By Michael Lovitch
Michael Lovitch's mission is to protect people from self-help scams while helping find safe, real solutions. Michael has a master's degree in Rhetoric from the University of California and has the unique ability to evaluate self-help programs without being distracted by slick marketing techniques.
This is the first installment in a series of articles that will help you protect yourself from self-help scams.
Self-Help Scam Protection 101 (Part 1):
As humans, we have an innate desire to improve ourselves. We might want to be more disciplined, learn how to communicate more effectively, or just get rid of some bad habits. These are healthy desires, and those who choose to put in the work usually end up better for it.
And as with anything in high demand, there are plenty of people willing to provide you with solutions!
The goal here is to provide you with screening methods that will help you decide which self-help tools are right for you and which tools are most likely complete scams.
As with anything in life, this is not a black and white issue. There are a lot of grey areas, and ultimately it depends on what YOU are comfortable with.
Learn to Spot The Warning Signs:
A quick way to eliminate self-help scams is to spot some simple warning signs. These are simple "tells" that should immediately cause you to pause, and investigate the advertised claims more closely.
The Guru Technique: In this case you have a person (the GURU) who miraculously has discovered all the answers and is willing to share them with you for a price. This technique is used quite often (at least partially) in many self-help program sales pitches.
Offers for this line of persuasion usually focus on a story of personal transformation during which this person discovered the secret to everything! The Guru will usually create what is called "The Attractive Personality," and use social conformity techniques to make you feel like you are an outsider if you do not agree with him (or her).
Another sign that the Guru technique is being used is that this person attempts to throw you off-balance by challenging your view of reality. Then once you are confused, he or she gives you an answer that makes you feel secure again.
This technique is especially dangerous, as the goal is to create followers. As you might be aware, in modern times when one person gets too much control over a group, good things never happen!
The best defense against this technique is to be aware of the signs. Start to notice when you sense that the pressure to conform is part of a sales strategy. The whole technique is based on our desire to be part of an elite group and to feel special. Also think about how unrealistic it is that this one person has answers to life's questions that no one else has.
False Diplomas: In this case the self-help solution is justified by the "fact" that the person offering it has an advanced degree in the subject. The problem is that in quite a few cases, these "degrees" come from phony institutions.
A famous example of this is Dr. John Gray (of Mars/Venus fame) who calls himself a doctor, but actually received his doctorate from Columbia Pacific University, which has now been closed down because of its practice of having diplomas for sale.
Unfortunately, this is prevalent in the self-improvement world. Another example is in the case of clinical hypnosis. If you will investigate, you will find any number of people who claim to have doctorate degrees in clinical hypnosis. They put a "CHT" after their names and call themselves doctors.
The problem with this is that there is no such thing as a doctorate in clinical hypnosis, and getting a CHT after your name is just a matter of going to a weekend course and paying a couple hundred bucks.
Hypnosis is a tool used by qualified therapists and is not a separate discipline. The degree should be in psychology, divinity, or medicine and come from an accredited institution.
Whatever the subject, the defense against this is easy. Take a minute to do at least a quick Google search on the institution from which a therapist claims to have earned a degree.
Make sure that it does not come from a diploma mill or a correspondence school.
One big thing to remember here is that just because a person has a legitimate degree does not mean that their solution works. (All you have to do is read this Web site to know that!)
Furthermore, there are definitely people who can help you who do NOT have advanced degrees. The point here is that when a person knowingly misrepresents themselves through false degrees and certifications, it is a good indication that what they have to offer is a scam.