The Secret: Self-help Snake Oil

Vlog Summary: Candace A. McCullough reveals how “The Secret” is a modern-day version of snake oil. The vlog discusses the history of snake oil remedies and phrenology, both of which represent forms of pseudo-science. Based purely on claims, without scientific evidence, snake oils explode in popularity through hype and aggressive marketing. According to the law of attraction, the underlying theme of “The Secret”, your thoughts determine your destiny, and positive thoughts are of utmost importance. Based on this logic, Deaf people are entirely to blame for audism. Critics of the self-help book and DVD include psychologists, counselors, and social workers, many of whom are concerned about its blame-the-victim philosophy. Included in the vlog is a clip from the DVD, shown to illustrate the materialistic aspect of “The Secret”.

To cite:

McCullough, C. (2007, May 1). The Secret: Self-help Snake Oil. ASC on the Couch. Retrieved May 1, 2007, from http://www.ascdeaf.com/blog/?p=308

  1. Katie May 1, 2007

    I love your audism example! It does show how the Secret can hurt us in the deaf community. It seems absurd to blame oppression on negative thoughts by deaf people. Duh! Brilliant analysis as always.

  2. Amy Cohen Efron May 1, 2007

    BRILLLIIIIIAAAANNNNNNTTTT! I like how you presented yourself – and your message came across very, very clearly!

    I got The Secret as a gift from someone. The thought counts, shows that someone wanted to share this with me. I appreciate that gesture. The DVD is expertly produced (not surprised from the author who have a lot of experience with video production) and she knows how to tug emotions and desires from many of us… we all seek our happiness with material things.

    I believe in positive thinking, and I also believe that we strive to learn more about ourselves, and recognizing our own limitations, challenges, flaws and such… and always try to improve our coping strategies. Sometimes in our lives, we get very stressed or dealing with sudden changes in our lives… we need to seek out for support from friends, family and professionals.

    Also, we deal with audism everyday and once a person is able to recognize audism – by empowering ourselves with information, and seeking out support – and one excellent example for support is VLOGS!

    Your vlog is educational and you may never realize that you have contributed so much with this work.

    Keep it up and keep plugging, girl!

    Amy Cohen Efron

  3. Just reading along May 1, 2007

    What about “What the bleep do you know? and “What the bleep do you know: out of the rabbit hole” DVDs with Marlee Matlin hosting?

  4. Jimmy May 1, 2007

    I agree with you all that snake oil remedies won’t work – all we need to go on with life, learn from bad then heal and go on with life.

    The clips from Secret turned me off because they is all about money showed beautiful people which is not realistic. We all make the choices – I am never interested in self help books.

    I agree with your approach face or heal grief and pain and grow to be better person only if you want to.

    well Thanks for sharing with us all – we learn from your vlog everyday!

  5. raychelle May 1, 2007

    brillant analysis. thank you for helping me better explain my uneasisness with the secret and its message. it’s unfortunate because in the back of the book, there are about 20? famous authors who endorse the secret (chicken soup of the soul author, mars & venus author, conversations with god author to name a few). i wonder, are all of those part of the 10% or …? hmm.

  6. George May 1, 2007

    What about the bible? Read Matthew 19:26- But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. Amen. I encourage you to read the bible instead of the book of Secret.

  7. MikeS May 1, 2007

    Interesting. Looks like denial for most part. Money values, oh wow, people are going to be really disappointed, no matter how hard they smile. Thanks for sharing.

  8. LaRonda May 1, 2007


    I am deeply moved by your professional and insightful review of “The Secret”. I am embarrassed and guilty of having been swept away by the explosive popularity of this book. I did not read this book to seek wealth or gain possessions. I was not looking for any particular magic, self-help formula or cure. Simply put, I purchased and read the book because I fell into the wave of those caught up in it’s name and popularity. The bottom line was that I wanted to know what the heck “the secret” was! I wanted to be “in the know!” (Oy!)

    As I read the book, I found myself drawn, not so much to the “Law of Attraction,” but rather, to the concept of “Positive Thinking” and how it shapes our outlook on life. I liked thinking about setting personal goals, visualizing how I want to live my life, and reflecting on what kind of person I am or want to be. The book stirred up these attractive thoughts for me and I enjoyed thinking on them.

    As a result, I found myself experimenting with focusing on what was good in my life, what I currently had, what I was grateful for, and what was working. I began to practice the “attitude of gratitude” and noticed myself feeling more positive about life in general. The book appealed to me in this respect.

    However, I was NEVER comfortable with the emphasis the book placed on greed or the acquisition of money or possessions. And I deeply disagreed with the assertation that in some way, people (such as the Jews who suffered the Holocaust) summon or manifest all of the negative things that happen(ed) to them based on their thoughts.

    I read the book with a smile on my face and one eyebrow raised. I kept what was meaningful for me and let the rest gently blow away in the wind. However, I’m still guilty of buying the darn “snake-oil” from the charismatic seller! I was not wooed by any promise. I was not looking for one. I was just drawn in, hook, line and sinker, by the darn title! Powerful marketing!

    After viewing your professional and thoughtful analysis of this book and other self-help remedies, I am deeply aware that I need to look more carefully at what I read and what I believe.

    So, from my heart, I respectfully thank you, for caring enough to bring this book into a new light. You are a beacon for others in the deaf community. Keep guiding and shining on!

    (And just in case Risa from Desparate Housewives is reading this, I still think you are an awesome person and thank you too, for sharing your earlier reviews on “The Secret” and for letting me comment on them while I was reading.)

    It’s been a learning experience.

    ~ LaRonda

  9. Katherine May 1, 2007

    We live in a society that allows some people to take advantage of others and get away with it. It is sad that nothing in the law prevents them from doing it.

    I think many of us have fallen prey to their deceit at some point in our lives. The more we educate others, the less vulnerable they are
    to being taken advantage of. I’ve gotten smarter over the years, especially with my late deaf grandparents’ constant lecture to us based on their experience and wisdom, to be cautious. They were big suckers to many things that happened in their lives. I am so happy you are doing a vlog to reach a mass of people in the Deaf community.

    I agree that sweeping everything that’s negative under the rug is not helping in the long run. That leads to artifical and temporary change, and it is unhealthy. It is bound to haunt you with issues that have been suppressed. Once they experience the realness of how life is and to tackle with the problems head on, it’ll be the best thing that ever happened in their lives no matter how hard it is.

  10. Just reading along May 2, 2007

    So the book does use the Holocaust as an example??! (I haven’t seen this book or dvd)

  11. Julie Rems-Smario May 2, 2007

    I agree with Candance and LaRonda. Only if I could actually have the law of attraction to wish away President Bush after his veto today. 🙂

    The materialistic part of the DVD was a huge turn off. Dreaming for a fancy sports car was disgusting. Why couldnt the DVD just focus on creating positive social changes instead of money, cars, jewelry, etc. Think global!

    Also the relationship which bordered on domestic violence shown in the DVD was a huge concern of mine. I do wonder how many women suffered domestic violence at the expense of this DVD.

    My best teacher is the negative experience in my life.

    There are some parts of the Secret I like. Its the positive outlook we all benefit from. We have nothing to lose by having a vision of positive goals for the betterment of our lives and our world. Imagine what we can do if we all shared the same vision and goals for world peace and work towards the goal.

    I have always aimed to pratice the power of positive thinking, even way before this DVD came out. Martin Luther King once said “I have a dream”. His vision was to see Black and white children playing together. This vision became a reality after he died. Dreams do come true with passion, dedication, and hard work.

    Yes I have a dream. I dream for a shelter and transitional home in California for abused Deaf women and their children. And its my passion and dedication to see it happen.


  12. Debbie P May 2, 2007

    Here is a cool link that discusses how the leaders of Delta Zeta – the sorority decided to expel all overweight and nonwhite members from its Depauw University chapter. It says that the leaders must have read the Secret because the author Rhonda Byrne advises that you can keep your weight down by avoiding the sight of fat people. For more information, click here.


  13. John F. Egbert May 2, 2007

    I agree with what Julie Rems-Smarlo said.

    I got this DVD from NetFlix that my son choose for me to watch after hearing some information about it.

    At first, I was very impress with “The Secret” dvd and liked about how to think positively and not think negative things.

    I found that it was hard not to think negative issues that enter my mind but I learned to think positive remedies more often than just think bad about it.

    Candace, for some reason, I am always thinking of a solution how to have the betterment in Deaf Education. It is really only a simple solution and it is to have a deaf child to learn two language which nearly all hearing children in schools are doing right now but there is a powerful organization that for their own personal reason is putting out an enormous selfish propaganda to deny a self-righteous language of the deaf people which is ASL.

    And because of AGBell’s gigantic propaganda about the validity of American Sign Language having impedance towards English language which is a BIG lie, which causes many Deaf people having a lot of negative thoughts towards audism.

    I admit that I had a lot of negative thoughts more than positve solutions to remedy the problem. But I started to think more positive solutions but the negative thoughts just keeps popping up in my head and effectively ruined my moments at the time that could have been more productively in positive way.

    Then came along “The Secret”, I realize that the whole DVD was too optimistic in some ways but I applied something to myself that made me look forward on a bright side knowing that we will achieve to goal in having deaf children across the country in having the opportunity to learn two language, ASL and English.

    “The Secret” DVD is not 100% snake oil but yes it can be misleading.

    Candace, email me and I would like to give you my novel book, MindField and look at my new website,

    I am working on thinking positive solutions and thank you for your input about “The Secret”.


  14. Jessica May 2, 2007

    Interesting vlog! I have heard quite lots about this but haven’t read the book myself. There was an article in my local newspaper a while ago getting different responses on both sides. What I thought was that it had more to do with positive thinking, having only a little idea of the details in the book. Again I agree with you that I can imagine that positive thinking is beneficial. I like how LaRonda and Julie put it. Goals just don’t happen by itself but that you have to work for it. Thanks for sharing!

  15. John Krueger May 2, 2007

    Awesome job! Yeah, people will have to stop and think before doing things like buying self-help books or other products. Right now, popular among deaf community is Club Freedom. I am worried as it is a pyramid schme and people on bottom of pyramid will get hurt. Life is about experiencing and learning. You can’t have good without bad. How else would you define something good if you don’t have something to compare it with? Again, awesome job!

  16. Deaf Positive Thinker May 2, 2007

    I ASK for a flying horse. I BELIEVE in a flying horse. I will let you know as soon as I RECEIVE a flying horse. If I don’t receive a flying horse, I will see you for counseling.

  17. Jean Boutcher May 2, 2007

    Speaking of The Secret, alas, have not had a chance to read “The Secret.” However, your findings in your scholarly and exegetical analysis is true. I have found the parallel of the findings between yours and different researchers, including the viewpoints of five women on “The View”. It does not require a person to have a Ph.D. to debunk or to find it unreliable in The Secret.

    Regarding self-help books, I cannot agree. Researchers say they shudder after reviewing them about mind, body, health, economics, education, success, and the like. I realise that people who are very desperate tend to think or to want to believe that self-help books or lectures would be THE answer. Some aspects in books are not true. One would need to take them with a grain of salt; yet. most people tend to read — or listen, for that matter, without judgment, intelligence, and skepticism without taking the version to the bank. I remember one of the guest panelists giving a caveat to the audience that an author or a lecturer laughs all the way to the bank, knowing that most readers are gullible. Yes, in this era of the rise of greedy capitalism.

    I would shudder if an audience would buy what a lecturer says, “It is the fault of deaf people for the rise of audism.” I would be one of the people to walk out of the audience! My friend from NYC and I were absolutely shocked by a man who distruibuted a flyer, “Holocaust is a hoax,” when we entered the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I am very much turned off by people who send me New Testament verses by Paul, portraying themselves as holier than I am or books for “Dummies,” or “for Idiots.” I remember my first English professor at Gallaudet, warning students not to buy everything said in Cliff Notes. We greatly appreciate your brilliant analysis as well as educational vlog. It heightens the awareness amongst readers.

  18. ASLisRisen May 2, 2007

    Awesome job on educating us about “Snake Oil” on your video clip! I am glad that you did explained to us all! It was so interesting about watching DVD and reading book about the Secret with the ‘Catholics’ are using us ginnea pigs! I am trying to understand why those hearing catholics how to become Audisms! I wonder if the Catholics are “Snake Oil”???

    Hope you will have a good week! Hope to see you again with the next video clip!

  19. Mia May 2, 2007

    Interesting! I almost buy the book “The Secret”, The reason why i want it because my self-esteem really so poor, my goal is nothing do with money, money. I saw your video first to end about “Snake Oil”, meaning that we must be careful. Thank for letting us know, I won’t take it very seriously. I have to do something about myself how to lift myself getting good self-esteem.

  20. michele May 2, 2007

    There are so many self-help books out there that one does not know which ones are effective and which ones aren’t effective. Probably only very few of them and then they just magically disappear over the years. Some books stay on for many years like Dr Spock and child-rearing years.

    I agree with you that we need a balance of both positive and negative. That is what makes us humans. I met one man who was so involved in Amyway many years ago, they practice positive thinking and he was so into it that he forgot all about his family and his job. He put himself and his family into a very heavy debt because all he was thinking about getting rich with Amyway stuff and that was all he talked about. It reached to the point where we did not want to associate with him because we knew he would only talk about Amyway and how his life was very positive when we could see that his life was becoming into a shattered one. He ended up getting a divorce and it was very sad. Things like that really attract certain people and they get so obsessed with it that no one can even pull them out of this.

    I think there should be some kind of legislation or whatever to prevent those self-help books from eroding and making money out of poor souls just like pyramid schemes.

    As P.T. Barnum who was a very famous circus ringleader often said, “There is a sucker born every minute”.

  21. Teri May 2, 2007

    Another wonderful video post!

    Absolutely right! A lot of people are suckers for self-help books! Look, there is a famous saying … there’s a sucker born every minute. The self-help authors know that! Wake up and smell the money people are wasting.

    Yes, it is good to be optimistic, but people’s attitude does NOT cure cancer.

    I strongly suggest people who seek happiness read Dali’s books especially this book, “The Art of Happiness” (Jon, you need to return that book to me soon). His books have nothing to do with self-help issues, wealth, or religion. It’s all about awakening and enlightments.

    One more thing … here is one of my favorite quotes . . .

    “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

  22. Teri May 2, 2007


    Same quote! Ha! I was not done writing the comment during my lunch time. So, I left the webpage open til the end of last class to finish up writing. Your comment did not show until I hit the submit button. 🙂

    FYI, there is a proof that P.T. Barnum never did say it.

  23. michele May 2, 2007


    Wow! We were thinking the same thing! Interesting!!

    Smiles! ;-). It doesnt matter if PT Barnum said it or not, its true anyhow about suckers being born every minute, i love that quote.

  24. Cy May 2, 2007

    Dr Peck said it all – Life is hard. No quickie answer in this world. You gotta experience LIFE which is full of high and lows. You grow from it and learn from it. It shapes you. It is that simple.

    Thank you for presenting this so eloquently for everyone to understand!

    This has nothing to do with audism, but minorities are more vulnerable to snake oil medicine than most people due to being in the minority group and having experienced oppression, rejection, desperation, etc. Your vlog may help them realize there is no such thing as an easy road.

    If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

  25. Katie May 3, 2007


    I don’t think Candance is trying to say that the Secret per se is audist. She is only giving audism as an example for the blame-the-victim philsophy that the Secret is using. If the deaf person is thinking positively, she or he will experience no audism which is ridiculous.

    Deafread should have put this under Media instead of Audism. That is probably why some people may be confused about the issue of audism.

  26. Jessica May 3, 2007

    There is a very informative website about all the lies related to the Secret. Have you seen this before? Thanks for the warning. I did not really think about it until I saw your vlog and did some research. Whoa! http://www.thesecretlie.com/

  27. cy May 3, 2007

    That is what I said – nothing to do with audism. Just that deaf people are more vulnerable than most to snake oil medicine having experienced discrimination, rejection, frustruation, desperation, etc. If you look up the deafread’s category, you will see “audism” under the post title.

  28. ASC May 4, 2007

    Like many of you said, I agree that positive thinking certainly can make a difference in our lives (see an earlier ASC post on positive psychology: http://www.ascdeaf.com/blog/?p=166#respond ). Let’s think about this: how many of us already knew about positive thinking before “The Secret” came out? Clearly, it is nothing new – just recycled information presented with special effects, combined with claims of scientific and quantum physics evidence of its effectiveness. I am not sure what the purpose behind this is, except to make “The Secret” author and co-stars rich.

    Responding to some comments….

    Some critics have linked the “What the bleep do you know?” DVDs (starring Marlee Matlin) in the same category as “The Secret”. And although “The Secret” doesn’t specifically mention the Holocaust, its basic idea that we are all responsible for our situations does imply that people who suffered in the Holocaust, and anywhere else, did something to bring it on.

    A few of you mentioned you were given “The Secret” as a gift. I am sure that the people who gave you the gift had good intentions. It’s definitely the thought and caring gesture that count most. Some people may have gotten caught up in “The Secret” because of its appealing messages and the endorsements by many famous authors (most them are self-help authors who use the same basic marketing strategy to sell their books). From a narrow perspective, “The Secret” could be an attractive idea, but if you think about the implications and look at it from a broader perspective, it’s clear that its message is questionable. The emphasis on materialistic things is a big clue that something is “off” with “The Secret”.

    Interestingly, even Oprah, who was the big force behind the surge in popularity of “The Secret”, has publicly distanced herself from the book and film. She said the law of attraction is not the answer to everything.

    More than a few of you said that you have learned and grown from difficult life experiences. In my own experiences, I have found, more than once, that there are hidden blessings that come from negative experiences. Thinking about DeafRead.com, for example…many people share their frustrations with oppression and other negative experience, but I can see a lot of positive things coming out of this – unity, friendship, support, empowerment, new ideas, and so on. That’s great!



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