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Psychic Events Workshop Fails APA Curriculum Requirement

News & Comment

Yancy B. McDougal

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 31.4, July / August 2007

A continuing-education workshop titled “Coming to Our Senses: Psychic Events in the Lives of Clinicians and Clients” was touted in North Carolina this year by Beth Wechsler, MSW. According to the brochure, the topics to be covered included an account of the nature of ESP (with perspectives from parapsychology and quantum physics, as well as material from Einstein, Edison, and Jung), ESP and medicine, psychics and mediums (and how to detect fakes!), telepathy, precognition, and apparitions. Personal experiences of individuals such as Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and Jane Goodall also would be presented.

The workshop’s sponsor was PESI, LLC, which, according to its Web site, provides “quality continuing education to nursing, mental health, legal, business, education, real estate, and other professionals nationwide.” Contacted about the content of the workshop, Cindy King, of PESI customer service, stated that PESI, LLC, makes no claims about the scientific basis of the research provided in the psychic events workshop. She indicated that PESI, LLC, provides a number of other workshops that are scientifically based but that many customers enjoy other types of workshops.

It’s disconcerting that a psychic events workshop that the sponsor indicates is not necessarily scientifically based is offered simply because it is enjoyed by customers. The fact that continuing education credit for this workshop would be granted to psychologists, counselors, nurses, social workers, and marriage and family therapists is appalling. An e-mail addressing the content of the workshop was sent to the associations and boards that had designated PESI as an approved provider. Karen Kanefield, the director of the Continuing Education Sponsor Approval System of the American Psychological Association, responded immediately. She said that the content of the psychic-events workshop does not meet the curriculum-content requirements of the APA and that PESI would be informed that the workshop “is not suitable as continuing education for psychologists.”¬†

An answer from Anne Garfield, Recertification and Continuing Education Assistant for the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), was not so direct. Garland indicated that she would followup with PESI to get further information. Garland and Pamela Leary, NBCC Credentialing Services Department administrator, reviewed the presentation materials and concluded that although the topic of psychic events is “uncomfortable” for many people and not “completely in the mainstream” the information to be presented came from “noteworthy sources” including Einstein, Edison, Freud, Jung, Margaret Mead, and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Garland said the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and the American Journal of Psychiatry are referenced throughout the presentation and that much of the presentation is based on work from the Rhine Research Center at Duke University.

In a follow-up e-mail to Garland, it was pointed out that the fact that Jane Goodall and other “noted and respected” individuals believe that they have experienced psychic events does not make such events scientifically valid. Furthermore, the Rhine Research Center is no longer affiliated with Duke University, and the most recent research conducted at the Rhine Center—in the words of the parapsychological researchers themselves—reveals weak effects, no effects, or “controversial” results. Furthermore, Garland was informed that a search of JAMA and the American Journal of Psychiatry for information on psychic phenomena revealed eleven articles published between 1972 and 1985. Of the eleven articles, seven report on actual studies of psychic phenomena.

Without exception, the research involved retrospective, anecdotal accounts of events—weak methodology with virtually no controls.¬†Garland responded immediately and said that they would reexamine the presentation “in greater detail” based on the additional information that had been provided. However, a follow-up e-mail to Garland regarding the results of the reexamination went unanswered. To have such a workshop considered for presentation is cause for alarm. But the fact that the APA deemed the workshop inappropriate for continuing-education credit and that the NBCC agreed to reexamine the workshop are promising and positive steps. Perhaps we have taken a step toward indeed “coming to our senses.”

Yancy B. McDougal

Yancy B. McDougal is a professor and the chair of the Department of Psychology, University of South Carolina Upstate, Spartanburg, South Carolina.