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By ANDREW MacLEOD
May 23 2007
Does his presence boost, or discredit, a UVic alternative health conference?
Simon Fraser University psychology
professor Barry Beyerstein once organized a test for Adam McLeod, who
until recently used only a first name for his public appearances and
who now goes by Adam Dreamhealer.
It was about six years
ago, when Dreamhealer was still in high school and building a
reputation as a healer who connects to people's "holographic energy
fields" to help them heal themselves. Now 20, Dreamhealer is a popular
alternative therapist and the author of three books. His six-hour
workshop this weekend at the Body Heals conference at the University of
Victoria sold out weeks ago at $110 a ticket, an admission separate
from the rest of the conference.
Dreamhealer has many fans
who attest that he is doing something special. Others, including
Beyerstein, call him a likely fraud. His presence is a knock against
the credibility of the conference on integrated health care, the
university and the other presenters, they say.
"At first I wasn't
interested," says Beyerstein, recalling the invitation to test
Dreamhealer's abilities. Dreamhealer's father kept trying to arrange a
meeting between the professor and Dreamhealer, however, and eventually
Beyerstein agreed to talk with the boy.
Having been told
Dreamhealer could tell people what illnesses they have even over great
distances, Beyerstein asked Dreamhealer to diagnose him over the phone.
"He tried to diagnose me and it bombed horribly," he says. "He told me
stuff that was not true and missed stuff that was true."
Still, Beyerstein agreed
to organize a more thorough test. He would gather a room full of
people, each with some kind of illness. Dreamhealer would have gone
around the room and said what he believed each person had. The
professor would keep track of how many Dreamhealer got right and wrong,
and would have been able to say whether Dreamhealer could really do
what he claimed.
The next step would have
been to have Dreamhealer attempt to heal each of the people, then to
later measure whether their health had improved at all. The researcher
wouldn't have been able to say how Dreamhealer's magic worked, but he
would have been able to say if it worked.
"It was a fair test," says Beyerstein. "We would have told the world if he passed."
But with the test all ready
to go, Dreamhealer's parents pulled him out of it. Beyerstein says, "It
was such a simple test I can only assume the reason they backed out was
he couldn't pass it."
Asked why he decided not
to put his powers to Beyerstein's test, Dreamhealer says he was 14 at
the time and trying to understand what it was he could do. "I can't
remember exactly what happened," he says, but in the end he and his
family decided Beyerstein was too closed minded to evaluate
"I'm a very scientifically
minded person," Dreamhealer says. He's in his third year of a molecular
biology degree at a Lower Mainland university he asks not to have named
in the article. "I'm participating in many different scientific studies
now. I just don't do it with skeptics who aren't going to change their
Beyerstein says his mind
is open, but he's also committed to what's known as evidence-based
medicine, supporting treatments that can be shown to work. "We're not
hostile to any of these things. If they worked it would be medical
malpractice not to provide them."
Warren Bell is a Salmon
Arm family doctor and the president of the Association of Complementary
and Integrative Physicians of B.C., the organization behind the second
Body Heals conference at UVic. Dreamhealer is a "lightning rod" who
draws criticism, Bell says. "It's funny. It muddies the water.
[Critics] are not totally wrong. There is flim-flam involved in some of
the models that are used." He adds, "They forget what we are trying to
do, all of us, is just help our patients."
Others think Dreamhealer's
"the best manifestation of what healing's about," Bell says, and it
makes sense to include him in a conference aimed at encouraging people
to integrate different therapies in a holistic approach to their own
inherently logical in using all therapeutic options that you feel
comfortable with," says Bell. "That doesn't mean one abandons reason,"
he adds. When his patients come to him wanting to try some untested
therapy, he asks if there's any evidence that it's harmful and whether
or not the treatment is exorbitantly overpriced. If it passes on both
counts, he says, "The only thing you can do, because nobody's going to
spend much money on research on this . . . I say try it, see if it
makes a difference."
Alternatives might include
nutrition, exercise, acupuncture, massage, homeopathy, vitamins and
chiropractic care, says Bell. "The conference is based around one
primary issue, the notion of an integrated health care system, meaning
a system where all therapeutic options have a place."
chemical approach to health is too simplistic, he says. "It's an
illusion of exactitude as opposed to the reality of complexity."
The conference will also
look at the relationship between individual health and environmental
health, including a keynote talk by genetecist and environmentalist
David Suzuki. Says Bell, "If we don't make decisions about our
ecosystems that are sensible, then we suffer the consequences."
With B.C. engaged in a
government-led "Conversation on Health," he adds, it's a good time to
be adding a holistic perspective to the public discussion. "I think the
real underlying reason why we're doing it is there's a sense there's
enough momentum both within professional and public circles that a
conference like this will potentially have a catalytic effect," he
says. "We're not here to be a flash in the pan. We believe these issues
are serious issues."
Royal Roads University is
a partner in the conference, which meets the accreditation requirements
of the College of Family Physicians of Canada. Doctors who attend the
conference can use it to show they are staying up to date in their
Daniel Loxton, a
journalist who writes for Skeptic magazine, says for him Dreamhealer's
presence drags down the rest of the conference, much of which is likely
legitimate. "It does impair the ability of people like the panelists at
a conference like this to gain acceptance of the treatments they're
promoting," he says. It may even detract from keynote speaker Suzuki's
message. "It does a little bit colour his ecological views to be
associated with something that's almost certainly fraudulent. That's
too bad, because his views are important."
As it happens, Dreamhealer
has been working to bring an air of scientific legitamacy to his work.
He has been doing electroencephalographic, or EEG, tests, where he's
managed to change a person's brain waves. According to a passage posted
on his website in January based on four EEG readings, "There were no
remarkable changes when Adam was not active but there was a very
specific increase in Theta brainwave amplitude in the frontal brain
regions when Adam directed his energy toward the target person."
Diagnosing a disease, with
all its cultural variables, is subjective, Dreamhealer says, so he
sticks to mathematical things that can be measured, such as the
patterns a person's brain waves make when he's working on them.
"There's an enormous amount of scientific proof behind it," he says.
"The only real debate is we don't understand all the mechanisms behind
But what about proof that
he can actually do what he says he can do? There are countless
testimonials, both written and on video, on his website, he says, where
people say he influenced their health. "Anyone who is looking at that,
very clearly people are being helped," he says. And there are more that
aren't up on the website yet. "There are so many I don't have time to
Loxton says that while
some people say Dreamhealer has helped them, without testing nobody can
be sure why somebody's health improved. "Correlation is not causation,"
he says. "That's why these anecdotal cases are so limited in their
Promoting a treatment
that's not evidence-based comes with a big dose of responsibility, says
Loxton. "[Dreamhealer] does get under my skin. It's not him in
particular. He's no more despicable than anyone else in this line of
work . . . For anyone to have the gall to meddle with someone's life
like that, its really low down."
While there are doubts
about Dreamhealer's medical success, there's no doubt he's done well
financially. He made heaps of money while still in his teens, and
continues to get rich. He no longer gives individual help, which
critics note has more opportunity for error or failure, but he says he
does about one workshop a month. This weekend's workshop at UVic will
gross over $30,000. Last July, a television reporter asked Dreamhealer
if he's a millionaire. He said, "Yeah. You know, with three
best-selling books and doing workshops across North America, yeah."
SFU's Beyerstein says
there are times the lines between alternative health treatments and
mainstream medicine blur. Many drugs have been developed from plants,
for instance. Still people should be cautious about counting on
untested treatments. "If it really worked it wouldn't be alternative
anymore," he says. "Feeling better is not the same as getting better.
What all alternative medicine does is it treats the feeling of illness
not the symptoms of disease."
Dreamhealer cautions on
his website that his services aren't a replacement for seeing a health
professional, but Beyerstein worries some people will put more faith in
Dreamhealer than they should. "I've seen many cases where medical
quacks and faith healers have strung people on who had serious
conditions that were treatable," he says, citing the example of Tyrell
Dueck, a Saskatchewan boy who didn't get a mainstream treatment for his
bone cancer. "He died at 14 because of the belief system of his
parents," says Beyerstein. "I have a stack of stories like that."
People like Dreamhealer
prey on people at a time when they are desperate. "People will suspend
disbelief when they're told something they really want to believe," he
says. "He's selling hope. The will to believe is very strong and he's
reenforcing a whole cosmology or world view that's the antithesis to
the scientific beliefs I hold."
The Body Heals Conference
runs May 25-27 at the University of Victoria, full program $535. See
www.bodyheals.ca for more information.
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