“10 Confessions of a Self-Help Guru” Contest

Comment on this post and enter a draw to win a prize!

I read this book a while ago and thought I would write a quick post around its subject. The anacronym title, SHAM, stands for Self Help and Actualization Movement. The author, Salerno, writes a scathing critique of the self-help movement and its damaging effects on society. Although some admit problems with some of his method and conclusions, I suspect that he certainly has an argument that is for the most part valid and worth a listen. There are some facts there about Dr. Phil and peers that would amaze you. So, half tongue-in-cheek, I thought I would write this post on the “10 Confessions of A Self-Help Guru“. Here they are:

  1. I don’t want to cure you, but make you dependent.
  2. I don’t want you to buy one of my books, but all of them.
  3. I really don’t want you to help yourself, or you wouldn’t need me.
  4. I will always interpret your disagreement with me as a form of psychosis.
  5. Almost all the self-help books say the same thing, just in different ways.
  6. I may see you as a person, but I mostly see you as a consumer.
  7. I am just as screwed up as you are. I just can afford to hide it better.
  8. I’m making so much money off of you that it would make you sick!
  9. Instead of empowering you, I am weakening you into a helpless victim.
  10. I don’t want you to relate the fact that self-help is growing in North America proportionately with its illness.

Tell you what, as my personal way of helping you and making you dependent on me, I’m going to give away this original watercolor painting of mine, measuring 2.5″x3.5″, worth $50. All you have to do is comment on this post and your name will be entered into the draw this next Sunday at midnight Atlantic Time. Although you can comment as much as you want, your name will only be entered into the draw once. The winner will be announced Monday morning. Now, HELP your SELF and win a painting! Here it is:

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  • Robin

    I especially like #3. Today’s cartoon is great too!

  • helping myself….

  • beautiful!

  • Sarah

    I agree with all statements above…mostly…and feel the sickening slime over me that comes from believing that someone else, who does not know you, could know your pain, process, healing, and independence better than you yourself do. Indeed we can ‘help’ each other, by loving, being there, listening, providing cigarettes when needed, but handing the ‘healing’ ball into anyone’s court other than God’s, is handing your ‘self’ away.

  • Richard

    To devout Christians anything that is not Christo-centric is a “no no”. None of the self help genre of materials is any better that its predessors in that, by-and-large neither genre points to Christ and His perfection and His gift to us (exchanged life) nor do they point to our imperfection – only to what may or may not have happened to us. Salemo seems to have an agenda too – he is slamming Alternative or Complimentary Wellness fields – calling them “opportunistic charlatans” (see his article “Overdosing on Oprah”). This is odd given he himself is outside mainstream accreditation in his field. “Opportunism” is common in all fields of “medicine”. We should not be surprised at any system outside of Christ leaving us dependent on someone else .. after all, the evil one is a counterfeiter, and we are supposed to be dependent – on Christ. In all of this we must be careful not to judge lest we be judged ourselves. It can lead to a very bad hair day, which could lead to our writing a book!

  • sandy

    i love the big moon!
    interesting comments about the self-help movement- “personal mentoring” is a big business- it is remarkable to see how many healing movements rely on the sickness of clients- hospitals and doctors, the drug business rely on illness, not necessarily the creation of health.
    Perhaps similarly,religon requires the damned, and environmentalists like me need threatened wildlife and habitats under destruction.

    lovely painting dave

  • I especially like #7, but all. Would love to win one of your watercolors! Great idea for a contest—fun, participation, community!

  • Chris

    Has anyone ever, truly, pondered the irony of purchasing a “self-help” book?

  • Peter

    I have a friend who used to joke: “That’s enough on me about me . . . what do you think about me?” It does seem that a focus on introspection and personal healing can be narcissistic, though I’m sure there are times in life when we need to do it. Better to see it as a means than a goal.

    As always, I like the picture! Peter

  • Picking up from Chris . . .

    How about the irony of buying a commentary on a selfhelp book?

  • anne

    interesting, and lots of good comments. I agree that Christ is the only one who can truly heal us, and the more we depend on him the more free we become.

  • That list was so depressing, I think I need to go out and buy a book . . .

    I don’t think counseling (as an example) is a completely invalid (or in-valid) profession, but I have to say that my experiences as a client were not all that helpful. I prefer mentoring and being mentored, as it happens. That sort of thing happens more naturally, flowing out of relationship ideally. And a good mentoring set-up comes with the understanding that both people are flawed and learning–and the “mentee” is still able to be a mentor for someone else.

    Plus, it’s a lot cheaper!

  • jason

    i like the image. i dont know if it was intentional, but the tree look as if it was drawn towards the sky, through the darkness. the stars and the moon are a more mysterious imprint of God’s beauty than the sun. can i compare these two backdrops? night is like the noonday because of the starlight and moonlight, so there is an essential sameness? or, is that a tree blown in a breeze and those white specs are snow off of the tree? im curious to know what your analysis of your own works is, dave. do you do this sometimes? maybe this is not your intent, maybe you want us to ask questions, and that’s all nice as well. i like this pianting, dave, i probably know better than anyone. i hope i win.

  • This is what the gospel has been reduced to in our culture – a self-help formula. The irony is that only when you lose yourself will you find yourself.

  • frank: you’ve lost me 8)

  • I think it was that great self-help expert Dean Martin who said, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that’s amore!”

    Either Dean Martin or Tony Robbins. I always get those two mixed up.

  • I think there is some validity to self-help, as far as having someone point you in a positive direction, maybe help you focus more, etc. However, the industry has become totally out of control, and I think it has allowed people to have a buzz word excuse for any and all of their misbehaviors. It has also taught us to focus on ourselves much more than others.

    I agree with many of the comments above, that living a Christian life would be the true answer to these problems.

    Good topic:)

  • I believe that living for the Lord is the answer to all problems.

  • #11 By us telling you that you can fix or help yourself, we have successfully “helped” you to once again not rely on God’s help

    #12 Most of our material is a slick rip-off of eastern religions – but you don’t need to know that…

  • Love the painting David, but that’s a given.

    I remember stumbling onto the existence of this book a year or so ago, but haven’t read it. The premise made sense to me though. Great list you have there!

  • sandy

    i apreciate Jenn’s coments- finding personal mentor/teacher(s) is a more organic and humane method to grow- lucky if one can find one, so maybe this is why many turn to books (or blogs)- luckily, in NB, we are surrounded by the wise

    (rhymes with kerouac); check out Tom robbins too! he was big on the moon.

  • Is it just me, or is two and a half inches by three and a half inches kind of small?

  • Um, I guess it’s small, but aren’t small paintings allowed? Especially if they’re free?

  • Guess I;m gonna be the only fish out of water to say I don’t agree with the list. I’m sure there are several out there that ARE just in it for the money but I don’t believe that so for alot of others, Just my two cents 🙂

  • Kelly: i appreciate your two cents. it is a confession of “a” self-help guru. i agree that it wouldn’t apply to all. thanks!

  • James, re: the small painting: that’s official ACEO size and many many people collect them.

    (ACEO stands for “Art Cards, Editions and Originals”. These cards have one main rule – they are 3.5 inches by 2.5 inches – the size of a trading card.)

  • Richard

    I love what Jenn said. I guess that is why Jesus said “go and make disciples” instead of “go and counsel”!

  • Fred

    Looking for that book called, “How To Win Free Stuff Online”

  • ttm

    I might just have to buy another book to add to the “Self Help” section of my home library! Based on the reviews I’ve read, it sounds pretty interesting.

    Random thoughts:

    Some self-help gurus have helped me. Some have not. Self help isn’t a bad thing if your BS monitor is in working condition.

    Most of us have BS monitors that don’t work very well. (The plethora of critical thinking book attests to that. Are the “critical thinking gurus” lumped into the self help category or shall we critique them separately?)

    Our culture allows us little time to meditate upon and analyze the information bombarding us at every turn.

    Many churches are becoming nothing more than self-help centers with religious trappings. Not that I am the self-proclaimed church help guru, but I believe the intention for the church was that it be a Christ-centered transformation circle not a self-centered achievement opportunity.



  • mary

    sign me up to win win win!

  • All absolutely true!

  • Paula

    Great painting, Dave. Although some of the ‘experts’ in the self-help movement are BSers and they play on people’s insecurities, some are definietly insightful and helpful. Think of all the people who do not have access to a counsellor or mentor to help guide them. Self-help is here for a reason.

  • kari

    I wish someone would give me a helping hand on getting clarity on these following three statements:

    #17. Michelle said, “living a Christian life would be the true answer to these problems.”

    #18. Scott Howard said, “I believe that living for the Lord is the answer to all problems.”

    Seriously, what does this mean…how would you explain this to someone who is not saturated in North American Christian language/culture? Are you suggesting that we do not need each other?

    #19. Andy said, “Most of our material is a slick rip-off of eastern religions”

    Are you suggesting that eastern religions have nothing valid or relevant to teach in western society or maybe that they do not teach truth?
    Are you also suggesting that the Holy Spirit would not help us to help ourselves through the services of someone who is involved in an eastern religion?

    Thanks in advance for your time!

    My best, Kari

  • Trent

    I agree with TTM. It’s a personal responsibility to look for and discard the BS, not only in the self-help industry but everywhere. (I include Christianity in that). Sometimes, though, it’s tough to separate the message from the personality that delivers it, and charisma has a tendency to clog up our BS filters.

    I prefer a good science fiction book myself…. They never pretend to be teaching you anything.

  • The only way one is going to get help is to pray to God, and follow his directions.

  • Self help is no help at all – He must increase, I must decrease.

  • steve thomas

    Most of those people seeking help really only need a friend to listen to them without trying to cure them, sometimes “the biggest vice is advice”

  • Jessica Tibbitts

    i concur with a lot of the points mentioned from the book… i think perhaps the biggest problem of the self-help movement is the focus on self. (which incidentally bothered me about attending a bible college) continual focus on self is a never-ending spiral of issues.

  • Jacquelyn

    I know this Wonderful Counselor who has been the greatest help to me.

  • Chris

    Armen, Well said!

  • Nicole

    I agree with most of that list.

  • I been meaning to add a comment for some time on this post. You know, something profound and meaningful so that I can enter the contest with a modicum of respect. But I am tired after 3 worship services and my brain is fried, so . . . this will have to do : )

  • DMW

    I love the painting. The book SHAM made me laugh (the parts of it that I read). I liked the idea behind it. But God, who never lets me stay arrogant long, and who keeps me living more or less comfortably with tension all around me, has taken a few notches off my giant chip on the shoulder about counseling, by bringing two counselors into my life. In the larger circle of believers that surrounds me and helps me walk through my difficult circumstances, these two counselors bless me and help me in spite of how yucky I have been to them at times. And the yuck was based on nothing more than my dislike for their profession. So, now I’m gratefully humbled by God once again and also awed by His wild imagination–how He works in an imperfect world through imperfect people to help imperfect people in many different ways, even the ways we want to not work!

  • Been seduced by more self help books than I care to admit. Have probably not purchased my last. But, after reading your post, I’ll at least feel a bit sheepish the next time do!

  • Kurt

    DaVinci Code was an OK self help book.

  • Jill

    I think I’m going to help myself……………to an oatmeal coconut cookie and a coffee. Salue. And while I do that I’ll think about homegroup, (which some may decribe as some sort of selfhelp/therepy/prayerfor one another/rage against the machine) thingy. But has been a place of refuge and hope and “helped” me to be the person I am today. Perfect? Nope! But lovin and feelin loved…………definately!

  • Your picture would look really good next to my print of ‘Starry Night’. 🙂

    At least part of the list, and Michelle’s remark about the self-help ‘industry’ are right on point. Any of these people who ask hundreds, if not thousands, to attend one of their seminars is in it for the money. Others, I’m sure, are honestly trying to help people to help themselves. The same points could be applied to psychotherapists and anyone who sees themselves as an intermediary between you and your greatest good.

  • Self help works depending on how you go about I guess. There is a lot of rubbish out there but there are some gems that have to be uncovered. Just with anything, commercialisation will make it rubbish. Find the stuff that was written before self help became popular, there’s a higher chance it will be better.

  • Mark

    Even Mother Theresa had her critics. I’m unclear how enabling people to take charge of their lives can be a bad thing.

    I’m a “self help” Author, yet I don’t like the term. I prefer Achievment Psychology, as it seems much more accurate. My writing simply shares the lessons that I had to learn in order to turn my own life arround. Several readers have written me stating that their lives are forever changed for the better.

    How can positive energy, and usefull tools be a detriment to society? How can being happy be a bad thing?

    You can pull anybody apart if you try. Character assasination is one of the easiest things in the world to do. Why would you wish to pull anyone down? Should you not try to lift those around you?

    This all being said, I havn’t read SHAM, so I don’t wish to go off “half cocked”. I’m curious to read it though, and will add it to my reading list.

    To close, learning Eckhart Tolles lessons for example can do no harm to anyone. Losing your Ego is a wonderful thing. I havn’t seen mine for some time now….it might be with my keys, I don’t know where they are either. lol I don’t know if it is dead, but it has certainly been missing for some time, and it’s wonderful to have it gone.

    At the end of the day, you choose positive or negative mindsets, and this provides positive or negative results. Trying to tear down an entire industry is certainly a negative use of your time.