Just a few quick notes on the above documentary that went out earlier this year. It featured Gary Mannion, a 20-year-old man who believes he is in spiritual content with biblical figure Abraham, and can heal people via his energy. Emeka Onono follows Mannion for two months in an attempt to determine whether or not Mannion can do what he claims to.
In conclusion, Onono find no evidence that Mannion has had any effect over his patients. He cites difficulties in acquiring cooperative former patients of Mannion, but those few that he did manage to get in touch with provided medical records that indicated Mannion could not be isolated as a causal factor in their recovery.
This is, I think, a point that the film doesn't do much to underline. It walks away from Mannion with the supposition that Mannion does indeed believe his abilities to be genuine. What is particularly sad is that it's perfectly reasonable, however mistaken, for Mannion to hold this belief. Unlike Onono, Mannion has not pursued to the same degree of scrutiny, the medical history before and after his intervenion in these patients' lives. Onono revealed that most patients were receiving conventional treatment at the same time. The cause celebré of the evidence was a gentleman suffering from alzheimers who had actually shown signs of recovery prior to Mannion's treatment. From Mannion's point of view, he sees patients, many of whom no doubt complain that their treatment or GP is in some way failing them, he treats them and soon after they show signs of recovery. Without the troublesome additional data of official diagnosis and treatment, Mannion falls easily into the trap of availability. He is only aware of his own treatment and so, to him, that treatment must be the chief cause of the recovery. Even if he grows to doubt this over time, he will find himself in a position where his life and income revolves exclusively around his supposed ability to heal - he becomes intensely invested in his claims, so giving up those claims becomes increasingly impossible.
This is the stuff that really fascinates me. If we assume that with a few exceptions the people who practice such alternatives to medicine genuinely believe in what they do, then we ought to be looking at how this belief develops and is sustained, rather than whether or not these treatments work, when invariably they do not.