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The Lightning Process

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The Lightning Process (LP) is a three-day personal training programme developed and trademarked by British osteopath Phil Parker.[1] It makes unsubstantiated claims to be beneficial for various conditions, including ME/CFS, depression and chronic pain.

Developed in the late 1990s, it aims to teach techniques for managing the acute stress response that the body experiences under threat. The course aims to help recognise the stress response, calm it and manage it in the long term. It also applies some ideas drawn from neurolinguistic programming (a pseudoscience), as well as elements of life coaching.

The approach has raised some controversy due to using psychological techniques to cure a physical illness.[2] The website was amended after the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that it was misleading.[3] In 2021, after a review of the available evidence, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence advised against the use of Lighting Process among patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.[4]


The Lightning Process comprises three group sessions conducted on three consecutive days, lasting about 12 hours altogether, conducted by trained practitioners.[5][6][7]

According to its developer, Phil Parker, the programme aims to teach participants about the acute stress response the body experiences under threat. It aims to help trainees spot when this response is happening and learn how to calm it. Techniques based on movement, postural awareness and personal coaching are intended to modify the production of stress hormones. Participants practice a learnt series of steps to habituate the calming method.[6][8]

The Lightning Process is based on the theory that the body can get stuck in a persistent stress response. The initial stressor may be a viral or bacterial infection, psychological stress, or trauma, which causes physical symptoms due to the body's stress response. These symptoms then act as a further stressor, resulting in overload of the central nervous system and chronic activation of the body's stress response. Neuroplasticity then causes this abnormal stress response to persist and be maintained. The Lightning Process suggests that while this disruption initially happens at an unconscious level, it is possible for the patient to exert conscious control and influence over the process, eventually breaking the cycle.[9]

The rationale for the programme draws on ideas of osteopaths Andrew Taylor Still and J M Littlejohn regarding nervous system dysregulation and addressing clients' needs in a holistic manner rather than focusing solely on symptoms.[10] It also incorporates ideas drawn from neuro-linguistic programming and life coaching.[11] A basic premise is that individuals can influence their own physiological responses in controlled and repeatable ways.[12] Such learnt emotional self-regulation, it is suggested, could help overcome illness and improve well-being, if the method is practised consistently.[12]

Parker advocates attending the training course in order to gain a full understanding of the tools in a safe and supportive context.[13] He also lays emphasis on the trainee playing an active role in recovery (the course is framed as a fully participatory 'training', not a passive 'treatment' or set of answers given to a 'patient').[14][15] He claims that the programme has helped to resolve various conditions including depression, panic attacks, insomnia, drug addictions, chronic pain and multiple sclerosis.[16] The program has also been used with Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).[17][8]

The Lightning Process is trademarked.[5]

Criticism and support[edit]

There has been criticism of the cost of the three-day course.[18][19] There has also been criticism of the claimed benefits (see also below).[2][19] John Greensmith, of the British advocacy group ME Free For All, stated "We think their claims are extravagant... if patients get better, they claim the success of the treatment – but if they don't, they say the patient is responsible."[2] In 2022 the World ME Alliance issued the statement "The World ME Alliance and its members do not endorse the Lightning Process for people with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), sometimes called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)."[20]

In a BBC "File on Four" episode, Rachel Schraer commented on a Lightning Process course she attended. She commented: "Not only did my coach say my thoughts were maintaining my symptoms, she also told me quite explicitly that there was nothing physical wrong with my body, that’s despite having no apparent medical qualification or requesting access to any test results." The practitioners statement is at odds with usual lightning process practice.[21] Neuroscientist Camilla Nord a specialist in neuroscience and mental health comments on the instructions given to participants to use positive reinforcing language, saying “I’m afraid now we’ve strayed very, very far from neuroscience. What I would call neuro-bollocks. It’s a kind of abusive of neuro-scientific terms in order to give quite simple psychological techniques a kind of sheen of science about them.”[22]

Some ME/CFS patient support groups have strongly objected to the perceived implication that the disease has psychological causes.[2] However, the Lightning Process website states that it is a neuro-physiological approach and that it considers ME/CFS to be a physical illness.[23]

Nigel Hawkes writing for The BMJ describes the Lightning Process as being "secretive about its methods, lacks overall medical supervision, and has a cultish quality because many of the therapists are former sufferers who deliver the programme with great conviction" and that "Some children who do not benefit have said that they feel blamed for the failure".[24]

Advertising Standards Authority ruling[edit]

In 2011 Hampshire Trading Standards requested that the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) give a ruling on the website www.lightningprocess.com, arguing that the information on the site was misleading in four areas.[25] ASA upheld two of the four challenges.[3] They concluded that although there seemed to be some evidence of participant improvement during trials conducted, the trials were not controlled, the evidence was not sufficient to draw robust conclusions, and more investigation was necessary; consequently, the website's claims at the time were deemed misleading and was amended.[3]

Recommendations of medical bodies[edit]

The National Health Services in the United Kingdom which does not recommend the method.[26]

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) states that "[d]o not offer the Lightning Process, or therapies based on it, to people with ME/CFS" in their guideline for the management of ME/CFS published in 2021.[4]


  1. ^ Duerden, Nick (16 February 2014). "Laura Mvula: 'I don't think I'm good at being a pop star. It's making me too paranoid'". The Independent.
  2. ^ a b c d Cormier, Zoe (18 April 2008). "Lightning Process – Controversial training program comes to Canada". CBC News.
  3. ^ a b c "ASA Adjudication on Phil Parker Group Ltd". ASA. Archived from the original on 31 October 2012. Retrieved 4 May 2013. The pilot study conducted with the International Centre For Wellness Research reported positive results from a sample of 17 participants. However, we understood that the study was not controlled and had concluded that further investigation was necessary... We noted that the trials conducted by the ME Association, the Brighton and Sussex Medical School and the Sussex & Kent CFS/ME Society reported positive results but were self-assessment studies and had not been controlled. We considered that those studies and surveys did not constitute a suitably robust body of evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of the LP in the treatment of CFS/ME. Because of that, we concluded that the CFS/ME page of the website was likely to mislead... The claims on the website should not appear again in their current form. We told Phil Parker Group to ensure they did not make medical claims for the LP unless they were supported with robust evidence.
  4. ^ a b "Myalgic encephalomyelitis (or encephalopathy)/chronic fatigue syndrome: diagnosis and management". nice.org.uk. 29 October 2021. Retrieved 18 November 2021.
  5. ^ a b Crawley E, Mills N, Hollingworth W, et al. (2013). "Comparing specialist medical care with specialist medical care plus the Lightning Process for chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME): study protocol for a randomised controlled trial (SMILE Trial)". Trials. 14: 444. doi:10.1186/1745-6215-14-444. PMC 3879423. PMID 24370208.
  6. ^ a b Parker 2010, p. 7
  7. ^ Parker, Phil. "What is the Lightning Process?". The Lightning Process. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  8. ^ a b Rimmer, Vikki (August 2008). "The Lightning Process Treatment for ME". Positive Health Magazine (150). Retrieved 25 May 2011.
  9. ^ Parker, Phil (June 2018). "Understanding the Lightning Process Approach to CFS/ME; a Review of the Disease Process and the Approach" (PDF). Journal of Experiential Psychotherapy. 21 (2): 21–28.
  10. ^ Parker 2010, pp. 42–44
  11. ^ Cormier, Zoe (8 March 2008). "'Talk Therapy' Takes on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Coming Soon To Canada". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 25 May 2011.
  12. ^ a b Parker 2010, p. 17
  13. ^ Parker 2010, p. 11
  14. ^ Parker 2010, pp. 13–16
  15. ^ Parker 2010, p. 27
  16. ^ Parker 2010, pp. 25–26
  17. ^ Hawkes, N. (22 June 2011). "Dangers of research into chronic fatigue syndrome". BMJ. 342: d3780. doi:10.1136/bmj.d3780. PMID 21697226. S2CID 27301336.
  18. ^ Kinnes, Sally (2 September 2007). "Coping with ME". The Sunday Times.
  19. ^ a b Cormier, Zoe (13 March 2009). "Medicine: 'Talk therapy' takes on chronic fatigue syndrome: coming soon to Canada". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  20. ^ "World ME Alliance do not endorse the Lightning Process" (Press release). Action for ME. 3 August 2022.
  21. ^ Finch, F.; Parker, P.; Nollett, C.; Burns, S (March 2024). "The novel application of the Lightning Process to treat Long COVID in primary care – Case report". Explore. 20 (2): 248–252. doi:10.1016/j.explore.2023.08.009. PMID 38176975.
  22. ^ "File on 4 - Long Covid: Mind over Matter? - BBC Sounds".
  23. ^ Parker, Phil. "Facts and Myths". The Lightning Process. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  24. ^ Hawkes, Nigel (21 September 2017). "Training for children with chronic fatigue works better than medical care alone, finds study". BMJ: j4372. doi:10.1136/bmj.j4372. S2CID 5186250.
  25. ^ "Health: The Lightning process". Committees of Advertising. Advertising Standards Authority UK. 5 October 2012. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  26. ^ "Lightning Process 'could help children with chronic fatigue syndrome', study claims". nhs.uk. 21 September 2017. Retrieved 5 October 2017.


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