ME/CFS and the Lightning Process

Here I review research by the Wessely School on the Lightning Process (LP). LP is a pseudoscientific cult founded by Phil Parker, a Tarot reader, specialist in auras and spiritual guides, and an osteopath. It has triggered a spate of shoddy evidence and false claims that brings a new low level to the checkered history of ME/CFS research and care, and takes the Wessely School with it to rock bottom.

Phil Parker’s qualification as a trainer/therapist have been described by him as follows:

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.”

I, for one, am pleased that I do not feel drawn to Phil Parker’s courses. I had the chance. They were running above my local grocers in Crouch End, London. I would have happily run a mile to avoid them.

What is the Lightning Process?

The LP is described as “a neuro-physiological training programme based on self-coaching, concepts from Positive Psychology, Osteopathy and Neuro Linguistic Programming” (Parker, Aston & Finch, 2018).

The developer of LP Phil Parker describes it in these words: LP “Is a training programme that teaches you to change the way your nervous system controls your body.Its empowering tools involve gentle movement, meditation-like techniques and mental exercises.With practice you’ll learn how to switch on pathways which promote health and switch off ones which aren’t so good for you….With practise you can use them to change the way your nervous system works, switching on pathways which promote health and switching off ones which aren’t so good for you.” 

LP has attracted a following in the UK, Norway, and other countries. LP practitioners are trained to promote it as a treatment for many serious medical conditions including ME/CFS. The approach can be easily identified as pseudo-science.

Participants are told to ‘Believe that the Lightning Process will heal you’.

· Tell everyone that you have been healed.

· Perform magical rituals such as standing in circles drawn on paper with positive keywords inscribed.

· Learn to render short rhymes when you feel the symptoms, no matter where you are, as many times as necessary for the symptoms to go away.

· Speak only in positive terms and think only positive thoughts .

· If symptoms or negative thoughts occur, extend your arms with the palm of your hand pointing outwards and shout “ Stop! «.

· You are responsible for having ME. You choose to have ME yourself. But you are free to choose a life without ME if you want to.

· If the method does not work, you are doing something wrong.

What the Experts Say

David Tuller, DrPH, Senior Fellow in Public Health and Journalism, Center for Global Public Health, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley has commented: “The Lightning Process is the woo-woo pseudo-nonsense that trains people to reject their illness and engage in positive affirmations, among other strategies.”

Brian Hughes, PhD, Professor in Psychology, University of Galway, Ireland, points out that LP “comprises a number of modalities that are normally classified as pseudosciences. It is based largely on NLP, which is a completely discredited practice…All told, there is nothing to suggest that the ‘Lightning Process’ is a promising clinical modality. 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.”

Edzard Ernst MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd, Emeritus Professor at the University of Exeter, has commented: “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.”

Lightning Process and the Wessely School

In 1989, Professor Wessely wrote about alternative therapies as follows: “Almost all patients referred to hospital with CFS will have tried a variety of ‘alternative’ therapies… The patients’ faith in treatments which may be beneficial to specific individuals should not be undermined but not all such therapies can be given approval…It is a doctor’s duty to protect the patient from such exploitation, which may be medically and financially harmful. The willingness to try such untested treatments should be viewed as a reflection of the patients desperate need for help” (Wessely, et al. 1989).

Things have changed. Research on one particular alternative therapy, LP, which they call a ‘training’, has become an active research topic at the Wessely School with two publications to date:

Silje Endresen Reme (Harvard University), Nicola Archer (King’s College London) and Trudie Chalder (King’s College London):

Experiences of young people who have undergone the Lightning Process to treat chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis–a qualitative study (2012)

Phil Parker (London Metropolitan University), J Aston (King’s College London) and Lisa de Rijk ((King’s College London):

A systematic review of the evidence base for the Lightning Process (2020)

Author Lisa de Rijk, is a visiting research fellow at King’s College London as well as a Neurolinguistic Programming “master trainer,” change consultant, and applied psychologist, according to her Linked In profile.  The other author has a KCL degree but does not appear to have a current affiliation.

Parker and his two KCL-affiliated co-authors describe the 14 studies they found after a search of the literature. The study has been eloquently reviewed by David Tuller. Six studies were identified as surveys, three as qualitative studies, two as (non-survey) quantitative studies, one as a case report, one as a “proof-of-concept” study, and one as a randomized clinical trial. Six of them were identified as having been peer-reviewed.

According to the conclusions, the review “identified an emerging body of evidence supporting the efficacy of the LP for many participants with fatigue, physical function, pain, anxiety and depression. It concludes that there is a need for more randomised controlled trials to evaluate if these positive outcomes can be replicated and generalised to larger populations.”

The evidence of purported efficacy is not at all convincing and there are reports of bullying and unethical behaviour. According to the Norwegian ME association ME Foreningen in (2012), Lightning Process is one of the treatments that has done the most harm to patients. LP 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.

Yet, ‘experts’ affiliated to the Wessely School have been swarming like flies to applaud a recent LP study, including Michael Sharpe. But more on this later.


  1. By lending credibility to the pseudoscientific cult that is the Lightning Process, the Wessely School has finally reached rock bottom.
  2. Following the exposure of a King’s College London grandee, Hans Eysenck, and the scandal of the PACE trial, the Wessely School is about to take another major hit.
  3. The LP ‘training process’ dares not to describe itself as a therapy for fear of recriminations.
  4. LP training has been rejected by NICE and sinks to the bottom to join the Wessely School and other forms of quack medicine.

Thanks to Tom Kindlon for his feedback on an earlier version of this post.

Published by dfmarks


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