Busted Halo

In Virtue/Vice, Dr. Christine B. Whelan blogs about news, books, scientific and psychological research and her general musings about virtue and vice in our everyday lives.


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August 24th, 2010

SELF help


sweatlodgeIt’s been nearly a year since three people died and dozens more were injured during a self-help retreat led by the now-infamous James Arthur Ray. At the time, I wrote a piece in The Washington Post and was outspoken about the fact that, although we’d like to write them off as New Age wackos, the folks who stayed in a steamy sweat lodge well past when it was physically safe were just like you and me: Seekers who were smart, educated and interested in pushing themselves to achieve greater things.

In this month’s SELF magazine Shepelavy has a terrific piece about the lessons we can all learn from last year’s deaths. Roxanne and I logged in several hours of talk time over the last few months as she crafted the piece, “When Self-Help Harms,” and she did an excellent job. (Yes, I’m quoted extensively, but I don’t rave about all the pieces that quote me, lemme tell ya!)

Check it out here—and, because it’s always more fun to read glossy magazines than words on a screen, buy the September issue in hard copy.

Self-help doesn’t have to be harmful, but too often gurus lead enthusiastic people astray. I hope this piece helps us all remember that if we think something is powerful enough to help us, we’ve got to acknowledge the fact that it also has the power to harm us. There’s some terrific self-help out there—advice that is based in virtuous living and backed by psychological research. My fervent hope is that this article helps all of us make smarter choices about what advice we seek in our journeys of self-improvement.

The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
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  • r. mcginn

    wonderful piece, thanks for alerting us to it. I recently had a discussion with a friend about an herbal tea given to her by “a Doctor in Chinatown”. He may be eminently qualified – but she doesn’t know. Nor does she know what is in the tea.

  • Margot

    oNe thing that bothered me about this event, which no one has mentioned, is how a sacred ritual of Native Americans was appropriated for a purpose which seems rather oopposed to it, by someone who was not of that tradition and who conducted it in an inappropriate and dangerous way… Rather like someone swiping a consecrated host for a group therapy meeting.
    I am not opposed to the ritual itself–I have participated in sweat lodges–but they are a religious rite, and should be handled appropriately…..Thoughts?

  • mairie

    These events were tragedies. To a smaller scale but a greater extent the danger with self help can be not that we push ourselves too far – but not far enough or in the wrong direction. Our inner ‘mother’ is able to set limits and boundaries and ‘not let us get hurt’. Even our challenges are the ones we set ourselves and it may be that physically we ‘feel the burn’ but it might be that this masks the emotional. spiritual challenge we should be setting ourselves. Without discernment or supporting counsel we can do more harm than good.

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