There’s a weird mark on your face. It wasn’t there last week, and it’s spreading at an alarming rate. Your insurance sucks, so you search the internet for help, and before you know it, you’re dropping $10,000 to “reprogram your DNA.”
Sadly, this story isn’t uncommon: Energy healers and new-age health gurus, despite being disproven, are still regularly uploading fake remedies to YouTube at an outstanding rate. The videos often fall to the bottom of search results like so much of the other potato-quality detritus on YouTube, only to be discovered by the desperate and willfully delusional. Fortunately for you, we spent time sifting through the muck to find the most important drivel. This is your A-to-Z guide to bullshit alternative medicine on YouTube.
There’s a loose divide among health hucksters: those that want their “treatments” to appear more ancient and storied than they actually are, and those that want their miracle cures mistaken for actual science. And what’s the fastest way to give something gravitas and rigor? Acronyms!
Here’s a quick sample: NRT (Nutrition Response Testing), KST (Koren Specific Technique), NSA (Network Spine Analysis), OMM (Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine), EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), ESWL (Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy), ART (Allergy Removal Tapping), CRA (Contact Reflex Analysis), CLRT (Cranial Laser Reflex Technique), NAET (Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Techniques), MCT (meridian color therapy).
I made a few of those up. One of them is actually a legitimate medical procedure. Can you even tell the difference? No, you cannot.
Honorable mention: Auriculotherapy, because bleeding out of your ears fixes… something?
Woosh—there goes your depression. Woosh—there goes your eczema. What do you mean you didn’t have eczema? Well, it’s gone now, and all because some guy waved his hands in sweeping motions around your body! Although the waving didn’t really do anything because “bio-energy encourages the body to heal itself.” You too can learn all about it by purchasing a $40 Bio-Chip (i.e. - flash drive) or by flying out to Costa Rica for a training course.
Honorable mention: Baba the Superbarber, whose 4 million views are largely accounted for by the ASMR community.
There are seven of them, or maybe thousands. They can represent different colors or organs or emotions. Even the Wikipedia page for this stuff is totally inscrutable. Here’s a sample: “The side channels run parallel to the center channel, except at locations such as the navel, heart, throat and crown where the two side channels twist around the central channel. At the navel, throat and crown, there is a twofold knot caused by each side channel twisting once around the central channel.” Whatever they are, they need constant cleansing and realignment.
Honorable mention: Color therapy, which might cure insomnia but only on account of how boring it is.
A really great way to scam people out of money without leaving the comfort of your own home. While some energy healers claim that all the waggly parts of your aura can be realigned without any bodily contact, distance healing takes that hypothesis to its farthest, laziest conclusion. If Skype isn’t connecting, can they just mail you a picture of their hands?
Ear candling claims that inserting a hollow candle into your ear canal and lighting it on fire will create suction. It’s also a violation of simple physics. It doesn’t remove toxins from your body. It doesn’t even remove earwax! But it is a great way to obstruct your ear canal, scorch your face, or burn your house down.
Honorable mention: Emotional Freedom Technique, which claims that tapping on parts of your body can cure diabetes and depression, relieve headaches, and help you lose weight among other things. My girlfriend once went to a therapist who suggested EFT. She doesn’t see that therapist anymore.
Seriously, guy. No one is going to take you seriously without some flames. Whether you’re staring deeply into a candle, making pretend fireballs with your energy like a Dragon Ball Z character, or spitting flames at someone like its your first college party and you have a bottle of Bacardi 151 ( as shown above), there’s something about the primitive nature of fire that is immeasurably helpful in duping people.
Honorable mention: Feng Shui, which is a very expensive way for a stranger to tell you where to put your furniture.
Have you ever gotten a massage that was so rough it actually hurt? Cool. Now imagine that you say, “Hey, could you please go a little lighter?” and your masseuse nods and smiles, and then starts digging into your back even harder with a pointy thing (Literally any pointy thing. I’m pretty sure this is a shoe horn. Sometimes it’s even a bottle cap). The deep purple bruises across your back are what tell you its working.
Honorable mention: Gemstones. Whether you’re playing death metal, EDM, or the blues, you’re going to need some drums. Gemstones are the drums of quackery.
The belief that less of something makes it more effective, and absolutely none of that something constitutes a cure. Whole kits full of nothing—in tiny glass vials—can run you hundreds of dollars.
Honorable mention: Hoodoo. Yeah, that guy just told you to make “love honey” using someone else’s menstrual fluid or dried semen, without their consent. Gross.
Of course it is!
One of the core principles of energetic healing. Sometimes it’s Japanese or Chinese characters, sometimes its swirls or squiggles. In the case of Soviet-era Russian faith healer Alan Chumak, it usually manifested as a grown man stroking an invisible and particularly grotesque cat.
Not to be confused with regular kinesiology, which is the study of human movement, applied kinesiology functions under the belief that “the body can’t lie,” and that allergens, toxins, and nutritional deficiencies can be determined through “muscle testing,” i.e. pressing down on someone’s arm with different amounts of pressure to find the cause of whatever disease you do or do not actually suffer from.
Honorable mention: Koren Specific Technique. A branch of chiropractics where someone rubs your back with a very expensive vibrator. KST also makes its diagnoses by touching the occipital drop of the skull, which makes it not so different from phrenology.
There is nothing I can say that’s funnier than this image.
More commonly known as hypnotism, but originally created and named for Franz Mesmer who, in his time, was driven into exile for his absurd claims about “animal magnetism.” Although some studies claim it can help with anxiety or smoking cessation, it’s definitely not the right job for a “persistent throat problem.”
Getting stabbed is unpleasant. On this subject there can be little disagreement. So if you’re going to stick needles into people, you’d better come up with some top notch bullshit to justify it—which is why acupuncturists have charts full of “meridians” with numbered points that have appealingly mystical names like “conceptional vessel 6” and “triple warmer 12.” Sometimes they’re correlated to elements, just like Pokemon!
Honorable mention: Numerology. Because someone saw the mental breakdown scene in A Beautiful Mind and thought “I want to experience that constantly.”
The loose term that refers to people who want to fuck with your bones. Some of these people, like chiropractors and masseurs, are relatively benign when they keep their health claims unambitious. Others, like craniosacral therapists, are downright charlatans. And then there’s Rolfing. Just let that word rolling around on your tongue a bit. Rolfing. It’s a satisfying word. Which is the only explanation for why anyone would spend $20,000 and dozens of hours just to call themselves a Certified Rolfer.™
Prana is India’s equivalent of Qi—a mystical, totally unprovable life force that surrounds us and penetrates us and binds the galaxy together. What that has to do with ripping invisible serpents out of someone’s head we’ll never know.
Honorable mention: Psychokinesis. Growing up to be Yoda is not an achievable goal and never will be.
In China, Qi Gong is a diverse set of activities focused on physical and spiritual betterment of questionable efficacy; among dumb Western appropriators it’s generally some vaguely mystical shit that definitely works because it’s thousands of years old.
Honorable mention: Quantum Mysticism. I just fucking can’t anymore.
The word “shaman” conjures up images of wrinkled, sun-beaten mystics living in remote areas of the world, subsisting on the most spartan diets so that near-starvation might lead them to some divine enlightenment. But, as luck would have it, just about anyone can be a shaman. You just have to dress the part and remember to do at least three of the following: rub patients with an egg, spit booze in their face, smack them around with leaves, blow cigar smoke on them, move some knives vaguely, pretend to suck bad spirits out of people, and use feathers in creative way. And nothing adds authenticity like pan-flute music.
With courses ranging from $900 to $5,000, Theta healing is one of the more expensive ways yuppies can part themselves from their easily-earned money. Through pan-religious prayer and meditation it alleges to induce theta waves, rearrange DNA, and cure cancer—for marginally less than the cost of actual chemotherapy. The first testimonial on the Theta healing website comes from its inventor’s daughter, which is always a good sign.
Honorable mention: Tasseography. Because the only thing tea leaves will tell you is that you need a refill.
Do I have to explain why drinking your own pee is a bad idea?
Is mostly distinct from Hoodoo, often conflated with Vodou, and doesn’t actually have anything to do with sticking pins into dolls, but that doesn’t stop eclectic Wiccans from pretending.
That’s a perfume bottle full of colored water. What the fuck are you talking about?
Honorable mention: Send help. I don’t know what any of this means.
X stands for x-ray, because it always does—which coincidentally is something most of spiritual healers don’t think of as medically valuable.
Stuffing a stone egg into your vagina might be a good pelvic floor exercise, but some healers claim it will balance your hormones, increase vaginal lubrication, or bring spiritual clarity. The claims are obviously dubious, though I suspect that last one is meant euphemistically.
The amount of times any of these practices has ever cured a serious disease. And that’s important because being sick is scary. Medical procedures are expensive and between the uncertainty of a prognosis and the bewildering amount of jargon thrown around in hospitals—most people are just looking for an easier way to understand their ailments and health problems.
Others need to put their faith in something complicated and “ancient” for emotional guidance. But the sad truth is that there are thousands of people peddling miracles doing more harm than good, duping desperate people out of money—and in the worst cases, preventing people from seeking the treatment they desperately need.