Once upon a time, in a great country known throughout the world as the land of the free and the home of the brave, there lived an idealistic young therapist who was in the process of finishing his Ph.D. program in clinical psychology. For reasons that will become clear shortly, we cannot reveal his true name so I will simply call him John.
John cared very much about his clients and was totally dedicated to giving them the best help that he could. He was especially proud of adhering to strict ethical standards and of being completely scientific in his treament. Never ever would he try out any new treatment whose effectiveness had not been confirmed by thorough studies published in refereed journals.
Someone once pointed out to John that most of the methods he used with his clients were not supported by good published studies. But John replied that these were tried and true approaches and hence ``grandfathered in'' until the proper studies could eventually be done. John had every confidence that when these studies were done, the tried and true methods would be shown to be statistically better than the null treatment.
Now in the land of the free there existed another group of therapists who were not scientific at all and used an approach they called En Elle Pee. These ``Nelpers,'' as they called themselves, used techniques that were totally unscientific. They could not point to a single published study showing the effectiveness of their techniques. Furthermore, they went through only brief training and had the gall to claim that they could do therapy despite never having taken courses in experimental design and statistics. In their trainings, they were not even required to read research journals or write research papers. But the most infuriating thing of all was that these Nelpers claimed to be often able to completely cure clients in a single session, whereas John knew that therapy is slow and he could cite studies showing that only a small percentage of clients in therapy can expect a complete cure.
But it came to pass that John came under the influence of evil companions. He started frequenting a club called the Inter Net. At the Inter Net, he found people who could provide much valuable information. But along with these people there were also some who preached the gospel of En Elle Pee. These Nelpers kept trying to teach John forbidden methods and kept urging him to try them out for himself.
Now John had always been the sort of person that never crosses the street against a red light. Even as a young child, in his coloring books he had never strayed outside the lines. Furthermore, he knew that his commitment to the Scientific Method was strong enough that he could resist any temptation to cross over to the Dark Side and use En Elle Pee techniques. The Scientific Method, as originally stated by Galileo, says that one can never test a technique by trying it out. Techniques can only be validated by reading journals. And so, secure in his ability to resist temptation, John kept going to the Inter Net Club.
Among the techniques which the Nelpers at the Inter Net Club tried to seduce John with, there was one that always elicited a strong response somewhere deep within him. It was called the Fast Phobia/Trauma Cure and it especially infuriated John because the Nelpers claimed that by using it a traumatic memory could be completely neutralized in ten or fifteen minutes, whereas John knew from working with many clients that someone who has been through a traumatic experience will usually be emotionally scarred for life and that it takes months of therapy to help such a person come to accept the pain that will always be with them.
And yet the promises of the Nelpers were very seductive. John often did therapy with clients who were plagued by terrible memories and if the claims of the Nelpers were true (although John knew they could not be) then these clients could be helped far more quickly and effectively.
Finally, on one fateful day, John yielded to temptation and decided to engage in a single forbidden experiment. He went to a very old and close friend named Alice who he knew he could trust absolutely. He knew that Alice had once been in a terrible auto accident which had resulted in the death of the passenger in the car she had been driving and that despite months of therapy she had never got over the memory of that accident.
He said to Alice ``I want to try something with you that you must never tell anyone about. I'm going to take you through a brief visualization that may help you stop having nightmares about your accident.''
Alice objected, saying ``I don't want to talk about the accident.''
And John said, ``Please try this for me, as a friend. You don't need to talk about the accident at all. You only need to pretend that you're in a movie theatre and on the screen is a still picture showing you before the accident. Then you're going to imagine floating up out of your body into the projection booth and from there watching yourself watch a movie. In a moment the movie will start, a black and white film showing you going through your accident.''
``Why does it have to be black and white?'' Alice asked.
``I don't know,'' John said. ``Probably it doesn't, that's probably just mystification. This is all bullshit, I know that it can't work because there are no published studies on it. But please try it for me.''
And so he took her through the phobia/trauma cure and ten minutes later he asked her ``Did that seem to help at all?''
``I seem to feel more detached about the experience,'' Alice said.
``Well, that won't last,'' John said. ``It was just a placebo. It didn't really do any good.''
But when he saw her two weeks later, Alice said ``That therapy you did with me was really wonderful! I was just telling my mother, I'm not having nightmares about the accident any more. I still know what happened, but it's like something I read about in a book. Are you going to start using that with your clients now?''
John was horrified. ``I asked you to please not tell anyone about that. You have to make your mother promise not to tell anyone else. If my university finds out that I did an unethical experiment using En Elle Pee they could kick me out of the graduate program.''
John was deeply troubled by what Alice had told him. He knew that the change she had experienced had to be merely the result of a placebo and yet he kept thinking about the client he was going to see the next day who had been the victim of a brutal rape. Some dark urge in him wanted him to try En Elle Pee with this rape victim.
That night he had a terrible nightmare where he was being accused of heresy by an inquisitor holding a red hot poker. And although the inquisitor was hooded he knew that it was his major professor. And then somehow the dream changed and he was naked in a beautiful garden and his major professor was saying ``You have eaten of the forbidden fruit and must leave.'' And John said to his mate, ``You have betrayed me,'' and his mate, who he now recognized as his friend Alice, said ``It was all your idea.''
John woke up from the nightmare in a cold sweat, babbling ``It didn't prove anything, it was a flawed experiment, it was only a placebo.''
The next day, he met with the rape victim in his office for the scheduled appointment. Her distress touched John deeply and he desperately wanted to help her.
It is left to the reader to decide whether at that point John crossed over to the Dark Side or whether he continued to color inside the lines.