University of Alberta Spoon-Bending Course for Med Students Cancelled

CBC News Article discussed the cancellation of a spoon-bending workshop on the University of Alberta campus.  The workshop, whose target audience is medical students, was apparently designed to help future doctors gain an appreciation for “complementary” medical techniques.


Critics have made scathing remarks about the University even considering allotting funds to such a workshop and have cited this as tacit proof of the decline of the university and perhaps civilization as a whole.

I think, however, that there are three things to consider here:

  1. Doctors do need to understand  the “language” of these “complementary” healing methods.  This way, they can tell their patients what is/is not tested and what can potentially be harmful and invasive versus what merely is unlikely to work.  (For example, black salve for cancer is terribly harmful and “all natural” while, for instance, the power of meditation, may or may not help cancer, but it does not harm an individual to try it in addition to Western medicine.)
  2. The placebo effect is both real and powerful.  Every good doctor should know it.  Since a doctor cannot ethically prescribe a sterile hypo as they once did as a placebo, they can use some of these benign energy healing methods such as Reiki in the place of such a suggestion. They can be very honest and say that it seems to work for many people, but is medically unproven.
  3. Some alternative therapies do actually work.  Some are proven by rigorous scientific testing and some are not.  However, some work.  For example, hypnosis works extremely well for some types of problems for some people.  Meditation calms the mind and body.  Yoga has a transformative effect on mind and body.  Acupuncture has been known to work well for certain ailments.  And the list goes on.

This is part of being a modern doctor: knowing what can work and what does not work, knowing what simply does not work versus what does no harm to the patient, and, finally, knowing what actually does work, and how it can work side by side with Western medicine to give a client a full spectrum of integrated care.

Why shouldn’t someone with cancer also do yoga, meditation, and reiki?  Scientists cannot prove miracles.

Miracles happen when we believe in them and the powers that be are willing.  We don’t want doctors who will crush a dying child’s hope for a miracle cure.  Rather, we want one who can advise the child’s parents not to spend $1000 per day on snake oil.

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