Update: The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in the UK now officially warns against The Lightning Process as a treatment for ME/CFS.
An introduction to the Lightning Process
The Lightning Process (LP) is an older program and a very controversial one.
The Lightning Process (LP) is a commercial programme based on ideas from osteopathy and life coaching. It has been promoted by celebrities like Martine McCutcheon and Esther Rantzen. LP is supposedly about “teaching people to use their brain to stimulate health-promoting neural pathways”. It has also been debunked numerous times as complete pseudoscience.
A few reasons why LP is controversial:
- In 2011, a 13 year-old Norwegian boy with ME attempted suicide after he failed to improve with the Lightning Process.1
- In 2012 the British Advertising Standards Authority ruled against claims on the Lightning Process (LP) website.2
- The Lightning Process has not been tested with any randomized, controlled trials.
- Lightning Process is one of the treatments that has done the most harm to patients. The Lightning Process resulted in 50% of the ME patients reporting that LP had made their condition worse, 25% seriously worse. 30% reported that LP had no effect on symptoms.3
Who are the people behind the Lightning Process and how do they organize?
The program is created by Phil Parker. He is at the top of their business hierarchy and he runs an LP-business in the UK. So, who is Phil Parker? Lets find out with the help from this description from a site he was associated with:
Phil Parker is already known to many as an inspirational teacher, therapist, healer and author. His personal healing journey began when, whilst working with his patients as an osteopath. He discovered that their bodies would suddenly tell him important bits of information about them and their past, which to his surprise turned out to be factually correct! He further developed this ability to step into other people’s bodies over the years to assist them in their healing with amazing results. After working as a healer for 20 years, Phil Parker has developed a powerful and magical program to help you unlock your natural healing abilities. If you feel drawn to these courses then you are probably ready to join. 4.
So, Phil Parker is a spiritual healer. Those are some interesting powers. This is clearly a man who is no stranger to making absurd claims and offering dubious courses. “Phil Parker has developed a powerful and magical program to help you unlock your natural healing abilities”. Unreal.
Below Phil Parker in the hierarchy we find practitioners who also sell the course but from their own individual businesses. These practitioners were often already health coaches or NLP-trainers beforehand. These coaches have paid Phil Parker in order to become ‘licensed’ LP-trainers and to be able to join the business.
These LP-practitioners have a few things in common. Based on their marketing, it seems all or most of them:
A) have a story about them having ME/CFS but getting cured by the Lightning Process and B) comment positive things about the program on Phil Parker’s Youtube-videos about the Lightning Process and finally C) spread their “recovery” stories on online patient forums.
The cost varies from country to country but it is always expensive. For instance, in Australia the price seems to be around AU$1700+ and in the UK it is around £1000. Also, the training to become an LP-instructor costs around £9.000 (or even more). Considering it is an expensive training, these practitioners would not do it if they did not expect a good return on investment down the road.
Often it is obvious that these people do not know ME/CFS very well. Also, it is a bit comical that LP-instructors just happened to already be NLP-trainers with their own businesses. What a coincidence, right?
Some examples of their marketing methods on their Youtube channel (now in a censored version).
Now, lets have a look at their online presence. A lot of LP’s marketing strategy happens on Youtube. The screenshot below is from Youtube and it shows a bunch of similar praises on a Lightning Process video.
Such lovely comments, right?
These comments are from just one of Phil Parkers early videos about the LP. Every positive comment posted around the same time by LP-practitioners. Where are the comments from ordinary people, you ask? They are deleted and blocked very quickly.
The positive comments are called “Social Proof” in marketing terms. If other people are saying nice things about it – it must be nice, right? People who are either not used to online scams or people who are just desperately ill may fall for these things.
So, just to prove the point we googled one of those “happy people” from the Youtube comment section above… and sure enough she is a Lightning Process instructor.
Oh, well maybe that was just a single coincidence. Lets try another one…
And she is a leadership coach too! So, when this woman is done curing you from ME/CFS (you know, the illness brilliant doctors at Stanford University struggle to understand) she can then teach you about business and leadership! Incredible!
Alright. Enough with the sarcasm.
A quick note on their recovery stories on social media (and how to spot them)
As mentioned, the Lightning Process people sometimes post “recovery” stories on forums such as Reddit. Luckily, most people are able to decode them quickly, but new patients may be tricked.
When you have seen a few of those posts they are easy to dismiss. They always follow the same recipe. A new user or person on the site suddenly post something with a title like “my recovery”. Often, they will then say that they had to post from a new/anonymous user because [insert lame excuse].
The posted story is always the same. They have supposedly been ill for a number of years and suddenly stumble upon LP. At first they are “very skeptical” but then they tried it and in 3 days a trainer with absolutely no health care education cured them from multiple sclerosis (MS) or ME/CFS. Brilliant.
They won’t really tell how but if you contact them they maaaay just give you the contact information to an LP-instructor. What a nice gesture, right?
So, what is the Lightning Process really?
This is a simple question. Yet, you will never get the answer from a Lightning Process instructor. When looking at google statistics, common Google searches about LP are “is the Lightning Process a scam?”, “Is the lightning process a con?”, “lightning process scam?” and “fraud lightning process”. Patients post this question on forums too – like this post on the site Reddit What the hell is this Lightning Process? Is it a scam?
Clearly, it is not easy to find out what LP really is. We will try to describe it here so that people may come to their own conclusion.
It is a secretive program and the practitioner won’t tell you the details before you have already paid for the course. Why? Because then they would probably get zero customers.
Luckily, you can learn what the LP is right here for free.
Not any ME/CFS patient can take the LP-course. No, they will send you some information in advance or make you buy a certain book. This information will tell you about how the mind is powerfull and that you must “trust in the process” if you want it to work. Then they will talk to you on the phone and if, and only if, you sound receptive they will tell you that you are “ready”.
The LP-people will also tell you that you should avoid your local or global ME-association as they are too negative.
In this way they isolate the patient and prevents him or her from getting proper advice from ME-doctors or ME-associations.
And what happens at the actual course?
The Lightning Process is a 3 day psychological course. You will take the course with a group of people who are also desperately ill.
This sums up the Lightning Process:
- Believe it will cure you (they say this repeatedly).
- Stand on paper circles with words written on them.
- Shout “stop!” at your symptoms.
- If the process is not working, you are not doing it right!
And that is all. Now, you must tell everyone that you are cured (if you don’t, it will not work).
Patients explain experiences with The Lightning Process
The best way to learn about LP is by reading other people’s experiences.
These stories have real information about the course and therefore you will not find these testimonials anywhere near the LP-instructors official sites.
Some of them are long but they are worth the read!
“You ask yourself if you want to choose happiness. Which you obviously do and then you say how fantastic you are to have stopped the negativity thought. You ask yourself what you really want, then you answer yourself, and again ask yourself how you are going to get there. The answer of course is to keep doing the process, getting rid of those negative thoughts. Then you tell yourself how great you are again and maybe have a bit of a hug with yourself, then…….. no nothing, that’s it.” 5
And here is a woman’s detailed experience with the Lightning Process:
The Lightning Process didn’t work for me – by Sallycats, Hubpages.
How do they continue to spread the LP?
With all these negative reviews – how do they continue to exist?
They use several platforms and tactics.
Common channels where they promote the programs
- Their website – for dodgy looking testimonials and for contacting them directly.
- Youtube channel – mostly for Phil Parker to talk about the program in general terms and to attract patients.
- Recovery Norway site – a site for dodgy looking testimonials about ME/CSF recovery to get around a new law that made the promotion of The Lightning Process illegal.
- Bloggers and Instagrammers – bloggers promote the program.
- Local LP-practitioners – health coaches who already offer treatments such as hypnotherapy, NLP and similar nonscientific techniques.
- Online forums – once in a while, a new user will pop up on Health Rising, Reddit, Facebook or a similar site and claim that LP magically cured them (Reddit moderators remove them).
Self proclaimed health coaches
As mentioned, there have always been vultures around people who suffer from chronic illnesses. Back in the day, these people would be standing on the street selling weird and even dangerous potions to ‘cure’ incurable diseases. Nowadays, these people can be more difficult to spot. Especially on social media where everyone can create the image they want.
These people combined with social media is a dangerous combination as they can control what is being said on their site. There are many examples but here are some (if you know any, feel free to share them in the comments):
- Dan Neuffer (creator of ANS Rewire) runs someting called “CFS Unravelled”.
- Raelan Agle has a Facebook group which has received a lot of complaints. In there, all the shady programs are suggested and members are told to ‘only have a positive attitude’ towards anything that is being suggested. Also, ‘curing’ supplements are suggested in there and members are told to only buy them from the health coaches. Raelan Agle also has a Youtube channel where she interviews people about the Lightning Process. On those videos, we see all the usual comments about “miraculous recoveries” from other LP practitioners looking for customers.
There are massive Facebook groups for people who experience long term symptoms from COVID (long-covid). In these groups, you will regularly see posts about The Lightning Process from dubious accounts. They will often be worded in the same way and are usually easy to spot.
On all their platforms the LP moderate the comments. They delete comments from unsatisfied customers immediately. This is why you will only find their own positive and comically bad testimonials in their comment sections.
What professionals say about the Lightning Process
- “It has no scientific plausibility; it exists because commercially-minded providers of pseudoscientific treatments have successfully identified a market for it. In that regard, it occupies the same space as, say, crystal therapy.” – Professor Brian Hughes 6
- “Under the circumstances, it goes without saying that the Lightning Process trial cannot be appropriately cited as an authoritative source for any claims that this pseudo-scientific intervention is “effective.”” – David Tuller, DrPH 7
- Psychologist James Coyne has described the Lightning Process as “quackery backed by pseudoscientific theory”.8
- “So, what do we call a therapy for which numerous, far-reaching claims are being made, which is based on implausible assumptions, which is unproven, and for which people have to pay dearly? The last time I looked, it was called quackery.” – Edzard Ernst 9
- John Greensmith criticised the Lightning Process programme as a costly pyramid scheme noting that people who train in the process frequently go on to become practitioners themselves.10
- “Having seen people in a specialist clinic for the last 23 years,” he said, “I’ve never seen anyone who had true ME/CFS who could get better in a weekend. It raises the question of what these folks had when they report such a massive turnaround.” – Peter Rowe, professor of pediatrics at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore 11
- “[About the SMILE-trial for Lightning Process] All this trial shows is that if you tell people to say they’re better, and then ask them if they’re better, they’ll say they’re better,” said Edwards. “It’s a textbook case of how not to design a trial.” – Jonathan Edwards, professor emeritus of connective tissue disease at University College London 12
Changes in the NICE-guidelines regarding the LP
The Lightning Process is now explicitly mentioned in the NICE draft guidelines as a treatment NOT recommended for ME/CFS patients 13
The Lightning Process is understandably a controversial commercial program. As ME/CFS is officially recognised as a real and very serious illness, it seems absurd that there is a need to even discuss these kinds of “positive thinking” programs. It is even worse, however, that certain health authorities in Scandinavia care so little about ME/CFS that they invite the LP-people to their meetings.
As mentioned in the very beginning of this page, the founder of the LP is a spiritual healer. Imagine the outrage if a person/group of people like that had any influence on the official treatment for cancer.
The LP is not based on proper science, it is backed by nothing but anecdotal evidence and it is founded by a self-proclaimed magical healer. With the NICE draft guidelines officially listing the Lightning Process as something that is not helpful for ME/CFS, it seems that the debate whether LP is good or not is finally settled.
Hopefully, you will now have a full understanding of this life-coaching program.
The documentary ‘The ME-Scandal’ exposing the Lightning Process
The documentary ‘The ME-Scandal’ perfectly exposes the LP. It goes into details about their founder, their organisational structure, how it is sort of a modern health ‘get rich scheme’ and explains how a Norwegian woman, Live Landmark, with no health care skills, has made millions of dollars on desperate patients.
More information about the Lightning Process
- “A bad idea”, [In Norwegian] By Benedikte Monrad-Krohn
- “An analysis of the Phil Parker Lightning Process”, [In Norwegian, English version available too] by Gunnar Tjomlid
- “Chronic fatigue syndrome patients, long victimized by discredited research, turn to a dubious self-help program“, by David Tuller.
- “I call Pseudocrap on new ME/CFS research from Bristol University that uses The Lightning Process!”, by Sam Dowie.
- “Just a pyramid selling scam“, Aylwin Catchpole.
- “Lightning Process is damaging patients”, by Nina E. Steinkopf (in Norwegian).
- “ME/CFS and the Lightning Process“, by David F Marks.
- “Parents should have been warned about unprofessional providers in Esther Crawley’s SMILE trial”, by James C. Coyne, PHD.
- “Scam Lightning Process causes internalized gaslighting – beware of charlatans“, by Medical Error Interviews.
- “The ‘Lightning Process’: implausible, unproven, hyped and expensive”, by Edzard Ernst.
- “Trial By Error: The Lightning Process Is “Effective”? Really?”, By David Tuller, DrPH.
- “Two takes on the expensive, unproven, and childishly-named quackery known as the Lightning Process“, by Brian Hughes.
- “When pseudoscience infiltrates healthcare and nutrition“, podcast by Coda Currents.
For a few general tips about ME/CFS programs, see the post about what to look out for.