceedings from the International Association for Human Auxology which met in Tokyo in 2007. The proper reference for the book of conference proceedings is:

Ashizawa K, Cameron N. 2009. Human Growth in a Changing Lifestyle. St. Ives, Cambridge: Smith-Gordon. ISBN 978-1-85463-233-3

so these are conference proceedings, certainly not a peer reviewed journal publication, hardly seminal research and not research that directly tested the efficacy of his intervention proposed in the self-published book]

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