Excerpt of SHAM by Steve Salerno
(Page 5 of 8)
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Topping it all off are the miscellaneous do-it-yourself
"personal-enhancement" products and "revolutionary new technologies!"
sold via infomercial. Dale Beyerstein, a philosophy professor who has
written extensively on pseudoscience, argues that the customary formula
calls for taking a modicum of legitimate research and "piggybacking"
onto itthat is, extending and misapplying its conclusions in a way
that's just plausible enough to skirt criminal sanctions by the Federal
Trade Commission or the U.S. Postal Service. The hubris of some of these
pitchesnot to mention the contempt for the consumeralmost defies
description. For a while during the 1980s, a company called Potentials
Unlimited was selling subliminal audiotapes to cure deafness.
Which begs the question: What has America gotten in return for its $8.56
The answer: There is no way of knowing. So much money, so few documented
Yes, SHAM gurus have no trouble producing the obligatory testimonial letters,
the heartrending anecdotal stories of women who found the courage to leave
abusive men or men who found the courage to face up to the demons within. But in
any meaningful empirical sense, there is almost no evidenceat allfor the
utility of self-help, either in theory or in practice. There's only one group of
people we can prove benefit from the books: the authors themselves.
For example, as Martin Seligman, a past president of the American
Psychological Association, told Forbes in 2003, though some of Tony
Robbins's preachments may be worth listening to, they remain altogether
untesteddespite the unambiguously rosy claims made for Robbins's
material and the quasi-scientific pretense of the material itself.
Actually, that's not quite true. A growing body of evidence challenges
SHAM's ability to do what it says. For one thing, despite all the talk
of personal empowerment, limitless potential, and a world in which
glasses are always at least half full, Americans have become ever more
dependent on chemical modification. Almost four decades after Thomas A.
Harris's landmark self-help tract I'm OKYou're OK, we live in a
culture in which some of the most profitable products made are named
Prozac, Paxil, and Xanax. Evidently a great many Americans don't think
they're all that "OK." In the final analysis, it's not the thousands of
seminars or millions of books with their billions of uplifting words
that Americans seem to count on to get them through the day. It's the
That's no great shock to Archie Brodsky, a senior research associate for
the Program in Psychiatry and the Law at Harvard Medical School.
"Psychotherapy has a chancy success rate even in a one-on-one setting
over a period of years," observes Brodsky, who coauthored (with Stanton
Peele) Love and Addiction. "How can you expect to break a
lifetime of bad behavioral habits through a couple of banquet-hall seminars or
by sitting down with some book?"
Brodsky alludes to twelve-step recovery meetings, which don't often
feature celebrity speakers or hordes of pricey ancillary products but do
have a strong and loyal following nonetheless. The twelve-step movement
developed as an outgrowth of Alcoholics Anonymous and now encompasses
programs for a staggering range of problems, whether compulsive
shopping, or loving too easily or too much, or overeating. These days,
if it's a problem for someone, somewhere, it's a treatable disorder. And
a support group likely exists for it. At the apex of the Recovery
phenomenon, in 1992, American Demographics reported that twelve million
Americans belonged to at least one of the nation's five hundred thousand
from Sham by Steve Salerno Copyright © 2005 by Steve Salerno.
Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All
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