Drowning in snake oil

31 December 2016

They’re everywhere. At the office and at the club, in all the media and even at your place of worship – the relentless pitch of the ‘experts’! Economists, coaches, wellness therapists and the like, ensnaring you and manipulating you and invariably relieving you of hard-earned cash. Often schooled in the best of snake oil sales traditions, they subtly but relentlessly tempt you at every turn and all too often, we relent.

And so I share the story with you of ‘Mary’. Mary qualified with a Bachelor’s degree, with a philosophy major. In the open job market, Mary had to settle for a low profile clerical job just to put bread on the table and pay off her student loan because her degree afforded her no special edge in a competitive job environment. But then came that life-changing moment. Mary noted that a well-known coaching expert/motivational speaker was going to be in her neighbourhood. She decided to attend the free introductory presentation. Fired up and on a roll following the presentation, Mary invested the last of her savings and attended the weekend-long course to become an accredited coach. She bought the books, learned the buzz and was cloned as an accredited life coach. She spread the word amongst family, friends and work colleagues that she was an accredited life coach, qualified to deal with the full spectrum of life’s trauma’s. Soon Mary had a thriving ‘practice’. Mary attended subsequent weekend courses and morphed successfully from life coach, to corporate coach, to executive coach, to ‘global’ executive coach and then ascended to the peak of coaching ... Mary attended a course facilitated by a company which had the word ‘neuro’ in its name and promptly thereafter, assumed the extra qualification of ‘Neuroscientist’! Mary today is an expert executive coach with a 'neuroscience qualification' managing individuals with issues ranging from existential life crises to neuroses, from depression to psychosis! Mary has since become a sought after motivational speaker and now runs her own accreditation course with several published books.

Being a very enterprising woman, Mary recently saw a gap in the market – lifestyle enhancement. Dovetails very well with the coaching bit. So Mary did another weekend course on some kinesthesiology/physical therapy-based method and soon added massage therapy and exercise instruction to her repertoire. Finally Mary started selling vitamin supplements through her ‘clinics’ which were subsequently branded ('Mary’s complete vitamin vitalizers for all maladies!'). Full, one-stop mind-body wellness clinics emerged, soon to be franchised, because all the while Mary has been training accredited ‘therapists’ who will buy into the world-wide franchises. Mary has become a BIG name. Mary is a world expert in mind-body wellness. And the product now sells itself.

Join me now as we look under the covers and establish exactly who Mary is and what in essence is her value contribution. Mary has no experience nor university-level qualification in human anatomy, physiology or psychology. Mary has no neuroscience degree. Mary has never been personally evaluated in terms of her own psychological wellness and stability nor has she been mentored for any length of time in an internship. In summary, Mary has never been assessed in terms of her fitness to practice as a ‘mind expert’ and physical therapist. In addition she has never opened up her methods to scientific scrutiny. Mary also conveniently ignored the scientific finding that mega-vitamin supplementation provides no wellness enhancement whatsoever!

Unfortunately the prevailing global environment allows for the emergence of unqualified experts like Mary because coaching is an unregulated profession. Add to this the odd course in massage, exercise and movement stuff and out of the murky depths emerges a 'wellness expert'! Never to be scrutinized nor challenged unless they harm or kill someone.

You see my fellow humans in suffering, we are being conned on a daily basis. Authenticity has been overcome by impressive packaging and marketing at our expense. The only way to remedy this sick situation is to scrutinize and seek supportive information in the form of method and results validation. Anyone not making their methods and results available for objective/scientific evaluation has something to hide.

I end this final post for 2016 with one important consideration. The mind states of trust and belief in something generates the secretion of oxytocin. Oxytocin is also secreted in response to massage. Oxytocin, in turn, enhances dopamine production (gratification, motivation) and suppresses inflammation – ‘feel good’ stuff. Oxytocin is therefore the mediator of the placebo effect – the belief that something enhances your wellness. It accounts for up to 40% of the effectiveness of all healthcare interventions! So the mind-body experts such as Mary are on to a good thing – they’ve got us all by the ..... oxytocin!

Best wishes for 2017!

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