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Is the Self-Help Industry a SHAM??? (“Deceptive Intelligence” at it’s Worst…)

21 December 2010 3 Comments


…because quite a few people seem to think so.

sham how the self  help movement has made americans help lessAnd I’ve been thinking about coping Steve Selerno’s book “SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Has Made America Helpless… because the excerpt I checked out a few days ago is off the chain.

Selerno’s main thesis? That the self-help industry is really “deceptive intelligence”: that, at the root of it all, the self-help industry is led mostly by fraudulent (sometimes even narcissistic or pathological), so-called experts who just spit raps about feel good psychobabble to SOUND knowledgeable and convincing…

While I wouldn’t go so far as to attack the entire industry and everyone involved in it, I would say that the overall direction is capitalism at it’s worst.

Think about it:

1.| They stack bread by hustling the most desperate & anxious people (people actively looking for this stuff),

2.| They feign psychological, psychiatric, scientific or ancient spiritual knowledge to sell their information, and

3.| They perpetuate a sense of dependency in their followers….

african american reading a book...

If you really look at it, you’ll see a bit of merit in that position. Here’s some quotes form the book:

The term self-help was not coined as a synonym for psychobabble. It has a long, rich tradition of usage in connection with far more reputable practices in the realm of law. Legal self-help refers to situation-specific remedies available to a complainant directly – that is, without involving lawyers or even courts.

This facet of American jurisprudence, in marked contrast to the type of self-help this book mostly tackles, has always been about action, not words. Remedies of this nature are formal step-by-step procedures designed to bring about lawful satisfaction for the individual. Properly handled, they enjoy full courtroom standing, should they later be challenged by those on the receiving end.

Some of America’s most familiar legal instruments include self-help provisions. Depending on the state in which you live, your auto loan may contain a clause that stipulates your banker’s right to simply come out to your driveway and retrieve your car the minute you fall into arrears on payments.That’s self-help…” (emphasis mine)

african american woman clasping hands“Even in psychiatric settings, self-help didn’t (and doesn’t), always refer to the softer, frothier stuff of Drs. Phil and Laura. Serious-minded clinicians use the term to describe efforts by mentally or emotionally impaired patients to live independent, productive lives. A sizable contingent of the psychiatric industry is engaged in this cause, and legitimate practitioners bristle at the pejorative ring the term ‘self-help’ has acquired in recent decades…”

You’ll also similar ideas on blogs like The Salty Droid or BeyondGrowth.net

———— As an Example ————

A lot of people make a lot of money doing this: a lot of people capitalize off of America’s general state of unhappiness and depression by creating instant-gratification models of self-improvement, self-obsession and ultimate bliss – and that’s why some of my recent post (the one on intellectual discipline and the other where I asked 3 serious questions) have been coming from…from this mindset of the industry being crooked.

Think about “The Secret” for instance – the big craze we saw dominating the industry and entire SOCIETY (I even seen ‘law of attraction’ billboards in the hood) not too long ago:

1.) It’s not really “a secret” at all: the main ideas have been made publicly known (at least) as early as the late 1800′s with something called “The New Thought Movement” and books like “The Science of Getting Rich”

2.) Spiritual teachings are geared almost COMPLETELY towards selfish, materialistic ends: you can manifest a very expensive car, your perfect dream partner or whatever else you desire…ideas like world peace got mentioned last. None of it is spirituality or self-awareness for its own sake (only as a means to get what we want), and

The Secret is stupid. Political cartoons

3.) It’s self-justifying and self-contradictory: you can’t challenge it to see if it’s valid or not, because that’s just you not believing!

This is the ultimate in delusional thinking. Tell a believer of “the secret” that it’s nonsense and they’ll tell you that you lack faith. The logic shields itself from any criticism whatsoever.

This is sad because people who don’t experience the magical results end up blaming themselves, thinking that there’s something wrong with them personally as to why they’re not seeing changes…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the power of a positive attitude and using your mind to get a clear picture of your goals, but I think the overall thrust of the movie implies that imaginary, delusional THINKING (as in thinking in and of itself) is enough to create drastic changes and turnarounds in life.

I understand the power of the subconscious mind, but I also believe that problems have practical solutions, and that if we’re going to solve them, we have to sober up and start taking more sober, realistic readings of reality…

What do you think? Overall, is the self-help industry is actually making us help-LESS??? Why or why not, and if so, what’s your way of separating the medicine from the poison???

Leave me a comment below and share your thoughts…



  • Duff said:

    I like the notion of self-help you quoted from Salerno. Growing up with intense, debilitating, and continual anxiety, I found that helping myself was the only option if I was to figure a way out. Patiently and persistently I was able to gradually reduce my anxiety levels, mostly through small, specific courageous actions while feeling my fear and noticing that I didn’t die!

    These early successes got me hooked on self-help books, both for inspiration and through desire to see what more could be possible for me. Unfortunately most self-help books have a lot more to do with the issues you described here: the fulfillment of materialistic desires (especially fame, power, sex, and money). Self-help also serves a purpose culturally to reinforce the conservative notion that if you are suffering (economically, psychologically, or otherwise), it’s your own damn fault. This helps to justify unjust political and economic structures, like for instance tax breaks on the upper 1%.

  • Bryan Ogilvie (author) said:

    Yup. I always like to point out the difference between “fault” and “responsibility” too…

    A lot of issues aren’t our fault per se (psychological issues we picked up from family, socioeconomic structures, etc.), but they are our RESPONSIBILITY to resolve. (doing intense inner-work, activism, etc.)

    Thanks for the comment…

  • Sepia Prince said:

    This is an outstanding and very much needed article, Bryan. I had been wondering a lot about this industry over the past few months after looking at my own personal bookcase and noticing the number of ‘self-help’ books that I actually finished or got very little from.

    After being told I had social anxiety disorder, I purchased the book “Living Fully with Shyness and Social Anxiety: A Comprehensive Guide to Gaining Social Confidence” – I did not get through the first chapter. What worked for me was getting into uncomfortable situations on purpose.

    I don’t think the industry is a sham, but I do think that like the weight-loss industry, there is a lot more “crap-ola” to sift through to get to the authentic product and it’s messenger.

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