Richard G. Petty, MD

Self-help and Reality

I’ve spent my professional life trying to empower people, to give them the tools to help them cope with illness or adversity and to help them see that conquering a problem is only the half way stage. We have to try to understand the meaning and purpose of an accident, illness or sudden death.

One of the things that has dismayed me is the way in which so much self-help advice is grounded in nonsense. Pop psychology that is flatly contradicted by empirical data; misunderstandings about basic science and misquotations of elements of the Ageless Wisdom.

When people are only given bits of a story they cannot use the information: they can only follow a set of formulae. The direct result is that a lot of what passes for self-help does not help free people and make them independent of the opinions of others. Instead it makes them into followers who hope that the next book, CD or seminar will reveal the missing pieces of the puzzle.

The trouble is that many of the most charismatic self-help gurus don’t have those missing pieces themselves.

I was thinking about this after reading a nice article by Dudley Lynch whose blog I have recommended before. Dudley instroduces a dose of reality into some of the statements made by guests on a recent Larry King interview. He also recommends some books, to which I would add Steve Salerno’s book SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless.

There is an antidote to all of this. Earlier this year I wrote about what I call the "Changing Landscape of Self-help."

We are now in a fourth age of self-help in which the recommendations of self-help are firmly rooted in empirical research. We also need to recognize a constant danger of all the exhortations to be happy and creative. I read an article the other day by someone whom I like very much. But it was the usual fare: a story about the Wright brothers, another about Bill Gates, and then on to a rousing, "If they could do it so can you." But these people have a unique grouping of talents. Not everyone can be a creative powerhouse anymore than everyone can sing. That’s just fine: everybody has some gift and purpose in life. But I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to pick up the pieces because some self-help speaker has told people that they would be able to achieve something. The person couldn’t and was left feeling flat, inadequate and depressed. The speaker was long gone, and had no idea of what he had done.

Before following some self-help, health or wellness program, I would suggest that you ask ten questions:

  1. Who is promoting the program and why?
  2. What are his or her qualifications for producing and teaching this program?
  3. How is he or she going to benefit: are they just doing it for the money?
  4. Is the program specific to my needs?
  5. What is the evidence for claims made for the program?
  6. Have independent people critically evauated the material?
  7. Have other people been helped by the program?
  8. Is the material updated regularly?
  9. Is there some system for providing ongoing support?
  10. How will I be better able to serve others once I have done the program?

If you spend a couple of minutes looking at the items on this blog and in my books and articles, I think that you’ll see for yourself that it’s absolutely feasible to ask and give positive answers to all ten question.

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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