Wednesday, December 4, 2013

#817: Byron Katie

A.k.a. Katie Byron
A.k.a. Byron Kathleen Mitchell

Byron Katie is a speaker and author, self-help guru and proponent of New Thought, who teaches a method of “self-inquiry” known as “The Work of Byron Katie” or simply as “The Work”. It is worth relating her own account of how she came by this method: “I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional.” The method, which costs money, consists of questions intended to help people identify stressful thoughts and to inquire into them, “finding their own truth and understanding”, followed by “turnarounds”, which is supposed to provide you with alternatives.

So ok – this sounds like normal self-help fluff, couched in the helplessly incoherent language of such fluff. Is it enough for lunacy? Well, here is an account of how “The Work” is actually used in practice. Yes, it is a combination of The Secret and hardcore blame-the-victim tactics, infused with New Age “spirituality” and dubious methods (e.g. Alcoholics Anonymous’ quackish “twelve-step program”). I guess you have to take the idea rather far into loonland to be able to write several books (many with her husband Stephen Mitchell) on such a topic.

Apparently Jenny McCarthy is a fan, if more evidence of woo was required.

Diagnosis: Another one of a long row of people who have found a way of earning money off of people in difficult situations by offering them nothing. Katie’s intentions are presumably the best, but that is just not enough to justify her actions.


  1. So how do you guys choose and find loons for this site?

  2. Excuse me, G.D. Alcoholics Anonymous has saved millions of lives and marriages from the ravages of alcohol. You just don't like it because it contends that human beings have a spiritual dimension and need to tend to that.

  3. "Alcoholics Anonymous has saved millions of lives and marriages from the ravages of alcohol"

    But the evidence simply doesn't support the claim that the AA treatment is an effective treatment for alcoholism. Though it is, of course, hard to conduct completely well-designed studies, what research exists (quite a bit) suggests that AA is no more effective than just quitting on your own, and less effective than numerous other treatments. See the Cochrane review here, for instance. Similar results were found in Kaskutas et al.'s 2009 metaanalysis (here).

    Based on meta-analysis, the Handbook of Alcoholism Treatment Approaches ranks AA as the 38th most effective treatment for alcoholism out of a list of 48 treatments (here). In short, AA has managed to get a decent reputation. But their methods are more dogma than evidence, and haven't been modified in the face of evidence either.

    My assessment of AA has nothing to do with spirituality or whatever, but everything to do with their reliance on dogma rather than research to ground their methods. Think of how many lives and marriages they would have saved if they had been willing to drop the techniques that don't work, and adopt others that do.