The Perilous Gurus Of Online Psychology, From Reiki To «Touch Therapy» As Sex Abuse Cure

Social networks are full of false gurus who claim to be experts in mental health and well-being. Do we need new laws against these kinds of charlatans to restore credibility to professional psychology?


The dangers of the internet spreading pseudo-therapies for mental health illness accelerated with COVID-19: not only did the pandemic increase mental health awareness, but the sudden arrival of lockdowns also the increased the digitalizationof psychology services.

Social networks are full of false gurus who, with or without a university degree, claim to be experts in well-being. Often they don’t go beyond advice like «live in the present» or «notice your breath» or «try to contact with others to overcome trauma».

To identify with generic advice like this is absolutely normal. Who wouldn’t like to focus on the here and now? Who wouldn’t find it relaxing to take a short walk or do some meditation exercises and put their life on pause for a few minutes? But it tends not to last, and you find yourself quickly back to a sense of frustration, or even the feeling of having an all-around shitty life.

This tends to send us going in circles, lost in though rather than taking responsibilities, breaking with victimhood or unlearning dysfunctional behavioral patterns. Because the problem, most of the time, does not reside in thinking too much, but in not thinking correctly.

Turning therapy into a business

That which we call pseudoscientific beliefs can also be correlated with paranormal beliefs, religious beliefs or even conspiracy thinking. So, even though the work of empirically supported treatments or the development of psychopathological models have represented an important breakthrough at an experimental and theoretical level, many people cling to different types of beliefs without any empirical guarantee. In such a context, there will always be (bad) professionals taking advantage of this.

Maybe the fact that we tend to suppress our own moral standards and rationalize immoral behaviors, such as deception and lying, encourages many of these (bad) professionals or fraudsters to offer these pseudotherapies. The consequence is more than obvious: beyond the economic business it creates, people’s psychological integrity is being played with and scientific authority is compromised.

In psychology, transparency and scientific standards are no longer an imperative to grow your business

Linked to this is the growing importance of the status of pseudoscience. For example, it is not the same to have a reiki-psychology session at a natural therapy center as it would be at a university, in a professional school or in an accredited mental health clinic. Where the pseudoscience is being practiced has an impact on how much authority the public is likely to associate with it. Naturally, however, with the boom of social networks, many unqualified practitioners accumulate large numbers of followers and work with influencers who sponsor their services.

In psychology, it seems transparency and scientific standards are no longer an imperative to grow your business. The client seeks a social commitment, an understanding in their way of seeing the world and society because it generates trust. It is like the prelude to the therapeutic bond. This way, the purchased «product» is improved and the user is assured to get a personalized, adapted and comfortable experience.

But what about the scientific standards? They have been superseded by the business purpose in the dissemination of psychology on social networks and in the offer of online services.

The human ability to immediately identify deceptive practices is so extremely low it could be assimilated to chance. Digital marketing strategies and the lack of honesty from many psychology professionals take advantage of this.

A dangerous lack of control

Spain’s Official Colleges of Psychology, who unfortunately are both judge and party in the approach to pseudotherapies, deserve a special mention. These organizations are full of members who support and advertise pseudoscientific interventions they carry out in their private practice: they do Gestalt-therapy, bioneuroemotion, reiki mixed with psychology, or invent methods, as did the entity Ângel Blau with its «touch therapy». The control of the Professional Colleges of Psychology, which is supposed to ensure empirical practice and ethical treatment, is dreadful.

Increased emotional discomfort is a way to ensure therapeutic dependence

While still a student in psychology, I was able to verify this firsthand when I reported to the Official College of Psychology the practice of the aforementioned entity, where they encouraged patients to be touched by a nursing graduate while they recalled the sexual abuse they had suffered. The «touch therapy» increased the person’s emotional openness and often led to them relive the trauma.

This increased emotional discomfort is a way to ensure therapeutic dependence. The nurse touched, and charged, and then the psychologists treated, and charged. The OCP’s response was to encourage me to take this to court with an official complaint because they could not do anything, not even issue warnings about these professionals or suspend them from the College.

This is outrageous and the deontological code expressly states that, out of respect for the different psychological orientations, a psychologist has to base their practice on science. Here there was no science but false science, and obviously some people do nothing because their pay depends on it.

Those of us who carry out evidence-based therapies and ensure that psychology does not lose its credibility as a science feel increasingly defenseless in the face of these practices and the lack of institutional support.

Is a new system for sanctioning charlatans our only hope to regain the credibility for psychology to return to helping people return to good health?

This content is part of a collaboration agreement of ‘WorldCrunch’, with the magazine ‘Ethic’. Read the original at this link.