Neuropsychotherapy? No, I hadn’t heard of it either.

Recently, a friend asked me to look into the back-story of a fellow called Dr. Pieter Roussouw, who is offering some very expensive 2-day workshops for professional development using terms like “neuropsychotherapy”.

Of course, my bullshit-meter started buzzing like mad, so I had a quick look online.

The first few results looked legitimate enough. He is apparently on the staff at the University of Queensland, where he is a Director of the Master of Counselling Program and a Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Work and Human Services. He is also a member of the Australian Psychological Society; and, although it isn’t mentioned on the UQ site, he also has his own company, Mediros Clinical Solutions. The slogan of the company is “How talking therapies change the brain”, and there’s the usual gratuitous picture of a transparent head with a glowing brain in it.

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He is also on the Advisory Board of The Neuropsychotherapist, where is is claimed that he “is an expert in anxiety and mood disorders”, and has “published five scientific books and twenty scientific articles”. Indeed, there are around this number of articles listed on the UQ site, but oddly a PubMed search only reveals two papers (neither of them first-author papers, and neither of them in neuroscience – both relate to internet-delivered CBT). Looking for the “five scientific books”, the only book I could find was “BrainWise Leadership: Practical neuroscience to survive and thrive at work”. He is second author on this book, which is also advertised on his company website. I could not find any other books, though it is possible they were published through small academic publishers and are now out of print.

Returning to the UQ site, it seems almost all of the claimed journal publications are in a journal called Neurospychotherapy. What is this journal? Delving not-very-deeply (i.e. Googling it), Neurospychotherapy turns out to be a “free e-journal” available through Dr. Roussouw’s company website. So… not exactly what I would have thought the University of Queensland would recognise as a peer-reviewed publication. There are a few others in another outlet called Neurospychotherapy in Australia, of which Dr. Roussouw is an editor (this appears to be another free e-journal).

His profile on The Neuropsychotherapist says “Currently he is involved in full-time research in the fields of neurobiology and neuropsychotherapy as well as clinical training for clinicians, psychologists and general practitioners” (my emphasis). It seems odd for someone who is engaged in full-time research in neurobiology not to have any publications in peer-reviewed journals on the topic.

Mediros seems a well set up company. They have a slick-looking website with lots of information about upcoming workshops being offered, each with its own sciencey-sounding link to Things About the Brain. It’s tuned right in to the latest zeitgeist of Neuro-everything. Let’s zoom in for a minute on the “NEW!” workshop on “The Adolescent Brain”.

“The workshop also focuses on the effect of the current model of teaching/education on the neural development and why countries like Australia is [sic] falling behind in the Global Education Revolution and what needs to be done to effectively address this from brain-based perspective.”

Really? There’s a Global Education Revolution? Apparently it involves things like:

“Neural plasticity, neurogenesis and mirror neurons.” (YAWN – doesn’t everything these days?)

“How the brain get programmed to become anxious” (sic)

“Establishing control by changing neural firing” (Really? That sounds rather ominous.)

“Brain based interventions – key to wellness.” (sic)

The Early Bird Rate for the two-day workshop is $595; standard rate is $645, or $495 for students (proof of student status required). Apparently this includes morning and afternoon tea, but there’s no mention of lunch. The workshop qualifies you for 12 hours of specialised training in neuropsychotherapy (as far as I can see, a term that Dr. Roussouw has invented, or at least makes more use of than anyone else), that may be counted towards Continuing Professional Development.

There’s a good piece here about the epidemic of neuromyths in education that people should perhaps read before they stump up for the workshop.

Other workshops seem somewhat less alarming. The one on Depression offers information that mostly seems to be based on genuine research – after all, we do know quite a bit about the neuroscience of depression, and psychologists should probably understand neurotransmitters if they are to treat patients who are taking medication. However, I am rather concerned that these workshops, which heavily emphasise the brain and neurobiology, are being run by someone with apparently no training or experience whatsoever in neuroscience, who seems to be inflating his credentials with self-published papers and a pop-psychology book. (Is anyone seeing a pattern here?)

I am also interested in why is someone with such clear financial interests allowed to run a Masters of Counselling Program at UQ. I have contacted their Personnel department for a copy of his CV, but have not received it to date. If anyone knows more, or has attended one of these workshops, I would be most interested to hear about it.

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More on questionable training workshops for clinical psychologists

After the last post, I was intrigued to know more about the organisation that is hosting the Terry Fralich workshops, Tatra Training, as our secretary mentioned she receives a lot of emails from them asking her to advertise their other workshops.

I had a look at the list of trainers on Tatra Training’s website. It seems that a number of them are associated with an organization called the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy National Certification and Accreditation Association (DBTNCAA), allegedly “the first active organisation to certify DBT providers and accredit DBT programs.” – notably, the appropriately-named Dr. Cathy Moonshine (alcohol and chemical dependency treatment counselor), and Lane Pederson (PsyD, President/CEO). However, this organization is not in any way endorsed by the founder of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy herself, Marsha Linehan. In fact, there is a disclaimer on Cathy Moonshine’s site to this effect:

“All trainings, clinical support, and products sold by Dr. Moonshine are of her own creation without collaboration with Dr. Linehan, or Dr. Linehan’s affiliated company, Behavioral Tech, LLC. Dr. Moonshine’s products are not sanctioned by, sponsored, licensed, or affiliated with Dr. Linehan and/or Behavioral Tech, LLC.”

Thus, it seems Linehan herself has a competing company, but she does at least have an impressive CV with many research articles to back her up. I have contacted her for comment on the DBTNCAA and Tatra Training, but she has not responded to date.

Let’s have a look at some of the other “trainers” and their biographies. Dr. Daniel Short is listed as a Faculty Member at Argosy University, a for-profit college in Minnesota that has changed its name and is at now being sued by former students for fraud:

http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/news/2013/12/05/argosy-university-pays-colorado-33m.html?page=all

Dr Gregory Lester’s biography claims that he has published papers in “The Journal of the American Medical Association, The Western Journal of Medicine, The Journal of Marriage and Family Therapy, The Journal of Behaviour Therapy, Emergency Medicine News, The Yearbook of Family Practice, The Transactional Analysis Journal, and The Sceptical Inquirer”. But a PubMed search reveals none of these publications. An online list from his own website reveals very few relevant publications, and does not even include all of the outlets listed above; instead, there are things like “Dealing with the Difficult Diner”, in Restaurant Hospitality, and “Dealing with personality disorders” in The Priest Magazine. In addition, there are several books, which you can presumably buy at his workshops.

Interestingly, his bio also states that “… he has specialised in Personality Disorders for over 25 years, and has been a participant in multiple studies that form the basis for the DSM V revision of the section on Personality Disorders.” He has participated in these studies? Was he a control, or does he have a personality disorder himself? Because he certainly wasn’t an author on any of these studies.

Dr Brett Deacon seems to check out OK. Surprising to find him associated with this bunch.

Dr Daniel Fox is said to be the author of “numerous articles on personality, ethics, and neurofeedback”, but only one on neurofeedback (in the Journal of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback) turned up in PubMed. This seems to be a review rather than an original research piece. An author search on “Fox, DJ [AU] and Ethics” returned no hits, and neither did “personality”, He also seems to have a book, which comes with optional seminar bundles!

Jerold J Kreisman is another of the Tatra stars and seems to feature as the Borderline Personality expert. The site claims breathlessly that he ‘…has appeared on many media programs, including The Oprah Winfrey and Sally Jesse Raphael Shows. He has been listed in “Top Doctors,” “Best Doctors in America,” “Patients’ Choice Doctors,” and “Who’s Who.”’. It also, more seriously, claims he has published “over twenty articles and book chapters”; however, PubMed only turns up four publications, one if which is from 1975 so is probably not by the same JJ Kreisman. Of the three remaining publications, only one 1996 paper (on which he is third author) is related to BPD, and this seems subject to an erratum (though the erratum itself seems impossible to find; the article seems to have been subject to a Letter to the Editor, which also is hard to find.). The only relevant publications seem to be, again, pop-psych-style books with titles like I Hate You–Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality.

What about Ronald Potter-Efron, the facilitator of Healing the Angry Brain: Changing the Brain & Behaviours of Angry, Aggressive, Raging & Domestically Violent Clients? Again, he is a prolific author of self-help books. Google Scholar and Scopus do turn up about five academic publications, all from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Since then, he seems to have turned to the more lucrative self-help industry.

So all in all, it seems the Tatra Training people work via a fairly aggressive marketing campaign to clinical psychology academic departments and, presumably, clinicians themselves, as well as other “Corporate and Allied Health” practitioners. Their main address is in Adelaide, South Australia; Google Street View shows an anonymous-looking office block. Tatra was founded by Hanna Nowicki (LLB, BA Psych., Postgrad. Soc. Admin, Cert IV Training & Workplace Assessment), who seems to have no qualification in psychology other than her B.A. Psych, although this hasn’t stopped her developing and presenting “…multiple workshops on personality disorders, self injury, suicide risk assessment, depression, engagement techniques and introduction to mental health.”

Disturbingly, the list of clients includes many government organisations such as Centrelink, Correctional Services, Housing SA, Worklink Queensland, and more nebulously-named organisations such as “Residential Care Services”, “Brain Injury and Disability Services”, “Public Mental Health Services”, “Hospital Social Work Departments”, and so on.

How much money are these people making per workshop? Well, if the Sydney venue is anything to go by, the Wesley Conference Centre in Sydney seats 875 people, so if that sells out at $335 a head that’s $293,125. (The Wesley Centre does have smaller venues, so perhaps the organisers aren’t expecting such a large crowd. Their general preference for booking conference centres and Leagues Clubs, though, suggests that they are.) If the workshop is held in all five major cities (assume most are smaller than Sydney, so let’s be conservative and assume gross takings of $200,000 per workshop), then that’s a tidy sum ($1m per workshop, so $2m per year if only 2 workshops are held, as in 2014 and 2015). Of course one must subtract venue hire, advertising costs, speaker fees, catering, etc. etc., but all the same this seems quite a promising business model, particularly when combined with the in-house training offered.

I am concerned that these people are pushing a product that is not what is advertised, and claiming to be experts when they are not, sometimes supported by what seem to be questionable claims. I am concerned that naïve young mental health professionals, looking for accreditation hours, are being fed misleading information that is not based on scientific evidence. If anyone has direct experience of these workshops, I would be very interested to know about it.