Scrutiny of Self-help is Building (We Hope!)

There’s a lot to feel worried about these days. But I’m actually feeling pretty hopeful about one thing. I sense a change. It seems like maybe, finally, we’re not the only ones taking a critical look into the self-help industry. Over the last few months, some pretty visible outlets have started scrutinizing this huge and unregulated industry.

The Podcasts

Ginny spoke extensively with journalist Matt Stroud over the course of several months for the Wondery podcast, Guru, which aired in July. Stroud, who’d also written this great piece for The Verge, spoke with other participants, the lead detective in the case, and even our board member, Dr. Glenn Doyle. Guru offers a tight look into what actually happened at Spiritual Warrior and what it revealed to us all about the self-help industry. Ginny feels this is the best, most comprehensive media on the Spiritual Warrior deaths.

Another Wondery podcast, Real Crime Profile, followed Guru with a series of episodes. Ginny interviewed with them as well. Their panel of experts in criminal profiling and victim’s rights looked into the impact of James Ray’s actions and the incredible fact of his continuing in the self-improvement field today.

These two podcasts have brought SEEK a number of new newsletter signups and Promise Signers.

The TV Series

I was happy to see that after The Goop Lab aired on Netflix, which played like an infomercial for unregulated alternative wellness and healing products, their latest docuseries in the health and wellness realm offers a much more critical look at this industry. (un)Well similarly considers a number of “alternative” treatments–from essential oils to tantric sex–that are growing in popularity. But unlike The Goop Lab, this series presents a more balanced look at wether or not these things are safe or effective.

The wellness industry seems to be on a meteoric rise, and in this pandemic context, where people are anxious and confused, I only see that accelerating. I certainly think there’s value in people being more health conscious, and I don’t think every alternative treatment is dangerous, but if we’re going to be more open-minded about these alternatives, we have to also keep a critical mind about us.

HBO’s The Vow has been looking at NXIVM, the New York cult that functioned as a sex trafficking ring for its charismatic leader. While SEEK’s focus is not on cults, we have been paying attention to NXIVM because like many cults, its front was all about self-improvement and “leadership development.” A cult like NXIVM represents some of the worst that can happen when predatory leaders exploit people’s drive for self-improvement.

Our Book

As we continue to share our memoir with the world, we have been interviewed by radio stations and other publications. We participated in a book club, and in memoir groups. Most recently, we spoke with Christine Sismondo from the Toronto Star, who regularly reports on health and wellness. We discussed the idea that self-help may be at a tipping point, where it has become so ubiquitous and mainstream that more of us are finally starting to turn a critical eye on it. Hopefully.

It’s Time – What Else Do We Need?

SEEK has always maintained that the desire for self-improvement is natural and wonderful. Most seekers are passionate, driven people. There’s nothing wrong with seekers seeking or teachers offering their expertise to assist the seekers. We don’t want to crush this industry. But we do need to overhaul it.

People have spent billions on this industry. People have been sold false hope, or assigned blame they didn’t deserve. People have been branded and trafficked. People have died.

People have spent billions on the #selfhelp industry. People have been sold false hope, or assigned blame they didn't deserve. People have been branded and trafficked. People have died. The scrutiny is overdue.Click To Tweet

The scrutiny is overdue. We welcome this new attention. And yet, we’re still waiting for a really influential voice, like Oprah, to weigh in demand more accountability in this industry. I hope we really are getting close to that tipping point.

What do you think?

One comment on “Scrutiny of Self-help is Building (We Hope!)

  1. Melissa Field on

    Hello! I just found the podcast Guru on Wondery. As someone who turned to spirituality during a vulnerable time, I have become increasingly interested in how to protect people who continue to turn to unlicensed and unregulated teachers. I’m not sure if you heard it, but Gizmodo also did an excellent podcast on a dangerous teacher named Teal Swan. The podcast is called The Gateway. I am also hopeful things are turning and we will see more critical attention brought to this billion dollar industry.

    Thank you for all you are doing. It is much needed and appreciated.


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