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OU on the BBC: Alternative Therapies - About the series

Updated Tuesday, 11th March 2008
Introducing a second series by Kathy Sykes, examining the claims of alternative therapies.

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Kathy Sykes

Kathy Sykes, Professor of Sciences and Society at the University of Bristol, explores three of the most popular and fastest growing alternative therapies; reflexology, hypnotherapy and meditation.

These films are part scientific investigation, part personal journey, as Kathy sets out to look not just at the scientific evidence for each therapy, but also to meet practitioners and mainstream scientists who are studying the therapies. Kathy asks more than just "do these therapies work, and if so how?" - she also seeks to find out why people use them, why they are so popular, and what lessons, if any, they might hold for conventional medicine.

This journey takes her across the globe – from a monastery in Nepal, through a ward for cancer patients in Hull, to a Los Angeles party where everyone has to cuddle everyone else. She meets a group of meditators who are trying to levitate, but who are also conducting serious research into how meditation might help your heart. She also finds out about the lady in Sheffield who claims that her ability to rub people's feet has helped over 100 babies being born.

The key to this series is Kathy's open mind. Neither a true believer, nor an out-and-out sceptic, Kathy is there to assess each therapy scientifically. She witnesses extraordinary examples of some therapies in action – such as a brutal-looking dental operation in which the patient has no anaesthestic at all, just hypnotherapy. She then investigates how what she has just seen might actually be working scientifically. She also subjects each therapy to serious examination, discovering that not all of them square with our understanding of the human body.

This series offers more ways of exploring therapies beyond the simple 'do they work?' approach. So, reflexology, for instance becomes a jumping off point for considering how all of us just crave human touch in our lives. Exploring meditation leads Kathy into finding out how mainstream scientists are now trying to examine fuzzy-sounding concepts such as emotional stability and happiness. Hypnotherapy takes her deep into advanced brain science.

In the end, Kathy shares her conclusions and discovers that, as in all the best journeys, she has learned as much about herself as she has about the subject she set out to explore.


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