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Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?
Alternative Psychotherapies: Evaluating Unconventional Mental Health Treatments

Thursday, July 31, 2014

You Can't Tell a Book by Its Cover, But Sometimes You Can Tell by Author, Editor, or Publisher

Nowadays, we tell each other all the time to be cautious about accepting information offered on the Internet. People may not actually follow that advice (especially if they find statements that they want to believe), but they think it’s accurate enough to pass on to others. And there is a general understanding that some kinds of websites, like .gov and .org, are often more accurate in their statements than .com sites may be.

But what about actual printed books? Traditionally, non-fiction book publishers have been rather careful about the manuscripts they accept. Part of their concern has been whether a book would sell, that’s true, but they were also concerned that if a book turned out to contain misinformation, this would reflect badly on the publishers, good authors would not want to work with them, and both reputation and business would go downhill quickly. Traditional publishers have usually sought outside reviews of manuscripts before they were accepted, and have asked authors to correct any inaccuracies or other problems found by reviewer.

Times have changed, though. Enter first vanity publishing (sometimes daintily called “boutique publishing”) and then self-publishing. These publishing methods are ideal for non-fiction authors and editors who want publication without review or criticism, a quick turn-around and ads swiftly  up on Amazon, in exchange for a fee. They are also excellent for lightweight publishers who “troll” for equally lightweight authors in order to put together a publication that will sell and provide the authors with bragging rights. The result? A book that is fine on the outside, but that does not necessarily contain reliable information. Unlike the Yankee farmer’s blind horse that “pulls good, just don’t LOOK so good”, these books appear to be the reliable things we learned to respect in grade school, but they may be quite otherwise.

I have these issues on my mind today for two reasons. One is a message I received from Marianne Milton, alerting me to some potential authors who are looking for material to put a book together.  The would-be authors are Gregory Keck and Lynda Gianforte, and here’s what they have to say:

"Dr. Keck and Lynda Gianforte are writing a book whose working title is Keeping Families Strong after Adoption. They want to include success stories written by parents and children. The stories will be edited and returned to people for their approval. People can respond to the questions below. Contributors may send the stories to Gregory Keck, PhD at

• Did you do anything special to make your adoption successful?
• Are there any parenting strategies that were particularly effective for you?
• Is there anything you did that didn't work?
• Did you get therapy for your child? If so, what kind?
• Did you get therapy or any specialized training to help you parent your adopted child more effectively?
• Do you have any suggestions for new adoptive parents that you'd like to share?
• What did your parents do that made you feel good about being adopted?
• If you could talk to new adoptive parents, what advice would you give them about raising their kids?
• When you're a grown-up, do you think you'll ever adopt a child?"

The potential publisher of this book is not named, so I don’t know whether this is to be self-published or simply go to a printer-ready press that will handle distribution. However, some information about the authors is available. Gianforte, writing under the name Lynda Gianforte Mansfield, is an adoptive mother who has since at least 1994 been collaborating on books with attachment therapists. One such book was published by Pinon Press, a small publisher in Evergreen, Colorado; Evergreen was home of a version of holding therapy, and Pinon Press specialized in related work, at least prior to the 2000 death of Candace Newmaker at the hands of two holding therapists. Gianforte was also strongly associated with “Love & Logic”, the commercial parenting program run by Foster Cline, one of the most influential proponents of holding therapy.

Gregory Keck is a licensed clinical psychologist in Ohio, but his educational background is ambiguous. He received a doctoral degree from the intermittently-accredited Union Institute, an institution that allows students to name the discipline that they believe their dissertation topic belongs to. Keck chose criminology for his discipline. Keck’s book Parenting the Hurt Child, co-authored by the social worker Regina Kupecky, recommends holding therapy. Of a group of psychologists writing for a special issue of the journal Attachment & Human Development in 2003, Keck  (along with Helen Minnis) was the only one whose article failed to reject the use of holding therapy (curiously, it was also the only article that appeared in the form of a dialogue rather than a normal scholarly paper format, so I assume it was accepted only because Minnis has some influence).

What, then, can we expect from a book produced by Gianforte and Keck? Is it likely to agree with expert views on holding therapy and on attachment disorders like those stated by the American Professional Society on Abuse of Children in 2006? Somehow… I doubt it. But will na├»ve readers be aware of that? Somehow I doubt this too.

All right, one more example of the untrustworthy book issue. I recently received from Nova Publishers an e-mail inviting me as follows:   

“Dear Dr. Mercer,

We have learned of your published research on theory of mind and would like to invite you to participate in our publishing program. A number of possibilities are available for our cooperation.

In particular, we welcome two possible avenues of collaboration (you can select one or both and let us know by return email):

1. Your authorship or editorship of a monograph or edited collection on a topic of your choice.

The format (monograph or edited collection), approach and the manuscript submission date would be at your discretion. Our Publication Idea Form might be of use to you in this regard and is attached to this email. If you are interested, please fill it in and return it to my attention at If your book proposal is accepted for publication, we will send our agreement for your evaluation and signature. Your book will be published in printed and electronic formats simultaneously.

2. Your submission of one or more original research or review chapter(s) for our upcoming hardcover edited collection (by selected invitation only) tentatively entitled:
Theory of Mind: Development in Children, Brain Mechanisms and Social Implications

Related Nova publication:
Autism Spectrum Disorders: New Research

The deadline for the abstract is August 25, 2014 and for the completed chapter November 25, 2014. Please send the abstract and the chapter to
We also welcome proposals to serve as the editor of this volume. If you are interested, please send your latest CV to [\"\"] Proposals to serve as the editor are welcome up to the abstract deadline.

The contributions for this edited book are intended to range from 4,000 to 35,000 words (chapters over 10,000 words can be updated by the author for the e-version of their chapter for a period of 2 years at intervals of 6 months, 12 months and 24 months after publication). If you are interested in participating, please consult the Notes for Contributors at the bottom of this letter. Should your schedule not allow a full contribution at this time, we would welcome either a Commentary or Short Communication of 1,000-4,000 words.

The book will be published in about 6-9 months after the close of the volume. As soon as a book is listed on our Website ([\"\"], the codes in the status field will indicate the production stages through publication cycle.

Select one:

Peer review to be arranged by author ...................................

Review at Nova ................................... “

Let me state, to begin with, that I have never done any empirical research whatsoever on Theory of Mind, and although I could “mug it up” and write something about other people’s work, it would be quite deceptive to present me to readers as a researcher in that area. Let me point out, too, that the last couple of lines tell us a lot: I, the author (if I were going to do this), could decide whether a review of the work should be done by someone at Nova, who is not likely to know much about the topic, or by a reviewer I asked to do it--  potentially, my friend or even my student.

This contact on the part of Nova explains to me part of the story behind the only Nova book I ever bought—New Developments in Child Abuse Research, edited by one Stanley Sturt, apparently a graduate student at the time. This volume contains a publication by Arthur Becker-Weidman in which he claims to have demonstrated the efficacy of Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy, but includes much information suggesting that the treatment actually involved holding therapy. Now I understand what I suspected before--- that Becker-Weidman’s paper was never reviewed by anyone who knew the field, and that was why it was published, to its author’s presumable benefit. (I had queried Nova on these points years ago, but got no answer.)

Not to belabor this issue any longer, but skeptical caution obviously needs to be brought to information in print as well as on the Internet. As Pogo once suggested, it may not be the truth even though it’s more interesting.

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