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ASA Ruling on The Linden Centre

The Linden Centre

7a Church Street
Kidderminster
Worcestershire
DY10 2AD

Date:

16 November 2011

Media:

Internet (on own site)

Sector:

Health and beauty

Number of complaints:

1

Complaint Ref:

A11-153052

Ad

The website for the Linden Centre, visited on 21 March 2011, contained a number of claims in relation to efficacy and endorsement.

Issue

The complainant challenged whether:

1. the claim "13 years of practice, helping over 141,000 sufferers to recover, provides conclusive proof that The Linden Method Programme works" was misleading and could be substantiated;

2. claims that the Linden Method was "Endorsed by research psychologists as a permanent solution to high anxiety conditions - a scientific anxiety recovery programme that creates non-anxious emotional responses - the most successful psychological programme of recovery from anxiety conditions - endorsed by medics, psychologists, health care practitioners and research academics - recommended and referred to by psychologists, clinics, NHS, doctors and counsellors" were misleading and could be substantiated;

3. the claim "There is only one way to cure high anxiety conditions in humans and neither medication nor psychotherapy play any part in this simple solution" misleadingly implied the Method was essential and the only solution for sufferers of high anxiety;

4. the claim "To date, we have probably successfully treated more sufferers than any other therapist, doctor or psychologist would do in five lifetimes" was misleading and could be substantiated;

5. the claim "Our experience in the field of anxiety elimination is second to none and our success rate is unquestionable, which is why the programme is endorsed and referred to by medical and psychological practitioners from around the world, and also why The Linden Method has the best reputation and biggest following from people everywhere, including many famous faces" was misleading and could be substantiated;

6. the claim "The Linden Method addresses the CAUSE of anxiety - Confirmed by the NIMH - Research conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), relating to the creation and perpetuation of high anxiety, concluded that the subconscious mechanism responsible for their formation can be corrected by the principles taught by The Linden Method" was misleading and could be substantiated;

7. the claim "The results experienced are not those of just a handful of people in a random test group, they are the results experienced by every complying programme participant" was misleading and could be substantiated;

8. the claim "I have learned that conventional therapies such as psychotherapy and hypnotherapy, ECT and drug therapy have limited or no effect on anxiety conditions" was misleading and could be substantiated;

9. the claim "this isn't about a website, it's about an organisation that is on your doorstep, that has been active for over years [sic], that has helped MORE anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, PTSD and phobias sufferers to return to full and anxiety free lives than possibly any other organisation in Europe - maybe even the world" was misleading and could be substantiated; and

10. claims that the Linden Method treated the following conditions and symptoms: "Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and all associated symptoms - Panic Attacks (panic disorder) and all associated symptoms - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) - Pure O - Agoraphobia and/or Social Anxiety (social phobia) - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - Depression - Constant Worrying - Medical Phobia - Fear of Illness - Fear of Death - Derealisation - Depersonalisation - Obsessive/Distorted/Aggressive/Sexual thoughts - Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) - Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) - Irritable Bowel Syndrome - Eating Disorders - Trichotillomania (pulling hair out) - Self Harming" and "... Emetophobia, ... Monophobia - School Phobia - Child Anxiety ..." were misleading and could be substantiated.

CAP Code (Edition 12)

Response

The Linden Centre cited the sections of their website which they believed demonstrated that their programme of recovery was conventional, high-contact and professionally led and which they believed substantiated the claims that had been challenged. They said their method was life practice and life coaching based on behaviourism and modern psychology including face to face contact at residential workshops; that they used qualified psychologists and counsellors who were accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS) and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP); and that their method was based on sound scientific principles and did not involve medication. The Linden Centre did not believe high anxiety conditions were medical in nature and believed that they had always been treated by a range of specialists from life coaches to clinical psychologists. They believed that, for any emotional outburst, such as bereavement, medication and psychotherapeutic guidance were ill advised and an over-reaction and that peer support and perhaps guidance from a counsellor were more appropriate. The Linden Centre then responded to each point individually. They said they were prepared to accept that some of the wording could be improved and gave their assurance that they would work with the ASA and CAP to ensure their ad complied with the CAP Code.

1. The Linden Centre said they did not believe their ad claimed they had caused recoveries in 141,000 people. They believed, however, that the testimonials they held and referrals they received from practitioners in many countries, combined with the lack of substantial complaints, requests for refunds and other negative publicity, were nevertheless clear evidence that they did provide recovery for clients.

2. The Linden Centre supplied the name of a Research Psychologist at Queen's University, Belfast who they said had endorsed their method. They said their website contained endorsements by medical practitioners and that practitioners, including psychologists working in hospitals, the NHS, clinics and private practice, had referred clients to them.

3. The Linden Centre said they believed the claim stated that high anxiety conditions had one cause, which they said was "the misfiring of the control mechanism in the anxiety response". They believed it was a scientifically verifiable fact that, to cure the issue, the "misfiring" needed to be corrected. They said that neither psychotherapy nor medication played a part in their method.

4. The Linden Centre believed the term "probably" suggested that the claim was based on their opinion regarding the number of people they had treated and not on absolute data. They believed, however, that therapists, doctors and psychologists would see a handful only of clients each week in comparison with the 800 or more new clients they said the Linden Centre saw each month.

5. The Linden Centre said their telephone and e-mail support, workshops and retreats enabled them to work with tens of thousands of clients directly, which they believed made their experience "second to none". They said they had been unable to find any other organisation that provided the same level of direct, continued access for anxious people. They said professionals regularly referred clients to them and that some of their clients were famous people.

6. The Linden Centre said the NIMH research confirmed that the Linden method provided a structure which addressed the causes and treatment of high anxiety conditions identified by the research, and that it was those that were addressed when clients used the Linden method.

7. The Linden Centre said they held thousands of testimonials that showed that compliance with the Linden method resulted in cure and none that showed that compliance resulted in failure to be cured. They said they provided a full, 12-month money back guarantee if a client was unhappy and requested it.

8. The Linden Centre said the statement was their opinion, based on experience gained during years of interaction with tens of thousands of people who had used their techniques.

9. The Linden Centre said the statement used the term "probably" to show that it was their opinion. They said, however, that it was true that they were not simply a website – they were a body of professionals that provided qualified, licensed, insured counsellors and psychologists and programmes of recovery endorsed by qualified specialists.

10. The Linden Centre said psychologists believed the conditions listed were behavioural in nature and not clinical. They said they could provide statements from sufferers that the Linden method had been effective in helping them. They said the Linden method was a home-based, self-help, life coaching programme with unlimited access to qualified staff who were licensed to deal with the conditions listed.

Assessment

1. Upheld

The ASA considered the claim suggested that the Linden method was very likely to lead to a recovery from anxiety in most or all cases. We noted that the CAP Code stated that objective claims for medical efficacy needed to be backed up by evidence, if relevant consisting of trials conducted on people. Because CAP and the ASA had not previously seen evidence that a home-based programme of recovery for anxiety could be effective, we considered that the Linden Centre needed to supply high-level evidence to prove the claim. We considered, however, that, even if the Linden Centre had supplied details of all 141,000 customers who believed the Linden method had helped them recover, that information in itself was not "conclusive proof" that it was very likely to be effective in all cases. Because of that, we concluded that the claim was misleading.

On this point the claim breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.11 (Exaggeration), 3.47 (Endorsements and testimonials) and 12.1 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).

2. Upheld

We considered the claims suggested that the Linden method was widely accepted by the medical community as a permanent solution to high anxiety conditions and that it was very likely to lead to recovery. We noted that the Linden Centre's website contained an appraisal of the Linden method by Dr Francis Teeney, Research Fellow at Queen's University, Belfast, as well as reviews by other health professionals and practitioners. We also noted, however, that, although Dr Teeney made a number of positive comments about the background to and approach of the Linden method, he did not go so far as concluding that it was very likely to lead to a permanent recovery from high anxiety conditions. His appraisal also stated that people had dealt successfully with anxiety by using other techniques, including cognitive behavioural therapy, hypnosis and drug therapy among others. We noted that other endorsements were written by consultant clinical psychologists, a holistic health care practitioner and doctor of chiropractic and a medical doctor. We noted that they contained positive opinions of the Linden method as a way of dealing with anxiety but that the opinions were not based on formal appraisal and testing of the Linden method. We considered that they provided background opinion and information about the approach the Linden method used but that they were not suitable evidence for substantiating efficacy claims or for proving that the Linden method was widely accepted by the medical community. Because of that, we concluded that the claims were misleading.

On this point the claims breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.11 (Exaggeration), 3.47 (Endorsements and testimonials) and 12.1 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).

3. Upheld

We considered the claim suggested that the Linden method was the only cure for high anxiety conditions. We also considered it was likely to discourage readers from seeking conventional treatment (through their GP) for high anxiety conditions. Because we had not seen evidence to show that the Linden method was the only cure for high anxiety conditions, and because the CAP Code stated that ads must not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, we concluded that the claim was misleading.

On this point the claim breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.11 (Exaggeration) and 12.1 and 12.2 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).

4. Upheld

We considered the claim suggested that the Linden Centre had treated five times more people with anxiety than therapists, doctors or psychologists. Although we considered it was likely that a widely-available, home-based, self-help method would have received more clients than individual practitioners who worked in the conventional, face-to-face manner, and we noted that the Linden method involved personal, one-to-one support via e-mail and telephone and that some clients had attended workshops and retreats, we also noted that Linden Centre clients did not receive face-to-face diagnosis and treatment on a regular basis. Because of that, we considered it was misleading for the Linden Centre to base a claim on the number of clients treated on a comparison between their method of attendance and that of individual practitioners who worked in the conventional, face-to-face manner. Because the Linden Centre had not shown that they had treated five times more clients in the way in which conventional practitioners would, we concluded that the claim was misleading.

On this point the claim breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.11 (Exaggeration) and 3.38 (Other comparisons).

5. Upheld

We considered that the evidence the Linden Centre had supplied showed that they had considerable experience in providing the Linden method to clients with anxiety; that a number of health professionals endorsed their method and that they held records of satisfied clients, some of whom were well known. We considered, however, that the claim suggested that acceptance of the Linden method as a way of dealing with anxiety was universal or near universal and that the Linden Centre had more and superior experience and a higher success rate than practitioners of conventional treatment. Because we had not seen evidence that that was the case, we concluded that the claim was misleading.

On this point the claim breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.11 (Exaggeration), 3.38 (Other comparisons) and 12.1 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).

6. Upheld

We noted that we had been sent a summary only of the NIMH research. From the summary, we noted that NIHM, which was not based in the UK, had researched the cause and treatment of high anxiety conditions and found that the Linden method provided clients with a structure to address them. We considered, however, that the claim suggested that the Linden method had been found to be more likely to achieve results than treatments that were conventional and not home based. We also considered it was likely to discourage readers from seeking conventional treatment (through their GP) for high anxiety conditions. Because we had not seen evidence to show that the Linden method was more likely to achieve results than treatments which were conventional and not home based, and because the CAP Code stated that ads must not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, we concluded that the claim was misleading.

On this point the claim breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.11 (Exaggeration), 3.38 (Other comparisons) and 12.1 and 12.2 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).

7. Upheld

We considered the claim suggested that every client who complied with the Linden method would achieve a cure for high anxiety conditions. We considered that testimonials of customers who were satisfied provided background information but noted that the CAP Code stated that objective medical claims must be backed by evidence, if relevant, consisting of trials conducted on people. We did not consider that records of satisfied customers were in themselves sufficient evidence for substantiating efficacy claims. Because of that, we concluded that the claim was misleading.

On this point the claim breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.11 (Exaggeration), 3.47 (Endorsements and testimonials) and 12.1 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).

8. Upheld

We considered that the claim was likely to discourage people from seeking conventional treatment for anxiety conditions via psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, ECT and drug therapy and that, in the context in which it appeared, it suggested a superiority claim for the Linden method. Because the Linden Centre had not supplied evidence to show that the more established, face-to-face treatments of psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, ECT and drug therapy had limited or no effect on anxiety conditions, but that the Linden method was likely to achieve results, we concluded that the claim was misleading.

On this point the claim breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.11 (Exaggeration), 3.38 (Other comparisons) and 12.1 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).

9. Upheld

We accepted that the help offered by the Linden Centre went further than simply the written content of a website, in that it provided personal, one-to-one support via e-mail and telephone and, for some clients, attendance at workshops and retreats. We considered the claim suggested a comparative claim that more people were likely to have achieved success in dealing with anxiety conditions through the Linden Centre than through any other organisation. Because we had not seen evidence to show that the Linden method was more likely to achieve results than conventional treatments, we concluded that the claim was misleading.

On this point the claim breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.11 (Exaggeration) and 3.38 (Other comparisons).

10. Upheld

The ASA noted that the CAP Code stated that objective claims for medical efficacy needed to be backed up by evidence, if relevant, consisting of trials conducted on people. Because CAP and the ASA had not previously seen evidence that a home-based programme of recovery for anxiety could be an effective treatment for the conditions listed, we considered that the Linden Centre needed to supply high-level evidence to prove the claim. We did not consider that records of satisfied customers were in themselves sufficient evidence for substantiating efficacy claims. Because of that, we concluded that the claims were misleading.

Furthermore, we noted that the CAP Code stated that ads should not contain references to serious medical conditions because of the risk that it might discourage readers from seeking essential treatment for those conditions. We noted that the ad made reference to serious medical conditions, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression and eating disorders. Because the Linden Centre had not supplied evidence to show that they could treat those conditions, and because, in that case, reference to them could discourage readers from seeking essential treatment for them, we concluded that the claims were misleading for that reason also.

On this point the claims breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.11 (Exaggeration), 3.47 (Endorsements and testimonials) and 12.1 and 12.2 (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).

Action

The ad must not appear again in its current form. We welcomed the Linden Centre's assurance that they would work with the ASA and CAP to ensure their ads complied with the CAP Code.

How to comply with the rules

For advice and training on the Advertising Codes please visit the CAP website.

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