Why You Should Steer Clear of Byron Katie’s “Work”

LO asks: “Can you recommend the book “Loving What Is” by Byron Katie? And also, practicing her process that she calls “the work” is that an OK thing to do or an anti-catholic thing to do?  . . . I don’t want to do anything or entertain anything that could take me in a direction away from Our Lord and the Catholic Church. In general, I’m having anxiety & stress and would like to do some independent reading/work before I need a therapist…can you give any ideas for authors or specific books?”

I would steer clear of Byron Kathleen Reid (aka Byron Katie) for a variety of reasons.

First, would you place something as important as your mental health into the hands of someone who has no training in psychology and who claims to have received her “inspiration” for how to heal mental anxieties while watching a cockroach walk across her foot? (I’m not making this up.)

Before she became a famous self-help guru, Byron Katie was a business woman and mother of three who lived in small town named Barstow in the deserts of southern California. She claims to have been suffering from a variety of mental health issues such as paranoia, rage, self-loathing, depression, and constant thoughts of suicide. Her condition became so bad during the 1980s that for two years she was completely unable to leave her bedroom.

And then one morning in February, 1986, she was in a halfway house for women with eating disorders when she experienced a life-changing moment of enlightenment. It occurred while she was laying in bead and feeling the sensation of a cockroach crawling across her foot. As she explains in her book: “It was as if something else had woken up. It opened its eyes. It was looking through Katie’s eyes … it was intoxicated with joy.”

It was at that exact moment that the four questions she uses in her “therapy” appeared in her consciousness. These four questions constitute the core of her teaching, which is also referred to as “the Work.” It consists of addressing a negative thought such as “Why doesn’t my mother love me more?” with the following four questions: 

1.  Is it true or can I really know that it’s true?

2.  How do I react when I think that thought?

3.  Can I find one peaceful reason to believe that thought?

4.  Who would I be without the thought?

She claims these four questions cured her of her mental problems. “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. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment.”

Katie experienced such a turnaround that people began to ask her what happened. When she would tell them, they’d want to try it too. Before long, she was staging group meetings in her living room, and then began to give seminars and workshops. She now offers a nine-day course that goes for $5,110 (tuition is $3,545 and accommodations are $1,565).

That people would spend this much money to attend a “course” by a woman with no training in mental health work has caused concern among authorities. In 1999, the California Board of Psychology became alarmed after listening to a tape of Katie working with an incest survivor. What would happen if the woman had a nervous breakdown during a session, they wanted to know. How would Katie know how to help her? Katie argued that the woman’s emotional state after the session was her own responsibility just as it was before they met. Ultimately, the board dropped the investigation, but questions remain.

One pscyhologist, Marion Jacobs, who has studied self-help groups such as Katie’s says some of her questions are “fundamental to cognitive behavioral therapy” and make the kind of connections between thoughts and feelings that any therapist would do. However, Katie isn’t just preaching at a conference. She’s working with people one-on-one, which is what a therapist does – only she’s not a licensed therapist.

The second serious concern I have about Byron Katie is what I read in the blogs of some past participants in her nine-day course. 

In this blog, the participant described characteristics of the sessions that are typical of mind-control cults. For instance, this participant said they were forced to undergo a 36 hour fast and were fed a rich organic diet that made many people vomit which they were told was evidence of the “cleansing” power of the Work. They were made to put in long days (7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. on most days) with only brief breaks for meals and were forbidden all contact with family or the outside world. They endured long and “intense” confessional sessions and excessive probing into traumatic moments in their lives. Participants were also invited to criticize Katie, and then, when they did so, they were shunned by the group.

These kinds of control tactics are all associated with cults and are designed to break down a person’s psyche in order to brainwash them with new ways of thinking and perceiving the world.

This particular participant went on to say: “Although The Work is presented as for anyone of any religion, once I became a part of Katie’s captive audience, it became very clear that was no so. Katie claims to have no beliefs, because she is ‘clear’ and lives in ‘reality’ or ‘heaven,’ her belief system is actually very strong, very distinct, and very anti-Christian. And, anyone whose belief system doesn’t match hers is treated like the ‘unenlightened’ sap who needs to keep questioning his/her thoughts until they can see things Katie’s way.”

Katie’s organization also requires the signing of disclaimers, another red-flag and popular tactic of cults who don’t want to get sued if you get hurt during their “classes.”

LO, if you are in need of therapy or advice on good do-it-yourself books, I would contact www. Catholictherapists.com which is run by a good friend of this ministry, Allison Ricciardi. I’m sure that once you give her more information on your needs, she’ll be able to steer you in the right direction and into places that are solidly Catholic!

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