Summary and book reviews of SHAM by Steve Salerno

SHAM

How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless

by Steve Salerno

SHAM
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2005, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2006, 288 pages

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Book Summary

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.

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.

From the Introduction

For decades I have been tracking the self-help movement without fully realizing its place in the zeitgeist, even though I've written often about its component parts. My first book, in 1985, described the "mainstreaming" of veteran sales and motivational trainers like Tom Hopkins and Zig Ziglar, both of whom were then beginning to expand their brands; they were subtly turning their antennae away from hard-core salesmanship to the much airier patter of mass-market training, with its exponentially greater target audience. Their efforts signaled the beginning of what we now call "success training" or, in its more intensive, small-group settings, "life coaching."

During the late 1980s and 1990s I wrote separate magazine pieces about:

TONY ROBBINS. Today he's the Eighty Million Dollar Man (per year). Back at the...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Whatever you think of self-help products, I encourage you to take a few minutes out of your day to read an excerpt from this controversial book!   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (199 words).

Media Reviews

Library Journal - Lynne F Maxwell

[His] conclusion would have been much more persuasive if he had dispensed with the vitriol. Wendy Kaminer's I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help Fashions is a more effective critique.

Booklist - Ray Olson

A wonderfully lucid, angeringly cogent polemic.

Publishers Weekly

In addition to detailing the raw facts, Salerno excels at pinpointing the self-abnegating strategy the self-help industry employs: namely, tearing you down in the name of building you up. And the positivity yields questionable results in any case. The self-help industry should not be dismissed as "silly but benign," says Salerno, and he documents how it has undermined psychology, education and health care in this blistering critique.

Author Blurb Greg Critser, author of Fat Land
Funny, naughty, and wise, Steve Salerno's SHAM is the must-read antidote to Dr. Phil, Tony Robbins, and the whole cracked pot of American pop psychology.

Author Blurb Dr. Michael Hurd, author of Effective Therapy
In an age of self-help, why are so many Americans helpless? Why do so many self-help gurus, from Dr. Phil on down, create followers rather than independent souls? Steve Salerno exposes the SHAM with ruthless honesty destined to make more than a few people angry.

Reader Reviews

Dr Lewis

The shame of pushing shams
Salerno's book needs to be read by all who purport to help others. When the basic motivation is to make money and self-promotion the needs of others (their 'clients') are lost. Unfortunately those who pay for the works of these shamans cannot look ...   Read More

stendek73

All build up, no money shot
This book leaves the reader hanging. Chapter after chapter of insight into the seedy under belly of self help, yet at the end, the book offers no option from said under belly. I want to sober up, but I wish to do it in a secular manner. Steve, what...   Read More

www.claudette.ws

Are you serious
Steve, How can you possbile sleep at night trying to instill your philosophy of putting down education, self improvement and positive action on others! WOW--- they really do walk among us and then even try to write a book! Not a book, trash ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The USA spends about $8 billion a year on self-help programs and products. To put this in context, according to Photius.com, out of 231 countries in the world, 85 of them have GDPs of less than $8 billion. In other words, if 'Self-Help USA' was a country it would rank 140th in the world! Add in diet products and the ranking would move up to the mid-60s!

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