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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