Refutation of the disinformation about Monica Pignotti

Posts tagged ‘Psychotherapy Brown Bag’

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.

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