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London Times - Is self-help a scam?

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  • London Times - Is self-help a scam?

    This was published in the London Times yesterday suggesting that coaching is a scam.

    I'm not sure I agree that it is. Any thoughts from people who use coaches.

  • #2
    Accck, what an annoying article - thanks for pointing it out.

    Books denouncing the entire self-help world as a scam (such as the one the article is taken from) seem to be an irritatingly popular scam in themselves.

    Uh... surely some self-help is useful, and some of it is a scam, as with most things? The book extract gets nowhere at all in terms of helping potential customers tell one from the other, because the author has a Big Un-Nuanced Media-Friendly Concept to hawk, namely that it's all a scam...


    • #3
      Is self-help a scam?
      Good question.
      I would say that yes, the vast majority of what is sold out in the self-help Industry is a scam.

      Here is a free ebook, that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about self-help.
      Psychological Self-Help

      That's a good article, and its from the new book
      Sham : How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless by Steve Salerno.

      I have not read the book yet, but I ordered it from the library, and am looking forward to reading it very soon.

      This "personal coaching" is a craze, and its excesses will lead to its demise. You can't have countless untrained and unqualified people trying to go out and charge hundreds an hour for giving advice. This "coaching" field is riddled with scammers, in my view. The reason why so many people are promoting it, is that it is all profit. All you need is a phone, or an office. Its like therapy, but you don't have to get a license.

      Of course there are plenty of folks out there who can do good work with people. But they are in the minority, and not so easy to find.

      There are even companies who sell "phone coaching" to people with costs well in excess of $400-$600 an hour, and these same "coaches" are pitching products and services at the same people they are "coaching".

      Not only is much of this coaching a SHAM, it can also be a good old-fashioned scam.

      Here is Part 1 of this article.,00.html
      Self-help books? Don’t bother. They won’t help
      Steve Salerno
      Our correspondent spent 16 months editing self-help manuals for a big publisher — and decided that the business is a sham that exploits our weaknesses for profit

      SELF-HELP 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.
      For more than a generation, the Self-Help and Actualisation Movement — felicitously enough, the words form the acronym Sham — has been talking out of both sides of its mouth, promising relief from all that ails you while promoting nostrums that almost guarantee nothing will change (unless it gets worse).

      Along the way, Sham has filled the bank accounts of a slickly packaged breed of false prophets, including, but by no means limited to, high-profile authors, motivational speakers, self-styled group counsellors, “life coaches” and any number of wise-men-without-portfolio who have promised to deliver some level of enhanced contentment. For a fat fee.

      Between 2000 and 2004 the market for self-improvement in the US grew by 50 per cent. Today, it is an industry that grosses $8.56 billion (£4.8 billion) annually. And what has America got in return for its investment?


      • #4

        The publishing business and self-help books

        The first thing you need to know is that, unlike drugs, self-help trade books (mass market books in local bookstores) are not "tested for effectiveness." These books, even those written by journalists and free lance writers, aren't even reviewed by psychological experts for accuracy, effectiveness, or dangerousness of the ideas. Instead, the publishers seek books that seem likely to sell because the topic is "hot" or the book has an attractive "gimmick." The largest publishers require that writers have a literary agent before they will even consider a manuscript. Thus, it is these agents who really select the books for the big New York publishers. Agents ask "will it sell," not "will it help?" Later, if the book is printed, the publisher's sales representatives have only seconds (maybe a single sentence) to sell a book to big bookstore buyers (there are 50,000 new books every year). By contrast, professional books, like college textbooks or books for psychotherapists, which you won't find in the usual bookstore, are very carefully reviewed by several highly respected professionals (because no teacher would use a textbook with glaring errors). With self-help books (almost all are trade books) the attitude is "let the buyer beware." Selecting a highly advertised "best seller" tells you almost nothing about the scientific quality of the book. In fact, only about half of the so-called "best sellers" are considered good books by mental health professionals (Santrock, Minnett, & Campbell, 1944). Publishing a self-help book is not a highly scientific process.

        Next, you need to realize that more than 2,000 self-help books are published each year. So, over the last 25 years more than 20,000 such books (maybe 40-50,000) have been pushed by bookstores. That sounds like a very commendable effort to help you, but the question is: What is the main motivation of many publishers, helping the suffering or making money? No doubt, some care; most are more concerned with making money (yet, supposedly 75% of published books lose money). Many new books merely repeat what has already been written. It is also not unfair to point out that several psychologists have complained that their own book publishers have made exaggerated claims. Do you suppose these untrue advertisements are for benefiting people in crisis or for profits? Did you ever see a publisher recommend that you look up his/her best books at the library?

        Publishers seem to believe that people will not try to generally self-improve or prevent problems. We readers are assumed to be so stupid that we will only seek help after we are in trouble. Therefore, the self-help book industry publishes books about specific, serious crises which will drive us (while in distress) to buy their books. Fortunately, many of those books are written by experienced professionals and are quite helpful. However, truly effective self-help education should emphasize early detection of problems and prevention, as well as crisis intervention. Prevention is sorely neglected (discussed later).

        Is it common to buy a book for a specific problem and soon discover that you don't really have that problem? Yes (perhaps that is partly why 90% of self-help books never get read beyond the first chapter). Is it reasonable for every specific problem to require its own self-help books? No, although that would sell more books, wouldn't it? Do the thousands of unique problems require thousands of different methods for coping? No. This is an important point, let's look at it more closely.

        There are only 15-20 self-help methods for changing our own behavior, no matter what problem or crisis we are having. Likewise, there are only a few basic methods for controlling emotions which are used in all upsetting situations. The same for learning skills, changing our thoughts, uncovering unconscious factors, and so on. In short, it is easier and better to know the general principles of behavior and the basic methods for changing than to study hundreds of seemingly unrelated problems. Therefore, 20,000 self-help books are an overkill. A case in point: this book deals with hundreds of problems (chapters 3 to 10), but the methods for coping with those problems are described in entirely different chapters (11 to 15) because the same method will be useful with many different problems. What we all need is comprehension of the general principles of behavior and changing, as well as carefully designed research (not necessarily by professionals) testing the effectiveness of self-help methods. Our knowledge needs to be integrated and unified, rather than split into little atomistic books.


        • #5
          Opinions not facts

          When I originally posted this I asked for comments from anyone who used a coach.

          From your comments I'm not sure whether you guy's have actually used a coachinf, self-help or not. Are you offering opinions or facts?

          I don't particularly care if the coach I hire has qualifications or not, I'd be paying them to help me make progress on something I want to achieve. I am interested in what they have achieved with other people.

          Like if I hire a sports coach - I don't care if they are qualified. I want them to help me improve my game. If they don't help me improve my game they are toast - irrespective of qualifications.

          I don't care if self-help is based on theory - does it work, that's what i want to know. For example I don't care whether GTD is based on theory. I'm not sure if GTD is self-help. Is it? Or if it is scientific proven. Is it? I am interested that it seem to work for me an a lot of other people.

          I'll ask again differently:

          1.Does anyone have specific examples of where they have personally, or professionally, made significant progress using a coach / self-help?

          2.Does anyone have specific examples of where they have personally, or professionally, made little progress using a coach / self-help?


          • #6
            The usual "meaningful" distinctions must be made:

            1. Coaching "in theory" is absolutely essential in most fields. Lawyers "coach" or "woodshed" their client witnesses; Professional athletes are heavily "coached" and coaching is common-place in the corporate world.

            2. Yes, scams exist, in all businesses. I recommend that you research the particular coach you are interested in. Ask for references, determine if their hourly rate is "above" or "below" market, etc. For starters, buy David Allen's very excellent book "Getting Things Done" that, for fifteen bucks at Office Depot, is the best coaching value around.

            Good luck!

            Danny Hardesty



            • #7
              Yes I have used a "coach" in the sense of hiring a PhD registered psychologist, to work with various professional issues. This guy was based on REBT, and was very practical and realistic.
              I got good results, but this guy held similar views to me that most of "self-help" in terms of the industry is a just for making money for those who are selling it.

              When younger I also bought lots of "self-help" books, and got duped, and they got my money for selling wishful thinking. In my view most of these books are a waste of money and time.
              On the other hand, CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is self-help, but this has been shown in many studies to actually work in specific ways, and I have gotten good results from this as well, but no miracles.

              I also constantly meet people who are "coaches" these days, and try to enroll everybody they meet. I think most of this coaching stuff is a sham, but there are good people out there too.

              My opinion is:
              Only pay by the hour, no contracts, only face to face, no anonymous coaches somewhere on the phone, and watch out if they are trying to "upsell" you or manipulate you or hypnotize you, or whatever.
              Insecure people can get addicted to this type of thing.
              Last edited by CosmoGTD; 04-01-2006, 04:28 AM.


              • #8
                Danny, Cos

                Thanks that's useful.

                I have GTD and think its superb VFM.

                I'll also take a look at RCBT (and stay away from the pop psychologists). Any introductory reading suggestions?

                In terms of fees I was thinking more of a low hourly rate for face-to-face plus a bonus based upon results achieved - that seems reasonable to me.


                • #9
                  coaching craze, please go away!

                  I personally did coaching for about a year and I can definitively say that I didn't get much out of it. (And my coach had gone through the Coach U program, held a Masters in Social Work!) The tests were lame and not very enlightening. The Myers-Briggs isn't bad, but you don't need a coach for that, you can do it from a book (or, I imagine, online). Cosmo said "insecure people can get addicted to this kind of thing" and in retrospect I think that is what happened to me. It sort of "felt good" that I was "doing something" because I had the coach, but in reality, what I was doing was flushing money down the toilet.

                  I have no doubt there are some good people out there, but because so many have jumped on the coaching bandwagon, the sheer numbers alone pretty much guarantee that most of them will be mediocre (even if their prices are high).

                  I think that anyone hiring a coach will not necessarily find a great fit on the first try. The same is often true w/psychologists--with a need to try out a few by "shopping around" a little bit until a person finds a good fit. I haven't had to shop around for a psychologist, but have had to do it with an MD.

                  From my personal experience having worked with the coach (and having met other coaches), my advice is:

                  Do not sign up for *any* package deals, period. Be prepared for coaches to reply to your objections about such package deals. Watch out for "clever" sounding words and phrases that lend them an air of authority while at the same time making them sound like their integrity is beyond reproach, thus loosening your resolve and your wallet.

                  They will likely say something like it is their "personal policy" to only deal with clients on a contracted/package basis because they "have found that the client needs to commit to the process" or whatever, "in order to get a benefit on the time and money invested" and that otherwise the coaching isn't very effective and the clients money is wasted.

                  And, yes, you will pay more by the hour without a package rate. But in the end, this can save you money. I wouldn't want my money tied up with one coach until I got to know them and could see that we could work well together. And, coaches know that if they are successful at getting you to sign up for a package, just the inertia alone may cause you to stay with them even if they aren't all that great. Because, something they say is inevitably going to resonate with you. Even if it is only a nugget of truth that may "feel" like a breakthrough. It is just like a magazine subscription--even if you aren't *really* reading it, and only get a moment of amusement from reading one article, you've got to Choose do something about it (cancel the subscription, get a pro-rated refund, etc) when it is a lot easier to just do nothing because it the magazine, while it may not be adding all that much to your life, is "comfortable" in some way, and you are just used to having it arrive in your mailbox on a regular basis.



                  • #10
                    Cindy! Great post!
                    Lots of good info there.
                    This "contract" business is only about one thing, more money for the coach by getting people to sign on the dotted line. Its very simple. If they try to give you the blah-blah about the contract, just assertively say, "look, I am NOT interested in your contract. Only per hour to start. I am talking with several other coaches and they have no problem with this, so if that is not something you are interested in, have a nice day". And then get up and start to leave the room, and if they start freaking out a bit, you know they are just trying to put the pinch on you.
                    Then, you can put the pinch on them, by negotiating a lower rate by using their competitors as leverage. Don't let them try and hoodwink you to think they are worth charging $250 for 30 minutes, and the guy down the street is useless. This is all salesmanship. Use the market to your advantage, and you can get someone who is good, at a fair market price, and everyone wins.

                    But the reality is if they are giving you ANY hassle, I mean ANY about the contract, then just get out of there. They are trying to do a number on you.
                    Any person with integrity will either say fine, and drop the contract, or say sorry they only work with a contract, and show you the door.

                    I could give the names here of some "coaching" companies who in my view are nothing but a type of scam, but that is off-topic for this forum.

                    My "coach" charged the proper hourly fee, I met him first for a short interview for free, and then started having sessions, I think the rate was about $120 an hour. I had 24-48 hrs to cancel the appt, or you have to pay the fee, which is fair.
                    Also, if you get a well-trained psychologist, then if you have insurance, it can cover most of it! Bonus!
                    No bull no hassles, no scamola contracts, no upselling.
                    Just problem-solving, and a trained outside eye.

                    About the other point about CBT and REBT.
                    For CBT I would recommend "The Feeling Good Handbook" by Dr. David Burns.
                    For REBT, any book by Dr. Albert Ellis, get them from the library, and see if they make sense to you first.
                    Last edited by CosmoGTD; 03-31-2006, 12:06 AM.


                    • #11
                      I have only tried one type of self-help system, which is Tony Robbins(Get the Edge), and it just had a general positive buzz around it. The biggest thing it did for me was motivating me to do things or find ways to improve myself. Which is how I stumbled across GTD.

                      Anyway, I didn't find his planning technique very effective (RPM), but I liked the way he thought, and learned a few things from his tapes. I've become more grateful for pretty much everything and it has made me happier in general. I've also changed my diet and have S/M'ed adding an Hour of Power(hour of exercise in the morning) - probably jogging with my dog.

                      Anyway, from my experience self-help has motivated me to change and improve myself. So far, I've become more organized, become more grateful, changed my diet, increased strength training, became a harder worker, and became more religous.

                      Good luck,



                      • #12
                        Originally posted by CosmoGTD
                        Cindy! Great post!.
                        Why thanks! I think I may have just deleted it by mistake (I meant to edit it!) Oops!

                        Originally posted by CosmoGTD
                        I would guess David Allen would use a contract, but then most people who hire him would know what they are getting up front.
                        David Allen Co. limits their coaching to a VERY specific domain in which they themselves are VERY competent. This is on a totally different "level" than these feel-good life coaches, or the "boot camp" life coaches. There is a lot of bull out there, to be sure. Watch out--I have noticed that even the professional organizer-types are now donning the coaching term.

                        Originally posted by CosmoGTD
                        Also, if you get a well-trained psychologist, then if you have insurance, it can cover most of it!
                        Another "benefit" of coaching (for the coach, but certainly NOT for the client) is that don't have to deal with insurance companies. Less administrative load on them--and they don't have to agree to any contracted rates. While seemingly only a minority of coaches have therapy backgrounds, this is NOT necessarily a benefit to the coaching client. Certain therapists (like coach I used) appear to have switched over to coaching business model because...READY for THIS...they weren't very good therapists! The new "buzz" about coaching all-of-a-sudden provided a great way for these mediocre therapists to market themselves to a whole new target audience, people drawn in by the newness of coaching and who didn't feel comfortable with the idea of "therapy".

                        So, it is conceivable that a person could wind up paying a LOT of money to a former therapist-turned-coach, who isn't very good at it, and uses the therapy credential to justify really high fees. And remember, they cannot CALL it "therapy" when donning the coach hat, thus CANNOT take insurance (and they don't want to--the ones that even have credentials to even be considered "legit" by health insurance standards, that is).

                        Anyway, the whole thing seems to be based on the premise that coaching is only for people who are "emotionally whole" according to a quote in the original article, which is attributed to Thomas Leonard, founder of CoachU. Excuse me? This guy was a FINANCIAL PLANNER. (When I read that I almost fell out of my chair). What kind of credentials did he even *have* to make the assessment that his clients of his financial planning services were "emotionally whole"? This statement is so self-serving, it would be ridiculous if it wasn't hurting people who need really therapy but get coaching (ripped off both emotionally and financially) instead. I also love Leonard's implication that equates financial success with emotional health., as if there was a causal relationship between the two. Egads!

                        Originally posted by CosmoGTD
                        For CBT I would recommend "The Feeling Good Handbook" by Dr. David Burns.
                        For REBT, any book by Dr. Albert Ellis, get them from the library, and see if they make sense to you first.
                        Ditto on Burns. I know of Ellis, but am not familiar with the term REBT? Cosmo, can you please help me out with that?



                        • #13
                          Albert Ellis is the father of "rational emotive therapy." In a nutshell if you said....Life is not fair....Ellis would say....and your point is....

                          Check his books out, they are quite good.

                          Danny Hardesty



                          • #14
                            Yes, Dr. Albert Ellis is the founder of REBT, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. It is a cognitive-behavioral therapy, and is quite similar to CBT, with some differences.
                            Ellis has a ton of books, and you can get them from a library, or wherever.
                            Ellis gives the specific ABC's of REBT, and there is a ton of valuable info there.
                            The premise is that we are not upset by events, but we upset ourselves by how we think about events. REBT deal with thoughts, feelings, behaviors, beliefs, and many other things.


                            About coaching, I would agree that the generalized "life coaches" are the most dubious. On further reflection, I realized I have hired MANY coaches in my life, but they were all very specific. For instance, you can hire a computer coach, a singing coach, a drama coach, an exercise coach, a dietician, a math coach, a fashion coach, etc. These are all very specific and skill based, which is terrific.

                            In my view, using a well-trained psychologist could be useful, as long as they do not do therapy. I know some are able to do this, but some are not.
                            Even worse, in my view, I have met "Life Coaches" who are into a bunch of New Agey stuff as well, so they are going heal your aura too I guess, so that's a bargain at twice the price.

                            I don't know about this CoachU stuff. I just read their Guiding Principles, and this sounds like a bit of a mindf___ to me. I think this life coaching hysteria has peaked and is a bust.

                            There is a natural mentorship and apprenticeship that happens in life, and you can't buy that for a dollar. Also, the old fashioned "buddy system" might be more effective.

                            I think coaches, need to be focussed on specific skill sets.
                            When it gets into the overly general "Life" coaching, something about that makes me feel icky inside.
                            So that is my technical analysis.

                            It makes me feel icky inside when I think about it.


                            • #15
                              If you enjoy vicious satire, it looks like Penn & Teller did a show in their Bullshit! series on "Life Coaches".
                              Check out the links at the bottom of the page!


                              (if you are outside the US)