(Please note that this page is a translation of the Norwegian one. We may tailor it more to an international audience at a later point, but for now, this serves as testament to what the Lightning Process is, and also what is going on in a Norwegian context).
The Origins of The Lightning Process
The lightning process is a mental training program developed by the British osteopath and hypnotherapist Phil Parker, in the late 1990s.
The method usually consists of a three-day course, where the participants are supposed to learn how to change their thought patterns, and to stimulate the brain into new neurological pathways. At the time of writing, the course costs roughly 20,000 NOK (around US$ 2.300).
According to Phil Parker’s website, the course is beneficial for a variety of conditions, from fear of failure to depression, addiction and stage fright. Further, it’s supposed to be an effective way to increase happiness, career success, performance and more. The goal of the process is to “teach you how to regain control of your life, and give you the opportunity to break the spiral of illness, ME, anxiety and stress, the feeling of being overwhelmed or ‘stuck,’ having a low self-esteem or other destructive behavioral patterns.”
Phil Parker has previously stated about himself and the development of the Lightning Process, on his website:
“Phil Parker is already known to many as an inspirational teacher, therapist, healer and author. His personal healing journey began when, whilst working with 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 unlock your natural healing abilities. If you feel drawn to these courses, then you are probably ready to join.”philparker.org, 2010. No longer available on his website. Archived version: https://web.archive.org/web/20060908161631/http://www.philparker.org/healingpro.pdf
The method itself is simple. When symptoms, or thoughts about symptoms, manifest themselves, you visualise and do some simple exercises. The method point by point is:
When symptoms manifest, you are to step on a sheet of paper which says
Then you are to step on a sheet of paper which says
Then you are to pick between a piece of paper that says
3. THE PIT
and a piece of paper that says
4. A LIFE YOU LOVE
These steps are to be visualised every time you get or think about symptoms.
That’s it – there’s nothing more to it.
Throughout the course, you learn that ME is something you do, not something you have, and you can choose to decide whether you want to keep doing ME. You also learn that you have to believe in the process for it to work.
You are also asked to get rid of all assistive devices, reclining chairs, etc. Everything associated with disease has to be removed from your life, whether that’s people, objects, thoughts or feelings. You are also advised to avoid contact with other sick people, including ME patient organizations and support groups, and you are supposed to tell yourself and everyone else that you are healthy. All of this is necessary, according to the course leader, otherwise the method will not work.
During the course you are also asked to sign a statement saying that you yourself are responsible for the effects of the course, and that the instructors bear no responsibility for possible negative outcomes. If you don’t experience improvement, or experience declining health, you are practising the method wrong or not trying hard enough.
On the third and last day of the course, you sign a statement saying that you are healthy. One of the questions on the form is: “Do you have ME?” To that you are to reply: “No!”
All this put together leads to the participants ignoring their symptoms, pretending to be healthy and follow all of the course instructions.
Many people’s health severely decline after participating in this course. Some go from being self-sufficient to being in need of care.
The Norwegian ME Association’s participant report from 2013 showed that:
- 20% saw improvement
- 20% saw no change
- 60% got worse (whereof a third got significantly worse)
Several of those who did not become healthy report that they have had severe mental problems after the course. Some feel guilty for not having managed to follow the method correctly. Others admit to being scammed and are ashamed of having taken the course and wasting their money.
Secrecy is a big part of the Lightning Process project. Participants have to sign a contract stating that they will not disclose what the method consists of. This means that many health workers, decision makers, politicians, journalists and public servants recommend the Lightning Process, or partly support it, without knowing what it is or what harm it can lead to.
The Lightning Process and Science
The Lightning Process in Norway
In Norway there is a society called NFLP (Norwegian Association for Lightning Process Instructors), which is the umbrella organization for Lightning Process instructors in Norway. The most famous Lightning Process instructor in this country is Live Landmark, who is currently studying for her Ph.D. at NTNU, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in an attempt at carrying out a research project on LP. It is not clear why NTNU would support this venture, considering the testimonials presented on this site.
Becoming a Lightning Process instructor requires no medical training. You are simply required to attend a course at “The Phil Parker Training Institute” (PPTI) in London, and that’s it. Completing the course requires knowledge about and experience with neurolinguistic programming (NLP) and life coaching. Lightning Process instructors pay some amount of royalties to Phil Parker.1 When asked about the size of these royalties, Live Landmark answered that it’s a “trade secret.”2 We can see from the annual accounts of Live Landmark A/S that the business has unusually high expenses compared to earnings, and despite us not having concrete information about this, it does not seem too far-fetched to wonder whether the royalty payments play a large part. If the size of the royalties comprise a substantial percentage of the expenses of Lightning Process instructors, we might be getting close to something resembling multi-level marketing or a pyramid scheme.
NAFKAM (Norway’s National Research Center in Complementary and Alternative Medicine) have previously made it clear that they consider the Lightning Process to be alternative medicine.3 We know that in 2020 there was communication between NAFKAM and the Norwegian Institute for Public Health, where the institute asked NAFKAM to “rescind its warning and apologise.” It is unknown what NAFKAM’s current position on the Lightning Process is.
There has recently been a push from the NFLP to have the Lightning Process reclassified as a course rather than alternative medicine. NFLP has been in communication with several health authorities, including the Norwegian Directorate of Health, to accomplish this goal. As described, among other places, in Nina Steinkopf’s blog,4 and documents obtained through PAIA (Public Access to Information Act), NFLP has provided “documentation” showing that they do not offer treatment. The Norwegian Directorate of Health initially accepted this, before changing their minds and saying that they do not have the authority to make that decision. The portrayal of the Lightning Process as a course and not as a form of treatment sharply contrasts with what is regularly promoted by Landmark and Recovery Norge, which clearly indicates that the Lightning Process is intended to be a curative treatment of ME.5
We have access to documents which show that people associated with the Lightning Process are actively communicating with health authorities, often meet with ministers of state and other decision makers, and generally seem heavily associated with the system. It also seems like they have easy access to media, as one regularly sees articles praising the Lightning Process and how people have been “cured,” while the opposing viewpoint rarely gets to respond. See more about this in the section About Recovery Norge, and in the aforementioned blog post.6
Studies on the Lightning Process
People associated with the Lightning Process often claim that there is scientific evidence showing the positive effects of the method, and generally point to three studies. The fact the studies exist is true, but they are of such poor study design and implementation that they are irrelevant. The participating patients in these studies are recruited according to the more broad Oxford, or NICE, criteria, and therefore have no direct relevance for patients diagnosed according the Canadian Consensus Criteria (the criteria recommended by the Norwegian Directorate of Health). The studies they point to are: (see footnotes for references)
1. A review conducted by NAFKAM, which does not draw a clear conclusion, but merely weighs the arguments and counter-arguments. The authors write, among other things: “The ethical aspects of LP course leaders focusing on the individual participant’s responsibility for achieving positive results should be examined further.”7
2. A very small study (Chalder et. al.8) with only nine subjects, recruited according to the Oxford criteria. In this respect, the study is not relevant for ME patients with post-exertional malaise (PEM) and a diagnosis made with more strict criteria.
3. The deeply problematic SMILE study lead by Esther Crawley.9 Crawley and her co-authors have been criticised for breaching ethical guidelines, outcome switching and more. If the study’s outcomes hadn’t been switched midway, the study would have given a null result. The objective primary outcome were swapped with the subjective secondary outcome when the study was already in progress, as the subjective outcomes showed a greater effect. In other words, they moved the goalposts during the study to get the “correct” results.
The SMILE study recruited participants according to the British NICE criteria for chronic fatigue (not ME). Meaning that the study has no direct relevance for ME patients with PEM and a diagnosis made with more strict criteria, like Canada, ICC or IOM. Subsequent consequences were not examined in the study, as participants’ failures to reply were not followed up on. About a third of the participants did not fill out and return their follow-up questionnaires, and it seems reasonable to assume that this might have been patients whose condition deteriorated during the study. They may have gotten so much worse that they were unable to reply.
“Spoiler alert: the inventor of the Lightning Process found that the therapy he invented was indeed effective.”Prof. Psych. Brian Hughes, regarding a review published by Phil Parker.12
As shown by the mentioned points, it is not correct to claim that the Lightning Process is supported by scientific literature.
Lightning Process Studies in Norway
In 2021, a group at NTNU lead by Professor Leif Kennair and Live Landmark, Norway’s most famous Lightning Process instructor, as a PhD candidate, applied to conduct a study of the Lightning Process’s effects on ME patients. The study was stopped after complaints to NEM (The National Committee for Medical and Health Research Ethics) because of (i) the candidate’s conflict of interest, and (ii) poor study design.13
Supporters of the Lightning Process regularly claim that more research is required, to which there are two responses:
1. The research should not be conducted by people who are financially invested in the method.
2. With everything we present on this website, and especially the participant stories, it should be clear that the method carries such high risk for participating patients, and is so unscientific and distorting, that one must ask oneself whether it’s justifiable to expose such a vulnerable group for these kinds of studies at all.
In October 2021, the British NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) published a new set of clinical guidelines for ME. After four years of thorough work and research into the available scientific literature, e.g. the aforementioned studies, the clinical guidelines conclude that the available studies are of low or very low quality, and that consequently the Lightning Process is not to be offered to ME patients:
“Do not offer the Lightning Process, or therapies based on it, to people with ME/CFS.”NICE guidelines for ME/CFS (2021): https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng206/chapter/Recommendations, ch. 1.12.27
For further reading, refer to the complete NICE guidelines for ME/CFS (2021).14
Professional Opinions on the Lightning Process
Several professionals have spoken about the Lightning Process:
- Psychologist Bente Dahl has compared the Lightning Process to certain Christian groups’ attempts to “heal” gay people.15
- Pathologist Sidsel Kreyberg compares the manipulative methods with those used by the cult-like religious community in Knutby.16
- Psychologist James C. Coyne, Ph.D, has written a number of articles about the Lightning Process and Crawley’s SMILE study.17
- 72 leading researchers specialising in CFS/ME and 68 patient organisations have sent an open letter to Fiona Goodlee, editorial director of the British Medical Journal, asking for the SMILE study to be retracted because of the aforementioned issues.18
- Edward Ernst wrote a short commentary referring to the SMILE study where he spoke out against the Lightning Process.19
“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.”Doctor and researcher Edward Ernst, MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.20
We refer you to our to our resources-page for more in-depth articles about the Lightning Process.
- See for instance, the report from 2015: https://uit.no/Content/438335/Rapport-til-HDIR-fra-NAFKAM-om-CFS-ME-LP.pdf
- See also https://melivet.com/2018/10/15/kompetansetjenesten-og-recovery-norge
- https://melivet.com/2018/10/15/kompetansetjenesten-og-recovery-norge and https://melivet.com/2021/11/03/helsedirektoratet-trekker-tilbake-uttalelse-om-lightning-process/
- Reme SE, Archer N, Chalder T., “Experiences of young people who have undergone the Lightning Process to treat chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis–a qualitative study.”,Br J Health Psychol. 2013 Sep;18(3):508-25. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8287.2012.02093.x. Epub 2012 Sep 19. PMID: 22989369.
- Crawley EM et al, “Clinical and cost-effectiveness of the Lightning Process in addition to specialist medical care for paediatric chronic fatigue syndrome: randomised controlled trial. Arch Dis Child.”, 2018 Feb, 103(2):155-164. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2017-313375. Epub 2017 Sep 20. Erratum in: Arch Dis Child. 2019 Oct;104(10):e4. Erratum in: Arch Dis Child. 2019 Oct;104(10):e3. PMID: 28931531; PMCID: PMC5865512.
- Facebook-post: https://www.facebook.com/sidsel.kreyberg/posts/3066152726801821
- See amongst others https://www.coyneoftherealm.com/2017/09/17/embargo-broken-bristol-university-professor-to-discuss-trial-of-quack-chronic-fatigue-syndrome-treatment/ and https://www.coyneoftherealm.com/tag/lightning-process/