Monday, October 19, 2009

Calling all SHAMbloggers!

I've been asked by the Wall Street Journal to prepare a piece on the dangers of self-help, using as its (obvious) launching point the James Arthur Ray debacle. Normally I would never presume to put out an "APB" for something like this, but I'm on a major deadline here (Wednesday morning) as well as still putting the finishing touches on a long and complex piece for Playboy. So I'm really up against it.

Would appreciate any and all guidance/tips regarding recent documented instances where people were harmed (or worse) by self-help-related activities/programs. Interested parties can send these tips through as comments or email them directly to me at my usual address:

Much thanks, in advance. Consider it part of fighting the good fight...


Anonymous said...

one thing to keep in mind, is that the ray of death is not clueless.
for example, the death lodge deliberately had plastic and other nasties on top of it.
this would deliberately create oxygen deprivation, possibly to create that alleged high that some disturbed people go for with the choking game, possibly in a deranged attempt to manufacture a near-death experience.

of course everyone is innocent until otherwise, but the ray of death is not your average maroon.

convincing people to pay you a fortune to not drink water for 3 days in the desert with a very high risk of death and organ damage, and then go into an oxygen deprived oven to manufacture a NDE, that is something else

since the sweat lodge, the ray of death, had earned probably a few more hundred grand.
so its a mistake to underestimate these guys.

they might be selling some type of goofy self-help on the surface that doesn't work. but that is the distraction.

behind the scenes, what guys like this are really doing, is some serious-ass brainwashing, or whatever one prefers to call it.
that is a point that is never made, that of course the self-help is stupid and goofy.
but behind the dopey smile, there can be a very clever and ruthless manipulator who can convince people to pay him a fortune to risk their lives while he is at the 5 star hotel..

its the wolf who dresses like a self-help sheep. the wolf knows the self-help stuff is junk and doesn't work.
its meant to distract, like how a magician distracts the audience attention away from the real trick.
these guys making the millions are not dummies, they know exactly what they are really doing, and it ain't self-help.

Anonymous said...

don't forget, many people who are hurt from these seminars and prove it, are paid off out of court and put under a gag-order.
so the real number of people hurt would have to include the numbers of those who have been paid a settlement.
a job for a legal researcher.

Tyro said... has a growing collection of cases with attributions. They don't have a specific "self-help" category but you may find something useful.

Anonymous said...

All these seminars now make customers sign huge complex releases of liability, which detail quite precisely the different damages that can happen to people from the seminar.
So that is a good source of info, right from their own paperwork.

Maybe people can post links to those various waivers, some of which are online.

David Brennan said...

This might be a LITTLE non-academic, but you can use some of the lovely (sorry to use that word) lyrics from the Indigo Girls song, 'Closer to Fine':

Jenny said...

Best wishes with the article, Steve. I've been coming around reading but haven't really had anything to contribute. Since you mention "calling all" of us, thought I'd just chime in even though I (still) don't really have anything.... No news is good news, I guess. :)

Soylent said...

Here's an Australian case. This poor woman died four years ago but the inquest into her death has been in the news of late.

Ironically, I'm procrastinating on a pressing deadline of my own to help you meet yours...,23739,25908162-953,00.html

David Brennan said...

Here's something else which is not directly what you requested, but I think it really cuts to the core problem with self-help and psychoanalysis. It's a quote from one of the greatest scientists in the history of our species:

Francis Bacon: "The wit and mind of man if they work upon the matter, work according to the stuff, and is limited thereby; but if it work upon itself as the spider works his web, then it is endless and brings indeed cobwebs of learning, admirable for the fitness of thread and work but of no substance or profit."

Steve Salerno said...

I want to thank all of you who pitched in, either publicly or privately. If it runs--and with the Journal, it's always an if, not a when--we'll have completed our first collaborative venture.

The checks are in the mail. ;)

Cosmic Connie said...

I'm glad Soylent mentioned the case in Australia, where a young woman, Rebekah Lawrence, leaped to her death after an "experiential weekend" called The Turning Point. Apparently there were some other deaths related to the Turning Point too. I wrote about it a while ago:

Elizabeth said...

This just in:

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – A woman who took part in an Arizona sweat lodge ceremony tells The Associated Press that the spiritual guru who led the event pushed participants too far in what was supposed to be a life-expanding experience that culminated with people vomiting and passing out on the floor.

Texas resident Beverley Bunn is the first participant in the tragic incident to speak out publicly about the events that led up to the deaths. The 43-year-old told the AP in a series of interviews this week that by the time the sweat lodge ceremony began, the participants had undergone days of physically and mentally strenuous events that included fasting. In one game, guru James Arthur Ray even played God.

Within an hour of entering the sweat lodge on the evening of Oct. 8, people began vomiting, gasping for air and collapsing. Yet Bunn says Ray continually urged everyone to stay inside. The ceremony was broken up into 15-minute "rounds," with the entrance flap to the lodge opened briefly and more heated rocks brought inside between sessions.

"I can't get her to move. I can't get her to wake up," Bunn recalls hearing from two sides of the 415-square-foot sweat lodge. Ray's response: "Leave her alone, she'll be dealt with in the next round."

By that time, Bunn had already crawled to a spot near the opening of the sweat lodge, praying for the door to stay open as long as possible between rounds so that she could breathe in fresh air.

At one point, someone lifted up the back of the tent, shining light in the otherwise pitch-black enclosure. Ray demanded to know who was letting the light in and committing a "sacrilegious act," Bunn said.

The account marks a significant revelation in the investigation because it portrays Ray as driving participants to stay in the lodge despite signs all around him that the situation had gone horribly awry. Until now, few details had surfaced about Ray's actions inside in the sweat lodge.


Steve Salerno said...

Eliz: Yes. The bullying, browbeating and unchecked egotism at some of these events is not to be believed. It's a little bit like some of what went on at Gitmo--except people are paying $9600 or so to have it done to them. What used to amaze me, in researching "est" and such, was that no one stood up and said "enough!" (Where were the Todd Beamers back then, when we first needed 'em?) But then I found out that at many of these events they also have enforcers, in some cases martial-arts trained and such. It is "understood" that you don't make waves.

Not to jump the gun on my WSJ piece, but this is very, very troubling.

Anonymous said...

These types of seminars also have a long process where they are able to reject people who make a fuss.

they only go after the easy sales at the free intro nights, and just don't bother with those who are difficult.
In the seminars, if a person speaks up in the wrong way, they will just remove them from the seminar.

So by the time it reaches the advanced stages, any trouble makers have been cast away.

Everett in NH said...

Steve -

Thank you! And, congratulations for having your most interesting article published in today's Wall Street Journal. I read it more than once this morning. Doing so gave me some relief from feeling I might be overly sensitive about my wife Diane's voracious apatite for reading "self help" books. She is an educated and accomplished business woman and yet, she has many, many of such books in boxes that she has read and a few she hasn't yet started. And, I have seen James Ray's "The Secret" around here as well. She seems to be searching for some kind of relief from some personal feeling of inadequacy.

One year ago this month Diane filed for divorce from our marriage. We've been together for 17 years. I am age 76, retired and trying to manage several chronic health problems which activity consumes a lot of my time just to keep up. By contrast, Diane is mid-career at age 58 in an insurance selling role. I believe our age difference has something to do with her dumping our marriage.

For all of the months we have been living together since she filed she has been a very active attendee of a church program called, "Celebrate Recovery". It's at our local (New Hampshire) Rick Warren christian denomanation church. It rally's around a theme of recovery from "hurts", "hopes" and "hangups" of life. At some appropriate time I'll call her attention to your published essay in today's WSJ. I don't have high hopes about what that will accomplish but at least I've tried once again. Thanks again!

Everett in NH said...

A link for those here who'd like to read Steve Salerno's article in today's (October 23) Wall Street Journal:

Steve Salerno said...

Everett et al, just FYI, the link is also provided in my most current post.