Group's healing claims questioned by others

Daily Hampshire Gazette/January 31, 2008

Amherst - A seminar at the Lord Jeffery Inn this weekend will feature a group that claims to produce healing technology, but some detractors say the products do not work.

The Family Systems Research Group offers "a new technology that employs scientific principles from classical acupuncture and Tibetan medicine," according to an advertisement in the Gazette. Its products "are designed to offer home users and health care professionals a user-friendly, drug-free option that may produce relaxation and cleansing of the acupuncture meridian system," according to the ad.

The seminar, from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, costs $165. It will feature a talk by Mary Ryan, of Leverett, an acupuncturist and expert in Tibetan medicine who uses the group"s "revolutionary I-Ching Disk," which is about the same size and shape as a hockey puck.

"It"s a quick and easy relaxation device," Ryan said in an interview. "I"ve used them for years to relax patients and in the home with my children."

FSRG"s co-founder, Mary Miller, who will also be at this weekend"s seminar, explained she was involved in the Gentle Wind Project, a Maine group that was charged with violations of that state"s Unfair Trade Practices Act. Under a 2006 settlement, the group agreed to pay civil penalties and refrain from making certain health claims about its "healing instruments," according to the attorney general"s office.

"The instruments were sold to consumers via (Gentle Wind"s) Web site and through "seminars" for requested "donations" of often hundreds or thousands of dollars," reads a statement from the attorney general"s office. "The research that (the group) claimed to have done on the instruments does not support their alleged benefits."

Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe was quoted as saying about Gentle Wind, "This charity damaged the public"s trust and it should not be allowed to continue."

Last May New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly A. Ayotte announced that New Hampshire consumers who purchased any "healing instrument" from The Gentle Wind Project were eligible to file a claim for reimbursement. Gentle Wind was also doing business in New Hampshire, according to Ayotte.

According to an FSRG brochure, its work "picks up where the Gentle Wind Project technology leaves off." An Internet site that features writings by Miller and Ryan says that the Gentle Wind Project is "now the Family Systems Research Group."

In smaller print at the bottom of its Gazette ad, FSRG says it "makes no claims regarding the technology" and adds, "This seminar is offered as an educational experience only."

Former fans speak

Judy Garvey and Jim Bergin, of Blue Hill, Maine, were living in Granby and running a book-publishing company in the early 1980s when they became connected with the Gentle Wind Project. Garvey left the Amherst area with their children in 1983 to move closer to the project"s Maine headquarters, with Bergin joining them in 1990.

"We thought they were saving the world," Garvey said.

She sponsored a seminar by the group at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst in the mid-1980s, she said. The couple broke with the project in 2000 and they have been speaking out against it, principally on the Internet.

"People interested in the seminar should do themselves a favor and check out this group on the Internet, " Garvey said. "Once you get your foot in the door, you want to upgrade your "healing instrument" and keep sending money. We gave up thousands of dollars to this group."

The principal "healing instrument," the one shaped like a hockey puck, has an abstract, computer-generated design, said Bergin.

"I was told it had special powers," he said. "It didn"t do a thing, but I wanted to believe it."

Spiritual presence

Miller, who has been involved in both the Gentle Wind Project and FSRG, will be one of the speakers at this weekend"s seminar. In a phone interview, she said the group seeks only to "develop techniques that will help people feel more stable in their lives."

The group"s approach is "more mathematical and mechanical" than therapy and "looks at human consciousness as having a spiritual presence," she said. Millions of people around the world have used the group"s technology and found it helpful in their lives, she said.

"We offer free help to anyone who calls," she said. "We don"t ask people to join or sign up for anything."

Miller said she is writing a book called "Caught in the Act of Helping: How Alternative Health Techniques are Destroyed in America."

Ryan used to teach medical anthropology at the University of Massachusetts. She will explain how FSRG products "resemble Tibetan healing amulets," she said.

"A lot of acupuncturists see them as an easy way to relax patients before putting needles in them," she said. "The simple ingredients mimic an ionic bond transfer of very low levels of chi (life energy)."

Ryan said she is most familiar with the discs produced by the Gentle Wind Project. She is also familiar with ones produced by FSRG, which are similar but appear stronger, she said.

Ryan said she was interested in doing research on the discs at UMass but was discouraged from doing so. She remains interested in the model of electricity in biological research, and said she is writing a book on mental health with the Dalai Lama"s personal physician.

"I feel sorry for them (Gentle Wind), getting booted out of Maine," she said. "They"re extremely generous, very humble and very nice."

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