The New Pseudoscience of Attachment via Mindfulness

So this lobbed into my inbox today, via the official channel of our staff email list:

Mindfulness, Neuroscience and Attachment Theory: A Powerful Approach for Changing the Brain, Transforming Negative Emotions and Improving Client Outcomes

The course costs $335.00 and is available in all of Australia’s major capital cities. It’s being held at mostly conference-centre type venues, so presumably they’re expecting pretty big numbers. There are some pretty big promises here, and as a neuroscientist my alarm bells immediately started ringing.

“….advances in neuroscience and attachment theory have led to revolutionary work in the application of mindfulness in the treatment of anxiety, depression, emotional dysregulation, anger and stress.”

“…In this seminar, we will explore an integrated approach — incorporating advances in neuroscience, new insights about attachment theory and The Five Core Skills of Mindfulness — that accelerates healthy change and improves client outcomes.”

“…Take home cutting-edge information on the interface between neuroscience, mindfulness and therapy. “

Is this workshop endorsed by the APS? Apparently not, though the organisers are somewhat evasive about it: …”APS: Activities do not need to be endorsed by APS. Members can accrue 7 CPD hours by participating in this activity”

So who is this Terry Fralich (LCPC)? (And what does that stand for? Licensed Clinical Professional Counsellor, apparently, although it’s not clear which body did the licensing.) According to the official website, “Terry Fralich is an adjunct faculty member of the University of Southern Maine Graduate School and a Co-Founder of the Mindfulness Centre of Southern Maine.” However, although it seems that there is a Ms. Julie Fralich listed on the official University of Southern Maine faculty list (http://usm.maine.edu/muskie/cutler/julie-fralich), there is no Terry Fralich listed. The only mention at all on the website is of his wife Rebecca Wing (a co-presenter at the workshops and co-founder of the Mindfulness Center – see below), who is an alumnus of their School of Music (class of ’84).

He does show up on a lot of sites about mindfulness, the top hit being his “Mindfulness Retreat Center of Maine”, which showcases its lovely views and comfortable accommodation (prices are available on application). They also sell “Books and CDs”, although the only actual book listed is Mr Fralich’s book “Cultivating Lasting Happiness – a 7-step Guide to Mindfulness”. According to Amazon, this seems to have been the only book he has written (reviews are generally positive, though one reader found it did not cover any new ground). It seems to be a pretty standard practical guide to mindfulness meditation – nothing wrong with that in itself, I guess.

So where are this guy’s credentials in neuroscience and attachment theory? A search on Google Scholar turned up only the aforementioned book, but no academic papers. His only relevant qualification seems to be a Masters Degree in Clinical Counselling (although I could not find out where this qualification was obtained – if anyone knows, mention it in the comments). Apparently he has studied with the Dalai Lama for more than 25 years; according to his website, “Prior to becoming a mindfulness therapist, academic and counsellor, Terry was an attorney who practiced law in New York City, Los Angeles and Portland, Maine.” I guess this experience should make him careful about making claims which can’t be verified.

Here’s a YouTube teaser for one of his lectures: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ce9zqrxvGFA

I also found a link to a PDF for the program: http://www.tatratraining.com/wp-content/themes/shopperpress/thumbs/Terry-Fralich-2014-Program.pdf

It incorporates sciencey-sounding things like “The triune brain” (huh?), “Fight-or-flight-or-freeze and stress responses”, and of course today’s essential buzzword, “neuroplasticity”. A particularly scary phrase is “Reconsolidation of negative memories: transforming unhealthy patterns and messages.” How are they going to teach therapists to do this – these people who have no training at all in neuroscience, attachment theory, memory or indeed, it seems, even CBT?

I am concerned that our institution is promoting this extremely questionable training seminar from people who appear to be unqualified gurus, and calling it neuroscience. This is not neuroscience, it’s neurobollocks.

Update: I received an apology from the secretary who forwarded the email. She said ‘This Tatra organisation send quite a few of e-mails to the enquiries office, and I normally just trash them but for some reason when I saw the words “mindfulness” and “neuroscience” and knowing that we have courses on neuroscience and thinking that it might be useful to our lecturers, I forwarded it without looking further and also as I mentioned, at least I know of one of our clinical students had done research on mindfulness.’ I don’t think we can really blame her – if they are booking conference centres in all the major capital cities, they must be taking in quite a few institutions and clinicians.

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