I spent some time travelling last week and I listened a fascinating but disturbing podcast series about the self-help industry.
This is the story of self-help guru and motivational speaker James Arthur Ray who achieved fame, fortune, and influence through his teachings.
His practice was about leading people to physically and emotionally demanding activities designed to bring them to the next level in their personal and professional lives.
During his Spiritual Warrior retreat in Arizona in 2009, three participants lost their lives in a sweat lodge. Twenty other participants were hospitalised and James Arthur Ray was found guilty of negligent homicide and sentenced to two years in prison for the three deaths. He served twenty months and is now back to his teachings.
This story really struck a chord with me around the topic of integrity and accountability in the self-help industry. I felt compelled to write this post today to share my perspective on this.
I also want to share the work that the family members of the people who lost their lives are doing to guide the self-help community towards a safer future.
Learning to Navigate the Self-Help Industry
This week was the 5th anniversary of the completion of my training with Animas Centre for Coaching in London. In April next year, it will be 5 years since I qualified.
It’s only recently that I’ve begun to own the label of ‘life coach’.
Despite my overly proportional positive experience of working with life coaches, I cannot get away from this being a label that is loaded with negative assumptions.
But a life coach is what I am and this is how I make sense of the label.
A coach is a vehicle that you board at Victoria Station that takes you to places such as Birmingham, Bristol, or Manchester. (Apologies for the non-locals in my audience, but you get the point).
My service as a coach is very much like this. Our relationship is simply a vehicle for getting from one place to the other.
And the ‘life’ part, well this is the area that I deal with (and am passionate about dealing with). Your whole life and bringing more of the whole of you to the world.
I have shared many times before about my distaste for the self-help industry and, in particular, how it is represented on social media. Please forgive me for repeating myself, but I’ll go there again briefly.
Once I qualified as a life coach, I found myself in the ecosphere of this unregulated industry.
I learned about the ‘way things are done’ in marketing services to become a successful coach. The formula to follow was something along the lines of:
- Find a niche based upon the unique intersection of my experience, skills, passions, etc, that would create my market
- Identify my ideal client within that marketplace
- Identify ideal client’s pain points
- Identify ideal client’s desires
- Speak to client’s pain points and express how I can help them achieve their desires
The Message of the Self-Help Industry
It has taken me a long, long time to allow myself to move beyond the conventional wisdom of ‘the way things are done’ and to focus upon my personal values that have become my centre force.
It has taken me a long, long time to work out why I have been so uncomfortable… actually more than uncomfortable, TRIGGERED, by the marketing messages of the self-help industry…
The core message underlying this formula is this….
You are not enough
I can save you
With what I have learned over the last year, I now recognise these as traumatising messages.
I’m so glad that I listened to my resistance, my self-doubt, about these formulas, which have ultimately led me to the wisdom to commit to doing things differently.
My Core Message
If you look on my website nowadays, my core messages are right at the top.
These are the starting point for my work and they are:
- You are already enough.
- There is nothing to fix or change.
- You are creative, resourceful, and whole.
- Everything you need is already within you.
- You are not broken.
My job as a life coach is to reinforce these truths.
Where I like to think my offering is different is that we don’t deny other parts of ourselves in order to do this. Instead, we seek to welcome these other parts and include them as part of the whole.
Maybe these core messages don’t translate so well into the marketing formula of attracting clients into my sales pipeline but, for the moment, I don’t care so much about that.
What I care about is that I truly believe these statements apply to all human beings.
No matter how much we feel is ‘wrong’ with our lives, or how dissatisfied we are with our life experience, there is always a part of us that knows what to do for the highest good for all.
My job, as a life coach, is about connecting you more with these truths so that you can operate from them on a more consistent basis. This is the journey I would like our relationship to take us on.
Navigating with Integrity
I was troubled by the James Arthur Ray story when I heard it. I see an example of someone who gained influence and power through his teachings. But he probably began with the intention of genuinely wanting to help people.
The people he wanted to help were primarily entrepreneurs and high achievers who were constantly on the lookout to improve themselves.
This is a quest that I recognise in myself. And I also recognise the allure of being pushed to my physical and emotional edges, to meet myself in these places, to overcome challenges, to experience the success of improvement.
I also know how these desires can make us vulnerable to the messages of the self-help industry promising to take us to the next level of who we are.
And the service that I offer through welcoming that most excluded and unwelcome experience of self-doubt has the potential of taking us to emotional demanding edges. This work can be incredibly exciting and rewarding but it is also challenging and confusing at times.
I want to ensure that I always do this with the utmost integrity and I am committed to putting in place structures within my business to ensure this happens.
So, when I came across the SEEK Safely Promise, which was developed by the family members of those who lost their lives in the sweat lodge, it was something I felt compelled to sign up to.
I am grateful to these family members for providing this framework and for their tireless work to ensure that people are helping themselves rather than harming themselves (because the line here is often not clear).
You can find out more about the organisation SEEK Safely through the website: https://www.seeksafely.org/ (and you can check out the promise there too).
The SEEK Safely Promise
A person’s journey to self-empowerment and personal improvement is deeply personal, emotional and often times spiritual. I acknowledge and support every individual’s right to a safe and constructive journey so that each person might find the personal growth and change he/she seeks.
As an organization, we are committed to providing an environment and experiences that are:
Consumers will receive accurate information about the authors, leader’s or speaker’s professional degrees, credentials and experience.
It will be clearly delineated what is personal opinion, belief or speculation as opposed to information that is supported by third party scientific research.
Participants will be able to freely express opinions, without fear of public humiliation, ridicule, shame or physical abuse.
The leader will protect the emotional safety of participants by keeping confidentiality and implementing appropriate boundaries.
The leader will provide personal witness by living the program being taught.
The leader will have a comprehensive risk management plan to minimize any risk taken by participants and clearly explain any potential risks.
Words are just complicated airflow...
Any other fans of Succession out there?
You will recognise this line delivered by Kendall Roy. ‘Words are just, nothing. Complicated airflow.’
After all, it takes nothing in an action to sign a promise like this. I’ve not invested anything except the seconds it took me to complete the boxes on the website.
How do we go from ensuring our complicated airflow are translated into actions we live by.
Through accountability. And this is what is lacking in an unregulated industry.
So here is how I’m making myself accountable.
I work with my own coach who I have been seeing on a monthly basis since I was in training.
For me, this is a crucial activity. How can I be committed to offering a service that I don’t invest in myself?
I also work with a coaching supervisor. We have developed a relationship over a couple of years and she has had a huge influence on the development of my coaching service.
I hold a diploma in transformational life coaching which is accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the Association for Coaching (AC).
I am a Level One iRest Meditation Teacher, which is a service I integrate with coaching.
I am consistently furthering my personal and professional development in service of my business.
Over the next year, I am going to work towards the ACC standard with the ICF so that my practice is accredited.
My Invitation to You
I wanted to make signing this promise a public declaration and, in doing so, I invite members of The Doubters Community to challenge me as a way of making myself accountable.
If there is anything within this promise that you don’t see that I am operating, I invite you to question me about this.
And, more importantly, as I continue to grow and develop this work, I keep that invitation open. If you ever see me operating in a way that you consider out of alignment with these values, please question me. I want to know.
My second invitation to you is when you are seeking support through the self-help industry, begin from a point of knowing that you are already enough.