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Woo of the Week

Woo at work – Holistic Therapies

Do you have any woo at your place of work ?

Well last week was an interesting one at work for a number of reasons but the most intriguing thing came from our HR department. They publish a quarterly newsletter with all sorts of company goings on therein and in previous newsletters there has been a small mention of ‘holistic therapies’ provided by an external contractor. This time however this practitioner gets a full page. Now I’ll say up front that I don’t know who has written this page. It could be someone in HR or it could have been penned by the practitioner themselves and then passed on to the newletter compiler. I haven’t asked which of these it is yet. Now obviously that would seem like one of the first questions one should ask but I’ve held off because the actual article raised some important questions that I’d like some help in answering and I have some observations I’d like to share with you.

Below you can see a copy of the page with the names removed to protect the guilty.

The first thing involves the practitioner’s application of Therapeutic Touch or Reiki ‘energy work’. We know that Reiki and its variants has been thoroughly debunked by such luminaries as Emily Rosa. She was 11 years old when her study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and it still amazes me that people aren’t aware of this data. So this is something that needs to be challenged as it is being promoted as a respectable and effective therapeutic intervention.

I’m not going to link to his website yet but when you look at this chap’s site there is a fair bit of reasonably low level woo there. I’ll point out that most of the stuff he does is pretty straight forward massage which is a lovely thing to have done to you so no problems with that. And in the newsletter there are several sensible suggestions for reducing your stress levels which are entirely reasonable, obvious and involve no woo whatsoever. However these entirely reasonable practices are coupled to the woo of Reiki in a way that claims a causal relationship.

The problem I have with this one is how to tackle it. How to effectively challenge the seeming tacit company endorsement of outright woo ? I’d also like to come across as a reasonable person rather than a frothing loon out to spoil the fun for everyone. Especially as the practitioner is playing the very effective affable ignorance card along with the argument from authority gambit. Which means that he appears to be saying that he has no clue what this is or how it works is but seeing as he’s claiming to be a physicist you’d better trust him anyway. And I’d also quite like to avoid being sacked of course.

I think that the company are just unaware that this is woo and I get a reasonably strong impression that this chap is sincere and genuine but deluded. So is this even worth going into ?

Anyway, have a read and let me know your views and if you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them. And if you’ve encountered any woo at work let us know.

5 comments to Woo of the Week

  • Caroline

    I think you should point out that it bothers you that this is being pushed albeit gently on you as an employee, and say that you arent out to get anyone but that scientifically the concept of Reiki is flawed – show some light evidence of this, and say you would be happy to discuss this further. Keep it nice and light. OR if you have recently compeleted your 360 degree appraisal and are looking to move jobs any way you could push on further and question the relevance of this in your workplace as well as pointing out that some religions may well find this ‘alternative therepy advertising’ offensive. Obviously you arent really bothered about religion however this is one way to get the message that it can be offensive to others apart from yourself. Also you could point out that it is a complete pile of rubbish, offer some evidence and say that YOU are offensive that the HR dept which should be the section that deals with TALENT MANAGEMENT would succumb to something so unintelligent. Also I would point out that the information is incipid and insulting to anyone of average intelligence and as such wonders if one has been employed amongst some complete idiots who have just hidden it rather well. Finally I would point out that men of a certain age really should never wear T Shirts, especially with a neck line that high, I mean COME ON! Good luck :)

  • Difficult. One doesn’t want to be offensive, especially as this chap comes across in his brochure as mild and unassuming. What you do about encroaching woo in the workplace probably depends to a large extent on the nature of the work. If the business is all about hard facts and the difference between truth and falsehood (a law firm, perhaps), then frankly any hint of woo should be stamped on forthwith.

    On the other hand, if you’re offering some kind of artistic or craft service — interior design, say, or business graphics, or tailoring, or custom-car work (just few ideas off the top of my head!), then there’s a place, I’d suggest, for a less hard-line interpretation of things.

    One thing that might be worth asking, if the opportunity arises, is how this chap knows his stuff works, when he claims not to know how:

    “I have no doubt that something goes on, but as an applied physicist, I find it difficult to rationalise!”

    It’s a bit of a lame get-out, in my view, amounting to “I don’t know how it works, it just does….” He could be challenged (in the right circumstances) to show how he knows it works — and not just by anecdote, which as an applied physicist he should know doesn’t count as evidence.

  • Clio

    Applied physicist with an O-level in physics? I like this man slightly less than you do. I’m not one to advise as I tend to put my foot in it, but it might be worth saying to someone safe in HR that you feel uncomfortable with the idea that your firm could be seen as supporting something so evidence-free and you are concerned for its image -perhaps even say that you’ve looked into it and cite Emily Rosa? The only problem would be if your reputation has gone before you and you get a, ‘he would say that wouldn’t he’. You can but try!

  • Pam Lee

    I agree its a tough one. Personally I usually take the cowards way out of smiling and mildly mocking only to those people I know I wont offend easily.
    Do you know how desperate they are for filler in the newsletter? Maybe you could make out that you are interested in raising efficiency or stress relief or some such management-speak and write an article yourself on this subject. You could sneak in actual facts and information on effective techniques, mentioning the unproven nature of some of the alternatives (and that you think that reflexology and such things are fine for a massage). Perhaps you could throw in a mention of something like “59 Seconds”, encouraging people to use fact based methods.
    They probably dont actually believe in woo, they probably just dont really read the articles properly or care very much about what they say.
    If you dont think they would go for that then personally I would just grumble and maybe write a lame email to HR myself but, as I said, Im a bit of a coward about these things!

  • gammidgy

    I would forward the bollocks to my MD and HR Director and say that, although I don’t want to cause any bother, this is clearly bollocks and a waste of company time and money. In the current climate of belt-tightening and efficiency savings, every employee should be looking to cut out non-essential expenditure. Magical thinking can never be anything but non-essential.

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