2011 Pushback against Fad OT Interventions
Some of the fad and pseudoscientific interventions that I discussed in forums this year included therapeutic listening and other auditory interventions, deep pressure protocols (brushing programs), weighted vests, and Brain Gym.
Fad interventions were relatively common in health care until research came along - and now we have mechanisms to test and see if people's 'ideas' about something hold up to any scrutiny.
One posting asked about the validity of 'astronaut training' which is something that I get phone calls about in my private practice. I tried running database searches on 'astronaut training' and 'vestibular-visual protocol' and several other iterations that I hoped would capture this protocol and as usual for this kind of fad intervention I was unable to find any research.
I have practiced OT for 24 years. I can tell you that a lot of families contact me and ask me about whether or not I will provide Astronaut Training for their child. I tell them that it is experimental and that there has not been any research to support the specific protocol that they usually found out about through web sites or youtube. I am not going to link to those Internet sources because I don't see the value in spreading information about fad interventions. I would rather that people search the terms and come to the blog and see an opinion about pseudoscience.
Over the course of the last 20 years there have been several fad interventions in pediatric OT. These interventions are generally pseudo scientific in that they reference scientific-sounding concepts, they are promoted by "experts," they require "clinical training programs" that people need to attend so they understand how to do the protocol properly, and they have a "feel-good" quality to them that engenders hope in parents. In the end, they also have an absolute lack of supporting research.
An classic example of a fad or pseudoscientific intervention in OT is the so-called 'Deep pressure protocol.' I remember attending a conference in 1989 (22 years ago now!) and at that time the presenters were promising that there was exciting research available that would support their protocol. That research never materialized and now you can't even find a reference to that protocol in OT pediatric text books. Pseudoscientific interventions are tough to beat back into the bushes though - and even though we have 20 years of no evidence and no current references in major OT textbooks it still remains an entrenched part of what I call 'mythological' OT practice.
Pseudoscientific interventions are so resilient because they may in part have some concepts that are valid. For example, there may be something valid about how some deep pressure stimulation is calming to some people in some situations. Similarly, there may be something valid about trial practice and training for postural responses and visual-auditory orienting - but neither of these should be construed as meaning that you have to use the Fad Intervention therapy brush or you have to purchase the Fad Intervention CDs and you have to do the Fad Intervention protocol exactly the way the Fad Intervention Therapy pushers proselytize. Most importantly, you have to ask if you should be providing the Fad Intervention Therapy to a child and family unless you tell them that it is experimental and there is no supporting research.
It is probably much more important to look for supporting research, make ethical judgement about how you have to inform families about experimental procedures, and don't fall into the trap of perpetuating 'mythological' occupational therapy practice.
With persistence and continued conversation I am confident that we can advance the sophistication of how we bring ideas to a research forum without first setting our ideas loose into the marketplace where people are profiteering off of the hopes of parents and the lack of evidence-based proclivities by some forces within our own profession.