In Terry Pratchett’s books the witch Granny Weatherwax uses Headology to help people more than she uses magic. Headology uses both psychology and trickery to adjust people’s behaviors. In the case of a man with chest pains, Granny told him that he’d been bewitched by nymphs who lived in a waterfall. All he had to do was hike to that waterfall, bow three times, sing a song, and leave a small offering once per day and the nymphs would leave him alone. Or something like that. My memory of the scene in the book is a little fuzzy, and I could not find the specific reference. The point is that Granny knew that the only beneficial thing in her instructions was the hike. The man was too sedentary, so she told him a story that would make him be more active.
I took Gleek to a practitioner of alternative medicine. A friend, whom I respect, says that many of her son’s behavioral issues have been greatly alleviated by this practitioner. Since I plan to do some aggressive diagnostics and behavior modification for Gleek this Fall, I decided that alternative medicine would be a low impact and low cost place to start. We went. We followed the instructions for 24 hours until the instructions ran out. My after-the-fact conclusion is that bodies are complex and there are things I don’t understand. I am not ready to dismiss the idea that alternative phenomena can significantly alter someone’s well being. Mind/body connections are very powerful. However I’ve also come out of the experience feeling like I did a lot of dancing around and singing when the only thing that mattered was the walk.
The specific treatment applied was intended to reduce Gleek’s sensitivity to sugar.
In the category of dancing around:
Taping a small vial of sugar-infused water to Gleek’s arm for 24 hours, so that her body could balance to the sugars. I’m particularly skeptical since the vial was created by putting a blank vial into the same machine as another vial for a few seconds. Also when I accidentally dropped and broke the vial at the end, it was filled with something that smelled like rubbing alcohol.
In the category of hiking:
The strict list of things she was not to eat for 24 hours. She was totally off sugar during that time, which allowed me to observe the strength of her sugar cravings and to observe behavior changes. She got cranky, then tired, then sick. The sick shortly proved itself to be stomach flu that she caught from her brother. Having sickness strike mid-experiment mucks up the results quite a lot. However I have definitely proven to myself that more experimentation with her sugar intake is called for. She became jittery and wiggly within two minutes of eating sugary things again.
Having a vial taped to her arm was a very effective physical reminder to both Gleek and I that we were to be careful about what she ate.
In the category of Might be Dancing, Might be Hiking:
The diagnostic method of putting a vial into Gleek’s hand and then pressing down on her arm to see if she could hold strong. I’ve seen this effect many times before. I’ve had it done to me. But I don’t know that I buy the explanations about why it happens. I’m not sure why glass vials containing supposedly different liquids would cause the body to react differently. I’d think the body would react to the glass, if anything. But sometimes Gleek’s arm was strong and sometimes it was not. The practitioner identified her as sensitive to exactly the things which I would have expected. However I also know that magicians and con men can be very good about extracting information and telling people what they want to hear. It could have been a trick.
Making Gleek lay down every two hours so that I could apply a small massager to pressure points in her arms and feet. I don’t know whether the clockwise motion really did help balance her energies, or help her body accept the sugar. I am certain that laying down for a meditative few minutes every couple hours was a good thing for her. Also the vibrating massager was soothing on her skin. She liked that part.
The most important piece of the experiment is that by the end of it Gleek was bemoaning the fact that we had tried it. She was ready to blame her stomach flu on the experiment. I had to explain in detail why that was unlikely. She focused her frustration on the vial, and I would have to talk hard and fast to get her to agree to do it again. I don’t want to do that. Instead we’ll take the useful information and build new experiments to see if we can help her be a calmer, happier person. These new experiments will have less dancing around and more scientific method, because that is much more comfortable for us.