Cleaning up the Self-Help Industry

self help books

James Arthur Ray, the self-help guru who was convicted of negligent homicide after three people died in a sweat lodge ceremony at his Spiritual Warrior Camp in 2009 (which I wrote about in Breaking the Spell), was quietly released from prison last week. Ray could have been sentenced up to nine years but received only a two-year sentence. After serving 600 days he is out on probation. Hard to see the justice in that. Three lives in exchange for two years.

What’s next for Ray?

If you visit his website it says it’s currently being updated to offer more to visitors. Sounds like he plans to pick up business where he left off.


Thankfully, something else happened last week

The parents of Kirby Brown, one of Ray’s sweat lodge victims, introduced SEEK Safely, a charitable organization dedicated to educating the public about the self-help industry, empowering seekers and promoting professional standards and practices to ensure safety for participants in self-help events. They have launched the SEEK Safely Promise and are asking motivational speakers, leaders, and authors in the self-help industry to sign it. Some have. Many more have not.

In an $11 billion industry that’s unregulated, the Brown’s are hoping to establish some basic standards and practices, even if on a voluntary basis. They feature a complete list on their website of the self-help leaders who have signed the promise, and the many more who have been invited to but have not.

It’s my hope that eventually they’ll all sign the promise.

It could go a long way toward cleaning up the industry. And, while I believe it’s still up to us as consumers to do our due diligence before we invest with any teacher, it helps if the teachers are publicly setting an intention to operate in good faith. It also gives us something to hold them accountable to.

If you’d like to learn more about SEEK Safely, you’ll find the website at


photo credit: jessamyn via photopin cc



About Debbie

After spending 32 years in marketing, Debbie now spends her time blogging, teaching online courses, doing volunteer pet therapy, and encouraging others to follow a more inspired path through life.

2 comments on “Cleaning up the Self-Help Industry

  1. Debbie, I think it’s wonderful that this family is trying to open people’s eyes and shine a clear light on shadier aspects of the self-help world. But I fear that their list of those who have agreed to sign their declaration and, more importantly, those who haven’t makes a very negative implicit statement about the folks ho chose not to sign. It creates a weird sense of guilt by non-action that shines a negative light on valuable tools and insights from such respected (and non-pushy teachers) as Byron Katie, Ken Wilber, Ram Dass and so many others.

    What’s your take on this list? The more I scrolled down the more it upset me that these folks were coming across as “bad guys” simply by not responding, which could be for so many reasons other than “I won’t sign so I can do whatever I want, including maybe hurt people!”

  2. Sharon,
    If you read the promise, what’s not to agree with? I believe any self-help teacher who is operating above-board would want to clean up the industry and get rid of those who are putting a black mark on it with sketchy tactics. By signing the promise they are merely publicly stating they will respect their students and operate with integrity.

    The problems in the industry run deep. Something has to be done. Too many people are being hurt, maybe not physically as in the James Arthur Ray case, but financially and emotionally.

    And those who don’t want to sign for whatever reason do have their own very large platform from which to share their reasons why.

    So, no, I don’t have a problem with SEEK Safely listing those who have signed and those who haven’t. In the end, it’s just one tool people can use to make a more educated decision about who to learn from. Hopefully it encourages students to spend more time researching the credentials, background and practices of ALL self-help practitioners. Whether they’ve chosen to sign the promise or not.

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