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9 Devious Ways Alternative Medicine “Doctors” Deceive Their Patients

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Saturday, January 3, 2015


Despite absolutely no evidence from randomized, clinical trials, alternative practices like homeopathy, therapeutic touch and cancer-curing juice cleansers occasionally promote glowing “testimonials” of impressive “cures”. So-called evidence from anecdotes, self-published books, charismatic physicians and exaggerated news reports from a credulous media only serve to confuse the average person. Are the cures genuine? Here are 9 devious ways alternative medicine “doctors” deceive their patients

1) The human body is an incredible machine with its own recuperative capacity. Alternative practitioners know and rely on the fact that many diseases run their natural course over a period of time without any outside help. Also, some conditions like allergies, arthritis, gastrointestinal problems, and multiple sclerosis are cyclical. The symptoms come and go. A person may seek and use the alternative treatment as her condition is naturally in remission, and falsely attribute the healing to the bogus treatment. Coincidence = cure. 

2) Many quacks sell expensive pills or treatments, but also tell the client to include daily rigorous exercise and a generous daily serving of fruits and vegetables along with their product. The ones who comply don’t seem to realize the overwhelming physical benefits of exercise and healthy eating. Sure, they adopted a more wholesome lifestyle, but the pills / treatment / therapy is what really produced their cure.

3) The power of the mind – the power of the placebo – is beyond dispute. One clinical trial after another continues to add to the overwhelming evidence of the intricate mind-body connection. Honestly believing a pill or treatment will work, in many cases, is all that is needed for it to actually work. Homeopaths and many other alternative medicine practitioners rely entirely on this placebo effect, which is unknown by most patients. Also, an intimate, non-hurried, personal setting with a comforting, listening ear will often get results. The pill or treatment is bogus, but an encouraging, reassuring, and soothing “friend” will make the patient feel better.  

4) Many authentic medical doctors report that patients who use both the doctor’s recommendation and alternative treatments, in many cases will credit the fringe treatment for the improvement or cure. Alternative practitioners know that everyone has an ego and wants control over their lives. This is normal. It is a boost to the ego when a patient discovers his own remedy and that he may be smarter than his doctor. Taking complete charge of one’s health care gives a satisfaction and empowerment that is hard to resist.     

5) The human body is highly complex, and the effective treatment of diseases attacking the body is highly difficult and is often attained by trial and error. Doctors are fallible – their diagnosis can occasionally be wrong. Alternative practitioners hedge their bets on the following common scenario. When a patient immediately uses an alternative treatment (against their doctor’s advice), and the condition clears up soon after, the excited patient will credit that treatment, when in fact it was a wrong diagnosis to begin with. Also, the original diagnosis may be correct but the time frame for recovery may be completely wrong, and the same false attribution can occur. Quack medicine promoters are quick to point out the few successes. The mountains of failures are never reported.   

6) Many people who visit alternative practitioners have a great relationship with them. The “doctors” have time for them, are warm, friendly, encouraging, and in some cases, charismatic. It is human nature for the patient not to want to disappoint their ally, their friend, their healer. They don’t want to come to the next one hour visit with bad or discouraging news. Any positive sign, no matter how small, is interpreted as the remedy working. And the practitioner is more than willing to support the patient’s belief that progress is being made. 

7) Some quack doctors do a great job deceiving their patients – and avoid prosecution for practicing medicine without a license – by not claiming to heal any particular disease. Instead they use terms like “cleanse”, “detoxify”, “natural”, “wellness”, “nontoxic”, “restore the balance of nature” and “restore and rebalance the body’s chemistry”. The promises are so general, and every person’s health has its ups and downs, the client will attribute the “up” to the alternative treatment. Many practitioners will prevent any perception or possibility of failure by telling the patient: "You may have come to me too late, but I will try my best to help you."     

8) Scientific skeptic Barry L. Beyerstein, Ph.D. wrote a concise, eloquent and lucid summary that best explains this point. When the average person’s preconceived world view is threatened, circle the wagons and defend to the death. Alternative practitioners know and exploit this aspect of human nature very well.

“Psychological needs can distort what people perceive and do. Even when no objective improvement occurs, people with a strong psychological investment in "alternative medicine" can convince themselves they have been helped. According to cognitive dissonance theory, when experiences contradict existing attitudes, feelings, or knowledge, mental distress is produced. People tend to alleviate this discord by reinterpreting (distorting) the offending information. If no relief occurs after committing time, money, and "face" to an alternate course of treatment (and perhaps to the worldview of which it is a part), internal disharmony can result. Rather than admit to themselves or to others that their efforts have been a waste, many people find some redeeming value in the treatment.

“Core beliefs tend to be vigorously defended by warping perception and memory. Fringe practitioners and their clients are prone to misinterpret cues and remember things as they wish they had happened. They may be selective in what they recall, overestimating their apparent successes while ignoring, downplaying, or explaining away their failures. The scientific method evolved in large part to reduce the impact of this human penchant for jumping to congenial conclusions.”

9) Predatory miracle cancer-cure practitioners are always ready to exploit vulnerable cancer victim’s feelings of desperation. If the overwhelmed patient has any objections or questions, the self-styled healers will reveal secret information about a vast global conspiracy and cover-up by world governments and/or big business. There is a cure for cancer, but it is being suppressed in an insatiable quest for eye-popping profits. The unwitting victim becomes convinced he will be healed. He is one of the chosen few on the “inside” who has not fallen for such devious large-scale treachery.       

A thoughtful and passionate rebuttal to this fallacious thinking is made by David H. Gorski, professor of surgery at Wayne State University. He is also a surgical oncologist at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, specializing in breast cancer surgery. Gorski writes:

“…none of these claims makes much sense on a strictly logical basis. Think about it this way: So many people die of cancer every year that virtually every person in developed countries, doctors and cancer researchers–and, yes, even big pharma executives–included, have known, know, or will know someone with cancer. Many have seen or will see someone they love die of cancer, sometimes in horrific ways. Certainly over the more than four decades of my existence, I have had multiple family members who have died of cancer. In fact, right now my wife and I are dealing with the heartbreak of a close family member recently diagnosed with widely metastatic breast cancer, and I’ve been trying to work every contact I know to get her to the best oncologist in order to provide her with the best possible palliation.

“(Would) I or any other cancer researcher (or even big pharma executive) withhold knowledge of such a “cure” or keep it from others if I knew of it? Indeed, because cancer kills so many people, many of these very same doctors and researchers will end up battling the disease at some point in their lives, and many of them will end up dying of it themselves. I might even end up dying of cancer someday. You might end up dying of cancer someday. Does it make any sort of sense logically that every single one of these doctors, executives, and bureaucrats would dismiss or conspire to suppress (or even blindly ignore the evidence for its existence because of dogma and “business as usual” of) such an amazingly effective cure, if it really existed? No, it does not. Someone would talk, probably a lot of people. I know I would. Again, given how cancer has recently touched our family, I assure you, if such a cure existed, I would make damned sure that the family member got it, no matter what it was, and if it truly worked as advertised I would make sure everyone else knew about it too. You can be sure that quite a few of those supposedly nefarious cancer researchers, government bureaucrats, and big pharma executives would too.”

"Placebos work, even without deception." NBC Nightly News.

Barry L. Beyerstein, Ph.D., “Why Bogus Therapies Often Seem to Work”,

Stephen Barrett, M.D. and William T. Jarvis, Ph.D., “How Quackery Sells” http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/quacksell.html

Why Bogus Therapies Seem to Work http://www.csicop.org/si/show/why_bogus_therapies_seem_to_work/ 

David Gorski, “The (Not-So-) Beautiful (Un) Truth about the Gerson protocol and cancer quackery” http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/the-not-so-beautiful-untruth-about-the-gerson-therapy-and-cancer-quackery/

21 Quick & Undeniable Facts Exposing Conspiracy Theorists   http://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2013/12/conspiracy-theories.html

5 Proofs Exposing Anti-Aging Industry Lies           http://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2013/10/5-proofs-exposing-anti-aging-industry.html

“Therapeutic Touch: Exposing The Big Lie”   http://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2013/10/therapeutic-touch-exposing-big-lie.html   

12 Quick Guidelines For Uncovering & Exposing Quack Medicine http://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2013/08/12-quick-guidelines-for-uncovering.html

Photo: http://thequackdoctor.com/index.php/about-2/   CC    

Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.


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