When Richard Holland was arrested earlier this month for allegedly practicing medicine without a license, his supporters said he was misunderstood and targeted by authorities for embracing alternative forms of healing. As a self-proclaimed practitioner of “applied kinesiology,” Holland was, according to some of his patients, simply educating and advising people on the diagnostic and therapeutic benefits of muscle testing and of herbal and vitamin remedies.
Yet a state investigation into Holland’s practice alleges that the Minnesota native did much more, including using dirty needles to inject patients with their own urine and urging some patients to take potentially toxic amounts of some herbal and vitamin concoctions. Prosecutors say one elderly woman had to be hospitalized and nearly died after such treatments.
Proponents of kinesiology say the Holland case is disturbing and has the potential to further confuse people about this fledgling area of alternative care, which suggests that certain muscles and pressure points on the body are the keys to treating illness.
“There have been a lot of people who have taken the idea of muscle testing and diluted it to serve their own needs,” said Bruce Moselle, a Queensbury chiropractor, who incorporates kinesiology into his practice as a certified member of the Shawnee Mission, Kan.-based International College of Applied Kinesiology.
Viola Abbitt, a prosecutor with the state attorney general’s office, said that Holland, who was a licensed veterinary doctor in Minnesota from 1971 to 1984, would diagnose patients by pushing down on an outstretched arm while touching other parts of the body. He would call out various illnesses, and when the arm went down, he would have the diagnosis, Abbitt said.
While operating out of a house on Union Street, Holland, 55, diagnosed patients with a number of problems, including strep in the heart, gallstones, bacterial and viral infections, and emotional problems, Abbitt said.
But Moselle said such an approach is not consistent with kinesiology standards.
He said a kinesiologist may push down on a patient’s arm, but only to determine if the muscle is weak. Further testing would be needed to determine what ailment the patient was suffering.
“If we find a muscle that is weak, we use accupressure points. There are reflexes on the body that are connected to other parts of the body,” he said. “For instance, vascular reflexes can be used to normalize blood circulation to a certain organ.”
But Robin Denault, who is Holland’s girlfriend and is acting as his spokeswoman while he sits in jail, said kinesiology is an evolving science, and there are many different theories on its practice.
“If you are taking a blood test, there is one way to do that, but when you are dealing with energy, it is very esoteric,” Denault said. “There is no specific standard.”
Interest in kinesiology appears to be growing. The number of practitioners licensed through the International College of Applied Kinesiology has grown to more than 1,000 in recent years.
The challenge for consumers is figuring out which practitioners are legitimate. According to Bill Hirschen, spokesman for the state Education Department, the only people authorized to use kinesiology are those professionals already regulated by the state, such as medical doctors or chiropractors, who are permitted to incorporate such alternative techniques in their practices.
But when people are seriously ill, experts believe they are especially vulnerable to unorthodox treatments.
“If you take people who are ill to start with, you are targeting a vulnerable portion of the population,” said Steve Hassan, an expert on cults and mind control. “You can tell them to do things, and they will accept what you say. You can get them to change their whole belief system. You can put phobias in their head and get them to never leave you.”
Meanwhile, a Schenectady judge plans to evaluate Holland’s competency to stand trial and has set a hearing for early November.
Holland remains in the Schenectady County jail, unable to pay $100,000 bail. Because he has refused to take a tuberculosis shot, officials say he is being held in solitary confinement and cannot accept visitors.
He faces up to 25 years in prison on 71 charges, including first-degree assault. Holland was convicted on similar but less serious charges in 1995, when he was convicted of practicing medicine on a human and was sentenced to 15 days in the county jail, five years of probation and 50 hours of community service.
In that case, Holland advised a woman to ingest about 100 vitamin pills and to drink three gallons of water daily. She eventually was admitted to St. Clare’s Hospital, where she was treated for vitamin A toxicity.
While Holland’s current charges only relate to the treatment of four people and one dog, the attorney general’s office has received calls from many more people who say they were treated by Holland.
Many of the latest charges are related to the treatment of Patricia Mantica, an elderly woman from Clifton Park.
Mantica, who visited Holland nearly every day for seven years and finally went to the emergency room when she was near death, said that Holland exerted some sort of power over her. Even when he insisted that she save her first urine of the day so that he could inject her with it, she said, he made her believe that it was the right thing to do.
“When he treats you, it’s his way or no way, and you are under his spell,” said Mantica, who claims that Holland convinced her to forgo traditional treatment for her high-blood pressure. She said she paid him more than $100,000 over the years.
“People got to the point that they were so sick that they were at the mercy of anyone who said they could help them.”