Dolphin Assisted Therapy: High Hopes, High Prices

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

As the recent documentary, Dolphin Boy makes the rounds, hitting film festivals and networks, we all have to ask.....what's the deal with dolphin assisted therapy (DAT)?

Science or Scam?

Dr. Lori Marino, senior lecturer in the Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology Program at Emory University, has been campaigning against this unique form of dolphin captivity for years, warning of it's predatory nature. Often, parents who are willing to try anything to help a disabled child resort to this murky form of "healing."
"Dolphin-assisted therapy is not a valid treatment for any disorder," says Marino, a leading dolphin and whale researcher. "We want to get the word out that it's a lose-lose situation for people and for dolphins."
Marino and Emory colleague, Scott Lilienfeld, professor in the Department of Psychology, launched an educational campaign countering claims made by purveyors of DAT.
In their study, "Dolphin-Assisted Therapy: More Flawed Data and More Flawed Conclusions" originally published in 1998 and updated in 2007, they debunked claims that DAT was a valid form of science. Focusing in five specific papers over the years, they systematically broke down the claims.
"We found that all five studies were methodologically flawed and plagued by several threats to both internal and construct validity," wrote Marino and Lilienfeld.
 "We conclude that nearly a decade following our initial review, there remains no compelling evidence that DAT is a legitimate therapy, or that it affords any more than fleeting improvements in mood."
Programs are not cheap. Packages at the Crimean facility of a Dr. Lukina can run up to 4000 Euros per patient.
One is told:
"A filing (sic) of a joy and harmony during the treatment sessions in the hearts of children, their parents and support team is a guaranteed outcome. Contacts with the friendliest creatures of the sea and therapy sessions are like a game for patients and others. It is, nevertheless, a very important part of a therapy sessions."
Yet Marino's study found multiple flaws with Lukina's methodology. Lukina's results of DAT tests did not sufficiently describe testing methods, details were sorely lacking.
Also, according to Marino: "The pivotal weakness of the Lukina study is the absence of a control group consisting of children who did not swim with dolphins. Therefore, the study does not meet the minimal criteria for basic experimental design. This flaw alone renders the Lukina study difficult to interpret even without the myriad other threats to validity."
Dr. Lukina claims to offer relief from a range of afflictions including chronic fatigue syndrome, phobias, depression and cerebral palsy, all at her facility at the State Oceanarium of Ukraine.
According to Marino, "Dr. Lukina depends heavily – if not solely – on touting 'experience' and on testimonials (which is always a red flag for pseudoscience claims). So, there is no evidence at all that what they are doing there is therapy in any meaningful sense of the word."
DAT's not good.
~Viki Psihoyos~
Photo: Dr. Lukina's site