SHAM: How the Gurus of the Self-help Movement Make Us Helpless

by Steve Salerno | Nonfiction |
ISBN: 1857883802 Global Overview for this book
Registered by RubyBlueLady of Avebury, Wiltshire United Kingdom on 8/22/2006
Buy from one of these Booksellers: | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon DE | Amazon FR | Amazon IT |
6 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by RubyBlueLady from Avebury, Wiltshire United Kingdom on Tuesday, August 22, 2006
This is a paperback book

From the Jacket

Self-help: To millions of Americans it seems like a godsend. To many others it seems like a joke. But as investigative reporter Steve Salerno reveals in this groundbreaking book, it's neither—in fact it's much worse than a joke. Going deep inside the Self-Help and Actualization Movement (fittingly, the words form the acronym SHAM), Salerno offers the first serious exposé of this multibillion-dollar industry and the real damage it is doing—not just to its paying customers, but to all of American society.

Based on the author's extensive reporting—and the inside look at the industry he got while working at a leading "lifestyle" publisher—SHAM shows how thinly credentialed "experts" now dispense advice on everything from mental health to relationships to diet to personal finance to business strategy. Americans spend upward of $8 billion every year on self-help programs and products. And those staggering financial costs are actually the least of our worries.

SHAM demonstrates how the self-help movement's core philosophies have infected virtually every aspect of American life—the home, the workplace, the schools, and more. And Salerno exposes the downside of being uplifted, showing how the "empowering" message that dominates self-help today proves just as damaging as the blame-shifting rhetoric of self-help's "Recovery" movement.

SHAM also reveals:

* How self-help gurus conduct extensive market research to reach the same customers over and over—without ever helping them.
* The inside story on the most notorious gurus—from Dr. Phil to Dr. Laura, from Tony Robbins to John Gray.
* How your company might be wasting money on motivational speakers, "executive coaches," and other quick fixes that often hurt quality, productivity, and morale.
* How the Recovery movement has eradicated notions of personal responsibility by labeling just about anything—from drug abuse to "sex addiction" to shoplifting—a dysfunction or disease.
* How Americans blindly accept that twelve-step programs offer the only hope of treating addiction, when in fact these programs can do more harm than good.
* How the self-help movement inspired the disastrous emphasis on self-esteem in our schools.
* How self-help rhetoric has pushed people away from proven medical treatments by persuading them that they can cure themselves through sheer application of will.

As Salerno shows, to describe self-help as a waste of time and money vastly understates its collateral damage. And with SHAM, the self-help industry has finally been called to account for the damage it has done.

Journal Entry 2 by wingLeishaCamdenwing from Alna bydel, Oslo fylke Norway on Tuesday, February 06, 2007
This book arrived in the mail today from RubyBlueLady as part of a trade. Thank you!! You're so sweet!! :-) I'll journal again once I've read the book.

Journal Entry 3 by wingLeishaCamdenwing from Alna bydel, Oslo fylke Norway on Monday, June 25, 2007
I started reading this book on Friday, June 22nd. I'm LOVING it!!! This book is so interesting and well written and just bursting with fascinating information. Of course, I already agree with the author's views on the self-help movement ;-) but it's brilliant to get all this hard information that backs up the opinions I've formed.

I'll journal again once I've finished reading.

Journal Entry 4 by wingLeishaCamdenwing from Alna bydel, Oslo fylke Norway on Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Shame on me ... ! I am just the slowest journaller ever. :-) When I finish a book it's so much easier to start a new one than to backtrack and journal my thoughts on the one I just finished. I will get better at that, I promise. :-) Here's a start: I finished this book on July 2nd, and I'm journalling it now ...

This was a fantastic read. It was so informative, so well written, entertaining even though it deals with such important topics. All the information seems very credible, it's obvious that the author has done excellent research, over a long period of time. He really draws the long lines and shows the big picture, rather than just highlighting certain phenomena. Before reading this, I had been aware of the influences of the SHAM movement and the negative effects it has been and still is having. (In my country I see this primarily in what I feel is a constant fragmenting of personal responsibility. 'It's not my fault that I drink/take drugs/gamble/shop compulsively/screw everything in pants and/or skirts/etc, I can't help myself, I'm addicted' ...) But I was not aware of how pervasive the influence is. For instance in the US school system; the section on self-esteem in children I found really fascinating. There is no telling what long-term damage may be done there. When it's discovered it'll be too late.

I have always been suspicious of AA and similar organizations; it was very interesting to read some hard facts to back that up. Also the history of the organization was interesting. It's always great to have your prejudices confirmed, of course. ;-) But this book really gives the impression of being a very serious scholarly treatment of the subject matter; it's not for the already converted. It really is for anyone who's interested in the way Western society is developing. Sure, I'm not American, I have never lived in the US and I hope I never will have to live there either. But in all Western nations we take after the US to such a huge extent. So I think this should interest many non-Americans as well. Go to any decent-sized mainstream bookstore in Western Europe and you will see a huge section of self-help books. Oh, the stupid titles ... ! I once heard some comedian say - I don't remember who it was now, unfortunately - that John Grey was full of shit. 'Men are from Mars, women are from Venus? No. Men are from Earth. Women are from Earth. Deal with it!!' Very very true.

This is a brilliant book and I'm very grateful that I got to read it. I will now be finding some other readers for it; I know several people who I think will be interested in it. To start with, my friend Skyfire20. Watch this space ... :-)

Thank you so much for sharing, RubyBlueLady!!!

Journal Entry 5 by wingLeishaCamdenwing from Alna bydel, Oslo fylke Norway on Monday, January 28, 2008
Am *finally* getting around to offering this as a ring on the forums today. Here's the forum thread:

List of participants so far:

PussInBooks, Bedfordshire, UK
Midlifecrisis, Cornwall, UK
okyrhoe, Athens, Greece <--- BOOK IS HERE
iliotropio, Brussels, Belgium
Wordsnark, Ontario, Canada
Skyfire20, Oslo, Norway

Back to me again. :-) Watch this space though, new readers may be added (let's hope! :-).

Released 12 yrs ago (2/14/2008 UTC) at To the first on the list in By mail, A Bookring -- Controlled Releases



The book is finally on its way to PussInBooks, the first reader on the ring. Happy travels, little book! :-) I hope everyone on the list enjoys the book as much as I did. Please sign in & out on the list on the front page (thanks to boirina for that :-).

I am so looking forward to hearing what everyone thinks ... !!

Journal Entry 7 by PussInBooks from Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire United Kingdom on Saturday, March 01, 2008
Received yesterday with thanks to Leishacamden for starting the ring. Really looking forward to reading this.

Journal Entry 8 by PussInBooks from Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire United Kingdom on Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Hmmm. This started promisingly but I got a pretty bored towards the end and started flicking. The main thrust is definitely valid, but I think Salerno repeats what is basically the same point over and over again, that being: as in any industry there are a lot of quacks, fakers and money-grubbing charlatans in the Self Help industry, and this has far-reaching consequences. He does make the good points that the glut of self-help materials on the market result in an over-diagnosis of imaginary syndromes, the dispensing of seriously dodgy medical/psychological advice by people with questionable credentials, and the widespread notion that we are all damaged and dysfunctional. And I can't help but agree - just as beauty magazines make people feel ugly, books on how to be successful, rich, thin, mentally well etck are more likely to make you feel like a fat, ugly, skint, crazy failure. Furthermore, when they are written by people whose connection to psychology may be as tenuous as being an English graduate, we must seriously question why we are obliged to listen to such authors, or give them our hard-earned cash.
However, I hold truck with Salerno's more conservative notions - namely that the self-help industry is 'feminising' society, where he contradicts himself by criticising how taboo it remains to suggest the genders may have intrinsic differences, having earlier taken John Gray to task for suggesting exactly this. He also seems to be saying that a society where testosteroned, violent behaviour such as the attacks on Afghanistan/Iraq are questioned and criticised is a wussy, touchy-feely, over-feminised, 'post 9/11' world. I strongly reject this. Questioning or rejecting violence is not a cowardly or easy option, nor is it or should it be restricted to females. It's disappointing seeing Salerno take such caveman views, having previously castigated John Gray for his tiresome insistence that all women just want romance and all men just want sex.
Salerno also seems to be blaming the self-help industry (and by extension, 'feminisation' of society) for breakdowns in morals, and a whole attendance of problems - divorce, adultery, teen pregnancy etc. I always find it far too easy when people start saying 'Oh, divorce is so common because women have just got above themselves and demand perfection in marriage'. Couldn't it be that a whole combination of drastic social and legal shifts have led to more couples divorcing (such as women no longer being forced to stay in violent, oppressive or loveless marriages for economic reasons or due to social pressures), rather than a few books that told people to be more self-centered? Newsflash - people are self-centered whether self-help gurus tell them to be or not! Could it be that more young girls are getting pregnant because of confusing messages from conservatives, lack of sex education, and a society that still sends the message to women that their sexuality is their most valuable asset? I think Salerno definitely over-estimates the power of the SHAM movement by laying blame for all of the USA's problems at its feet.
A well-intentioned book that ends up being quite confused and marred by its conservative leanings and oversimplistic take on complex matters.

Now sending to midlifecrisis.

Journal Entry 9 by Midlifecrisis from St. Austell, Cornwall United Kingdom on Saturday, March 08, 2008
Well, it's here, and thank you. I shall move this on as quickly as I can, though I confess I am having a bit of a bookring crisis at the moment - 4 in 4 days - and panic is setting in. (Perhaps I need a bit of self help?)

Journal Entry 10 by Midlifecrisis from St. Austell, Cornwall United Kingdom on Sunday, March 16, 2008
My comments are much the same as Puss in Books. I started full of enthusiasm but by just over mid point found I was glazing over a bit. Maybe if I lived in the States and some of the "gurus" were more familiar it would have meant more. Ironically it made me want to read some of the self help manuals to see what they are like. Even though I did not finish it, I still found it a worthwhile read, so thanks for the opportunity. I will journal again once this is in the post.

Journal Entry 11 by Midlifecrisis from St. Austell, Cornwall United Kingdom on Wednesday, March 26, 2008
I posted this about a week ago but forgot to journal it - sorry..

Journal Entry 12 by okyrhoe from Athens - Αθήνα, Attica Greece on Thursday, March 27, 2008
Arrived in my today. Thanks LeishaCamden for adding me to the ring, and Midlifecrisis for posting it to me!

Journal Entry 13 by okyrhoe from Athens - Αθήνα, Attica Greece on Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Hi, my name is okyrhoe, and I have read John Gray. Not once, but twice. I have also read Deepak Chopra (twice), Anthony Robbins, Jack Canfield, Dr. Laura, Melody Beattie, Andrew Weil as well as several New Age self-help manuals and alternative health guidebooks.

I expected Steve Salerno to be more critical than he actually is in this expose. I feel that he has merely skimmed the surface of the repercussions of the popularity of self-help gurus. As LeishaCamden points out, the vast array of titles that have deluged the shelves of bookstores are impossible to ignore.
Salerno proposes that the self-help gurus rely on 'cultlike' or 'addictive' customers, but he doesn't fully explain the way these gurus rely on regurgitating religious messages (Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, Tantra, etc) to bait us. And he doesn't illustrate the numerous examples of gurus who mix-and-match various faiths into their pitches. He does explain that ultimately the self-help movement does not really want us to succeed, because then there would be no demand for future spin-off titles by these writers. That's true of religion as well -- The church expects us to sin; otherwise we wouldn't have any need for salvation.
The difference between religion and the self-help authors is that each religion pitches us a single text as the 'higher truth.' Paradoxically, the SHAM writers can't stop producing more and more titles, to the point where it's a mind-boggling decision to make at the bookstore: Which Chopra book is the 'one'? Which Mars/Venus title do I read first?
I believe a large portion of the success of these books is that they don't rely on the customer at the bookstore, confronted by hundreds of titles from which to choose. They rely on the impulsive buyer, who watches Oprah then rushes to make a purchase online. Salerno barely touches on the role the Internet played in spawning the movement, he only cites the impact of the popularity of Oprah's TV show in making these titles bestsellers.
Any rational person at a bookstore will realize the impossibility of ALL of these books being capable of delivering what they promise!

So, what does the SHAM movement do, in the face of this paradox? It consolidates. It collects all the divergent strands of SHAM, it gives us The Secret. For me, 'The Secret' embodies all that is wrong with the self-help genre, and if Salerno were to re-edit SHAM, his comments on The Secret would the be ideal final chapter.

But the book doesn't come to a well-conceived conclusion. I agree with you PussInBooks that Salerno loses his train of thought as well as his objectivity in the end. He veers off onto unrelated topics, such as the aircraft industry's issues with legal claims, and the difficulties of teaching at schools. It's obvious & by Salerno's own admission, too, that he's using material previously written for magazine articles as filler for his book, and he argument loses a lot of its initial momentum.

And despite the magnitude of SHAM's fallacies and the resulting waste of consumer's money for dubious returns, I think it's a long stretch to blame the 'feminization' of US society (a claim which he does not back up with facts/statistics, it's merely his opinion), the rates of divorce, single-parent families, latchkey kids in the US, the threat of litigation smothering R&D in industry, the supposed decline in the quality of primary education - all of this and more - on SHAM. Rather than being the direct cause, it's more likely that the popularity of SHAM is just an expression of a pre-existing phenomenon.

And when Salerno blames SHAM for the supposed complacency prior to 9/11, he really goes overboard. He states that Donald Rumsfeld spoke 'common sense' and that "it took 9/11 to reassert the legitimacy of aggression in America" -- These are, at the very least, oversimplistic remarks which are no better than Dr. Laura's reactionary rants.

I was also troubled by his prejudices in mentioning Marion Barry, Al Sharpton, Andrew Young & Jesse Jackson (yes, all of these persons in one breath) as prime examples of 'demagoguery'. There is nothing 'imaginary' or 'false' about the victimization of AfroAmericans in U.S. history. The decades of slavery and segregation are a hard fact, and they remain a legacy whose consequences on US society, politics, and culture are unlikely to disappear for generations to come. It is misleading to lump this historical victimization that was a widespread social phenomenon with SHAM's re-writing of individuals' personal history (dubious retro-active victimization implied by 'battered wife syndrome' 'affective education' the 'disease' of alcoholism, etc.).

Unfortunately, these final remarks by Salerno completely irritated me and I now question his motives, as well as his point of view, in writing this book.

On its way to iliotropio.

Journal Entry 14 by iliotropio from Bruxelles / Brussel, Bruxelles / Brussel Belgium on Tuesday, May 27, 2008
The Sham is here and after having a look at the diverging opinions of previous journalers, I´m really curious to read it...

Journal Entry 15 by iliotropio from Bruxelles / Brussel, Bruxelles / Brussel Belgium on Thursday, April 09, 2009
Eye-opening and really useful to anyone who has been exposed to the recipes for instant hapiness of self-helf books.
Unfortunately, Skyfire20 is not responding to my PMs, so I guess I´ll send Sham back to LeishaCamden.

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