Phil Parker and his Lightning Process sounds like a bad lounge act, but in fact is an even worse form of make-believe medicine. It is another instance of supposed mind control magic, and while Parker’s claims are somewhat less extravagant than other alt-med peddlers, he boasts of doing plenty, none of which is backed by double blind studies or an explanation of the mechanism behind it.
Parker holds that we experience stressors from sickness, pollution, relationships, work, school, finances, etc., and that these mess with our sleep, immune system, digestion, and rational thinking. This, in turn, creates a wide range of medical conditions. So he offers a three-day training course that allegedly helps patients recognize the body’s stress response mechanism and reduce the frequency and intensity of such stressors. Next, the persons will manage their long-term health through the use of neuroplasticity.
While neuroplasticity has applications in areas such as brain damage, vision defects, or Cochlear Implants, these must be undertaken by medical specialists using advanced technology and is not something persons can tap into themselves during a long weekend retreat.
But after such a weekend, Parker says the Lightning Process will help sufferers conquer Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, migraines, backaches, Multiple Sclerosis, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, overeating, low self-esteem, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and general malaise.
Such wide-ranging claims are almost always a pseudoscience giveaway. Consider a legitimate medication, ibuprofen. We know that it treats specific areas: Pain, fever, and inflammation. And in an article for Business Insider, Lydia Ramsey explained that ibuprofen works by “latching onto to an enzyme called cyclooxygenase and blocking it out. This keeps the body from making a molecule called prostaglandin, which generates the inflammation that often leads to pain. With that molecule blocked, the pain begins to subside.”
The language there is a little technical, but we get the basic idea of why the medication works. By contrast, this is what passes for an explication of Parker’s program: “The Lightning Process gives you powerful tools to use brain-body links to influence your health and life. The tools involve gentle movement, meditation-like techniques and mental exercises. With practice you can use them to change the way your nervous system works, switching on pathways which promote health and switching off ones which aren’t so good for you.”
This gives us nothing concrete and there is also no mention of side effects, which is another pseudoscience giveaway. An ibuprofen bottle warns of the risks of nausea, dyspepsia, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, dizziness, rashes, hypertension, and more. The seemingly refreshing lack of side effects in alternative medicine is due to such products lacking any active ingredients, which means they are having no impact on the patient’s body.
Another red flag is Parker’s claims being sometimes vague, such as promising to “help with performance” or “improve esteem,” concepts that are difficult to quantify. But at least that is better than his more dangerous claim of being able to cure multiple sclerosis. While that disease has no cure, there are treatments available, and a patient who eschews those for Parkers’ three-day training program is going to make a bad situation even less tolerable.
Indeed, as the skeptic surgeon blogger Orac wrote, “A cancer patient would be infinitely better off trying immunotherapy, targeted therapy, or chemotherapy, rather than trying to use the brain to create thoughts that will kill cancer cells.”
To be clear, Parker does not claim cancer-killing abilities and most of his assertions are relatively benign in an alternative medicine landscape that includes staring at the sun for weight loss, bleach enemas to cure autism, and anti-vaxxers tormenting parents whose children died from Whooping Cough.
Because he focuses on comparatively tame maladies like chronic fatigue syndrome, back pain, and headaches, Parker’s techniques may seem to work, owing to the fluctuating nature of illnesses and post hoc reasoning. The one area besides MS where he does cross the line into becoming dangerous is claiming that the Lightning Process will help with mental disorders. A person with such conditions should by getting psychiatric care, not attending a seminar.
But plenty of persons do seem to be attending. On his website, Parker writes of “thousands of success stories from those who’ve changed their lives and health.” That is followed by links to newspapers, magazines, television stations, and blogs. What he doesn’t point to is anything the way of double blind studies. His website has one isolated example of research, but this was a lone study featuring a non-random sample of nine persons with no control group. One zero-blind study on a minuscule number of subjects falls well short of the scientific standard, and it’s easy to see why Parker favors the alt-med tactic of emphasizing anecdotes over data.
What he lacks in empirical evidence and research, however, he makes up for in books and videos, which is yet another pseudoscience giveaway. Someone practicing genuine medicine is going to offer only products and/or treatments. Further, they will be able to explain in scientific terms the mechanism behind what they are offering. They will not be hawking multimedia products that take hours to get through, with only a hazy description of how it all works.
In Parker’s description, the Lighting Process is a means to improve athletic performance, relieve chronic fatigue, vanquish anxiety, end panic attacks, zap multiple dclerosis, lose weight, and stop headaches. Such a multi-faceted wonder would be announced in peer reviewed journals and at Nobel Prize ceremonies, not in Facebook posts and advertisements laden with all caps and exclamation points.