Memo to the self-help crowd (trying to save little old ladies from frauds)

Note: My mother-in-law asked me to copy some disks by the self-help guru/mystic/faith healer/supernatural freak Caroline Myss. I said that I would if I had a chance to present evidence for the other side (rational thought). This is the letter that was included in this little "care package". I also included a disk that contained three Penn and Teller episodes, some demonstrations on cold reading and various James Randi videos. The audience consists of several women in their 60's and 70's.


I hope you are not alarmed by the packet that you are receiving. Mom (Pat) had asked me to copy some disks for her to give to you. This request resulted in a little bit of debate.

I am a skeptic and a free thinker. One of my passions in life is the spread of knowledge and the condemnation of liars, cheats and frauds. When I was handed the CD cover it took only a few lines to see that Ms. Myss was just a different spin on the same old tricks. If you read her CD jacket and listen to her speak, something immediately jumps off of the page at you - she is constantly tossing around phrases and slogans. Myss is a former journalist and she knows that these are the types of things that sell. When you view this video you will see that she seems to be someone that seems to be doing her best imitation of real psychologists. It isn't a coincidence - she is doing just that.

Still, as a free thinker I owed it to myself to read up a little more on her. It didn't take long to get the full picture on who she really is. She is in fact a former journalist that at some point decided to become a fortune teller, psychic and later a self-help guru. To give herself a little more credibility in the self-help world, she joined a correspondence college and started her own department. Once again, appearance matters. The school was never accredited and has long since been shut down. This is where her P.hD claim (in the made-up field of "medical energy", no less) comes from and why she never uses it on anything official.

When you sit down and think about people like Myss it isn't hard to see them for who they really are. In the first few minutes of her show she lists her credentials:

- Faith Healer
- Energy Healer
- Psychic (although she has backed away from this claim in recent years)
- Medical Intuitive

Step back and look at that list for a minute. If she was even one of these things, it would be a miracle. Nobody has ever been able to demonstrate any of these powers in a controlled environment. Yet Myss is all of these things wrapped up in a single package. If she is what she claims to be, why is she travelling the world charging up to $20,000 for her to talk to your group? Wouldn't she be in hospitals treating the sick? After all, she claims to be able to accurately diagnose an illness by only looking at a patient 95% of the time (once again, never demonstrated). Or maybe if she could channel the dead she should be working with detectives to solve murder cases. We would have a safer world with some murderers off of the street, wouldn't we? Better yet, if she was even one of these things would she even need to be the others? She proves PT Barnum right - the bigger the lie, the more likely it is to be believed.

There is no middle ground with people like this. Either she is exactly what she claims and she is more interested in making money than serving society (this would make her an awful person) or she is a fraud that is looking to make a LOT of money by fooling people (this would also make her an awful person). Of course, the latter is true. There is a reason that these people avoid any kind of inquiry - that would mean that they would be exposed for what they are. There is a reason that pscyhics, energy healers, mediums and the like have to call themselves "entertainers" and that you should "still keep seeing your doctor". If they could prove that even a shred of what they do is valid they would be part of mainstream science.

Once you strip away all of the mysticism from the likes of Myss, what is left? A bunch of lessons that you learned in kindergarten. Be nice to people. Life is easier if you stay positive. If you have a problem, work on it. For some reason our country has become addicted to people that say a lot of stuff that sounds impressive but in reality isn't anything that we didn't already know.

During the late 19th and early 20th century, psychics, mediums and miracle healers were prevalent in this country. At that time the greatest illusionist in the world was Harry Houdini. He became incensed by a medium that claimed to be able to talk to his mother's dead relatives. Houdini was aware of all of the carnival tricks that these charlatans used. He dedicated the rest of his life to exposing these people for who they really were. One by one, they famously came to his house and tried to prove their supernatural ability. Each time, he figured out how they did their trick. Today this crusade is taken up by the likes of James Rand, Penn and Teller and many other famous illusionists. Randi has a documented prize of one million dollars to anyone that can show any kind of psychic or supernatural ability. He doesn't ask much - you could even win it by doing something simple like naming the three cards that are face down on the table. The prize has gone unclaimed for thirty years now.

Will the likes of Sylvia Brown, Caroline Myss or John Edward take the test? Of course not. You'd think that it would be easy - after all, there all all of these ghosts talking to them all of the time. But the ghosts always seem to be playing some kind of supernatural charades - the medium can kind of make out who they are. Sometimes. See the first video on the disk to see how these people do it. I've seen Penn and Teller live and they do John Edward's act better than he does. The best thing is that they tell you before they do it that they have no supernatural ability.

Once you start to look at these people with a clear mind it isn't hard to see the patterns. They all use the same techniques to sell their wares. I'm looking the back of Myss' CD jacket now and I see the following statement:

"Why do some people respond well to medical treatments and alternative therapies, while others do not".

This is classic misdirection and it is often used by holistic healers and psychics. If their elixir didn't work for you or they couldn't accurately channel your dead loved one, you are the one that is doing something wrong. Myss takes this a step further - she will teach you why you didn't respond well to her other works. I think that is genius marketing - if the first try didn't work, it is your fault and you need to purchase something more.

Finally, there are no mystical people or places in the world. Lilydale was founded by two admitted frauds. The town of Sedona, Arizona was dubbed a "mystical place" by their tourism committee (another genius marking plan) because they needed a way to attract people to town. There are absolutely, positively no such thing as energy fields, shakras or magic beans. There have been plenty of medical advances that started out on the fringe and moved to the mainstream by simply proving that their effects could be reproduced. It only takes one study to do that and the person that funded it would be set up to make a ton of money. Once again, there is a reason why these people hid out in little rural towns or on tv shows where the audience is hand-picked. Simply connect the dots to find the answer.

And finally, Houdini said that his greatest feat would be to contact his wife from the afterlife. He had given his wife a secret phrase before he died and there was an understanding that if someone told her the phrase that she would know that the person was in contact with him. Of course, nobody ever did. After all, that would be documented proof of supernatural ability and such abilities do not exist.

Link to the original article

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Comment by Jānis Ķimsis on August 12, 2010 at 8:09am
Nice article, though I doubt it will have much of an effect. Let us know how it goes.


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