Scientology as Alternative Medicine

When the name Scientology is mentioned, most people do not think of it in connection of alternative medicine, most think it’s some kind of a cult. They’re not incorrect, but interestingly enough, Scientology has a long history of trying to be a form of alternative medicine.

Scientology – or Dianetics, as it was first called – was founded in the early 1950’s by L. Ron Hubbard, a successful pulp science fiction writer. Astounding Science Fiction ran a hugely popular article of Dianetics by reader demand, and this was soon followed by the publication of L. Ron Hubbard’s book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. The book was a runaway bestseller, and Dianetic parties cropped up all over USA, with people trying the methods described in the book on each other.

Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health already makes claims that take it into the realm of alternative medicine:

Arthritis, dermatitis, allergies, asthma, some coronary difficulties, eye trouble, bursitis, ulcers, sinusitis, etc. form a very small section of the psycho-somatic catalogue. Bizarre aches and pains in various portions of the body are generally psycho-somatic. Migraine headaches are psycho-somatic and, with the others, are uniformly cured by dianetic therapy. (And the word cured is used in its fullest sense.)
Just how many physical errors are psycho-somatic depends upon how many conditions the body can generate out of the factors in the engrams. For example, the common cold has been found to be psycho-somatic. Clears do not get colds. Just what, if any, part the virus plays in the common cold is not known, but it is known that when engrams about colds are lifted, no further colds appear — which is a laboratory fact not so far contradicted by 270 cases. The common cold comes about, usually, from an engram which suggests it and which is confirmed by actual mucus present in another engram. A number of germ diseases are predisposed and perpetuated by engrams. Tuberculosis is one.
Dianetics, pp. 64-65

Hubbard clearly had – even by the 1950’s standards – a rather faulty understanding of what is a psychosomatic disease and what is not. A rather famous case was that of John Campbell, the editor of Astounding Science Fiction. He had chronic sinusitis, and had undergone auditing (Scientology version of psychotherapy, where the auditee is holding tin cans attached to the E-Meter, a primitive galvanic skin reaction meter – in other words, a lie detector). Campbell resigned from the Dianetic Foundation in March 1951, complete with his sinusitis.

Another early member of the Dianetic Foundation was Dr Joseph Augustus Winter. He really was a medical doctor, and very enthusiastic about Dianetics. That enthusiasm soon vanished. Hubbard was running what was known as the Guk program. According to Dr Winter, Guk was a “haphazard mixture of vitamins and glutamic acid, which was taken in huge doses in the belief that it made the patient ‘run better.’ There were no adequate controls set up for this experiment, and it was a dismal, expensive failure.” Winter resigned from the Dianetics Research Foundation in October 1950. This shows an early interest in vitamins by Hubbard, and its failure did not deter him one bit.

Hubbard had a keen interest also in radiation, which was a relatively common concern during the 1950’s. He published a book on the topic, All About Radiation, in 1957. Among other misconceptions, the book makes the claims that radiation can be cleaned from the body and even cancer cured by courses of vitamins. The book gives a formula for a vitamin mixture named Dianazene, for which the following claims are made:

Dianazene runs out radiation — or what appears to be radiation. It also proofs a person up against radiation in some degree. I have seen it run out skin cancer. A man who didn’t have much liability to skin cancer (only had a few moles) took Dianazene. His whole jaw turned into a raw mass of cancer. He kept on taking Dianazene and it disappeared after a while. I was looking at a case of cancer that might have happened.
There is another instance of somebody who had a little bit of colitis which worried him slightly from time to time. After taking Dianazene he started to bleed from the intestines. He kept on taking this formula and came out without colitis. He may have been facing an eventual colitis of a fatal nature — hemorrhages.
The whole point in taking Dianazene is to keep taking it until bad effects vanish.
All About Radiation, pp. 123-124

The authorities took a rather dim view on such claims, and in 1958 the FDA seized 21,000 Dianazene tablets, which were marketed by a Scientology company, the Distribution Center. The FDA destroyed the tablets because the labels claimed they were a preventative and treatment for radiation sickness. Scientologists still sell this book as authoritative and obviously believe that huge doses of niacin will protect them from radiation in case of a nuclear war.

In 1979 Hubbard established the “Sweat Program”, where the participant had large doses of vitamins, a teaspoon of salt and spent at least an hour a day jogging in a rubberised suit. This was designed to remove any traces of LSD from the body based on the rather worthless ‘detox’ idea – a questionable claim, to say the least, since LSD is water-soluble and is not stored long-term anywhere in the body. Some people spent months on this program.
This program was revised in 1990 and reintroduced as “Purification Rundown” in the book Clear Body, Clear Mind, which, as it was published after Hubbard’s death, consists largely of materials written during the 1960’s. It once again consists of taking megadoses of vitamins, especially niacin, which starts at 100 mg and increases to 5,000 mg over the course. At this level it can cause – and has caused – irreversible liver damage or death. The medically recommended level is about 15 mg. The course also involves long periods spent in a sauna, exercise, drinking a compound of calcium gluconate, magnesium carbonate and vinegar mixed with water, and intake of blended vegetable oils. The belief behind these practices is that the person will sweat out the toxins and replace the oils in the body fat by vegetable oil. Every new member of the Church has to go through this program, as it is claimed to remove from the body all the drugs they’ve ever taken, legal or illegal. This program is also used in the Scientology front Narconon in an attempt to cure drug addicts from their addictions. Needless to say, just like every other “detox” program, there is not a shred of evidence that any of the above will have the slightest beneficial effect – apart from exercise – and the potential of irreversible harm is considerable.

A rather bizarre practice in Scientology is the use of the so-called “Assists”. The commonest of these is the Touch Assist, which consists of a Scientologist repeatedly touching an injured person near the injury while calling the person’s attention to the touch. This practice is based on the Scientology belief that all physical illnesses are caused by a lack of communication with the injured or ill body part.
Contact Assist consists of putting an injured body part precisely on the same place where it was injured. Scientologists believe this has some kind of therapeutic effect.
Nerve Assist consists of a Scientologist stroking a person along the spine, around the torso and down the limbs. Scientologists believe that standing waves of energy can form in the nerves and cause pain, so this Assist is designed to dissipate the standing wave. Unfortunately for them, no scientific evidence exists that such waves are ever present in the spinal cord.
Then comes the Unconscious Person Assist. For this I have to explain a bit of the Scientology beliefs. Scientology believes that even an unconscious person’s subconscious mind and the person’s Thetan (immortal spiritual being, Scientology equivalent of ‘soul’) can be aware and think. This Assist consist of placing the unconscious person’s hand on various objects and commanding them to feel the object. For some reason, the Church of Scientology has not published any numbers of the unconscious or comatose – yes, they use this process on people in coma as well – persons they have been able to bring to consciousness.
Locational Processing Assist consists of the Scientologist pointing to various objects and asking the subject to acknowledge them. The idea is to reorient the person’s attention from any pain in their body and into the environment. Scientology claims this process is an antidote to being drunk. I’m not about to try it out the next time I visit the pub on any of the patrons who may have overindulged – I have this strange aversion to ending up in a fight.

Scientology apparently can’t make up its mind of what exactly it is supposed to be. It began life as a self-help movement, was soon given the trappings of a religion and has been dabbling with different healing methods, both by auditing and less ephemeral methods for a long time.
What is worrying is that Scientologists have to take everything written by Hubbard as absolutely factual and inerrant, and such absolute reliance on what is provably incorrect health advice can be very dangerous. For just one example, a 25-year-old Oregonian man, Christopher Arbuckle, died of liver failure while undergoing the “Purification Rundown”. Since overdoses of niacin are known to cause liver damage, as explained before, there is no doubt in my mind that this contributed to his death. Whatstheharm.net has many more examples of harm caused by adherence to Scientology.

One response to “Scientology as Alternative Medicine

  1. Sharone Stainforth

    Great blog! Interesting and very informative.

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