Challenging misleading healthcare claims.

Still Being in Stillness

Late last year, we reported that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had adjudicated on the Being in Stillness (BIS) website, which was one of the three websites in our 'master' complaint about the promotion of craniosacral therapy (CST).

The ASA identified ten points in our complaint and upheld them all.

Independent Review

ReviewBIS asked that the adjudication be reviewed by the ASA's Independent Reviewer, Sir Hayden Phillips.

There are just two grounds for a review: the person requesting the review must be able to establish that a substantial flaw of process or adjudication is apparent, or show that additional relevant evidence is available.

The details of requests for review are not published, so all we know is that the request was rejected by Sir Hayden, presumably because the request met neither of these grounds.

While a review is in progress, the ASA removes the adjudication from their website. It has now been republished.

Second complaint

Meanwhile, we noted that, in spite of the adjudication, the website remained much as it was. Additionally, some new text had appeared denying that the website contained any claims; rather, that it carried a "a genuine description" of the experience of many practitioners and clients of craniosacral therapy together with the standard protestation that the scientific method can't be applied to complementary therapies and that "the mention of certain conditions is not intended to imply or guarantee a 'cure' for those conditions; nor any others; and nothing in this website is intended to discourage you from seeking medical advice where applicable".

Further text argued that CST works with "our underlying vitality" and supports "our body's innate healing and self-repair" (though no explanation of how it does this was provided). Thus, it was claimed that CST "may be of help with almost any situation", specifying a long list of conditions that included depression, M.E., recurrent infections, digestive problems, menstrual disorders, tonsillitis, asthma, autism and babies' colic.

There was also a claim that CST may be useful in supporting older people in their various ailments and women through pregnancy and childbirth.

So we submitted a second complaint and the adjudication on this is today published on the ASA's website.

As expected, our complaint was upheld on both counts: that the claims implied that CST was effective in treating the conditions named and that people could be discouraged from seeking essential treatment.

Response

In response, BIS had argued that the website doesn't state that CST can treat conditions, in fact, it states that they do not guarantee a cure for any ailment. They held the view that visitors to the website will not see the anecdotal claims as objective and capable of substantiation.

The ASA, however, considered that the text implied that a cure was at least possible through CST, even if not guaranteed. They also considered that claiming to work with "the whole person rather than conditions" and with "many different situations and conditions" followed by a list of medical conditions did indeed imply that CST could treat those conditions and that this could discourage readers from seeking essential treatment for them.

The full adjudication is quite lengthy but worth reading as an illustration of how some practitioners think they can avoid compliance with the advertising regulations and how the ASA sees right through them.

Responsibilities

Like it or not, all advertisers have a responsibility to abide by the CAP Code and ASA adjudications. It is the level playing field that ensures that the public are not misled by advertising and the ASA provide an independent means for claims to be challenged and for advertisers to present their evidence for their claims. Responsible advertisers know that and are happy to abide by the Code and adjudications, even if the result is not what they might have liked.

We note that the list of conditions and the other claims the ASA has deemed misleading have now been removed from the craniosacral page on the BIS website (for comparison, the page we complained about is cached here) and we welcome this. However, the page now contains a longer section on the ASA and its decision and tries to argue that CST does not lend itself to scientific investigation.

In light of this adjudication, we now hope that other craniosacral therapists will review their own websites to make sure they are on the right side of the ASA's CAP Code and their guidance on craniosacral therapy. We also hope that the CST trade bodies take responsible action to help and encourage their members to do the same.

If they are still in any doubt about what they can and cannot say, there is always the ASA's free Copy Advice service.

01 August 2012

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