For years I have argued that the “self help” industry is potentially the biggest con trick perpetrated on society. People are often told “you can be anything you want to be”, which is demonstrably untrue e.g. I cannot become Pope as I am not a catholic, and even worse, an atheist. Snake oil salesmen like Tony Robbins have been peddling false dreams based more on psychobabble than any scientifically validated programme. He will invite you to the famous “firewalk” (in Hawaii and at considerable expense) where you can overcome your fears and realise what can be achieved if you BELIEVE.
Many will be encouraged to get a “coach”, and believe me there is a coach for EVERYTHING in life. One coach I have seen promotes their service with the following strap line “Live your best life – get a coach”. How did we ever cope in pre coaching days, how did our parents who lived through a major war, rationing, relative poverty and hard manual work ever cope and survive without a coach? It seems to me that these days people often lack resilience, the capacity to get knocked down, then get up and try again. Even worse we are currently developing a generation of “snowflakes”, people who think they are “entitled” to everything in society, scream “I am offended” if someone offers an alternative view on controversial subjects (LGBTQIA+ anyone?, no and I have no fucking idea what this drivel means).
Today I was reading the http://www.skepdic.com website to catch up with issues around NLP and various “self help” topics when I came across the following:-
Steve Salerno’s Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless (Three Rivers Press, 2006) attempts to deconstruct the nature of the self-help industry and explain why it is more destructive than constructive. “Self-help,” he says, “is an enterprise wherein people holding the thinnest of credentials diagnose in basically normal people symptoms of inflated or invented maladies, so that they may then implement remedies that have never been shown to work.”
And I thought, this sums up beautifully my own thoughts on the self help business. Some time ago I came across another book that was very illuminating about the self help industry “Smile Or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America And The World”, by Barbara Ehrenreich. This brilliant book from the author of Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch explores the tyranny of positive thinking, and offers a history of how it came to be the dominant mode in the USA. Ehrenreich conceived of the book when she became ill with breast cancer, and found herself surrounded by pink ribbons and bunny rabbits and platitudes. She balked at the way her anger and sadness about having the disease were seen as unhealthy and dangerous by health professionals and other sufferers. In her droll and incisive analysis of the cult of cheerfulness.
Do read these two tomes as they make very enlightening and educative reading, as well as challenging a good deal of the bullshit that is promoted around self-help.