There are less than scrupulous people in all industries and walks of life, but still, to me it feels like I’m seeing a rise in snake oil salesmen( and women) in the personal growth and spiritual development arenas. As someone who as offered services that fell under those umbrellas in the past, it’s really hard for me to think of sharing space with folks that don’t have their clients/students highest good in mind. I’ve also been a patron of this industry myself, so it makes selecting the right teacher, healer, guru, or what-have-you a challenge.
When I was called to study shamanic practices, I had two options for local, in-person training. Both seemed reputable, no big red flags went off for me that either option was just out to make money or take advantage of people in any other way. They had good intentions. So it came down to personal preference, teaching style, and my gut. I ended up making my choice mostly based on the fact that one set of teachers very much taught as they were taught from their teachers, and were directly affiliated with an organization; and the other teacher taught what she was taught by teachers and what she learned in her own experiences, and was more loosely affiliated with that same organization. I chose the teacher who taught less by the book and more by her direct experience; to me, that felt more authentic.
Here are some tips of selecting a teacher, healer or guru:
- Always, always, always trust your gut. If someone just makes your skin crawl, run away!
- Watch out for red flags. For me, these include:
- Lack of transparency or clarity around what they do and how they do it, from course content to teaching style to healing methods to receiving payments.
- Any sort of dishonesty or lying.
- A bad reputation. If one person isn’t happy with their experience, that might not be concerning, but if there is a pattern – buyer beware.
- An insistence that there is only one way, and/or that their way is the only one way.
- A narrow worldview. It’s OK to specialize, but everyone should understand how they fit into the larger picture (and understand there is a larger picture).
- Any kind of pressure to do anything you don’t want to do.
- Emphasis on them having “the answers” or “the cure.” Instead I look for a focus on skills, techniques, support, guidance, encouragement and/or inspiration.
- Know your learning style, and make sure it fits well with their teaching style. I learn best experientially in small groups. I’ve found it doesn’t matter if this is in person or online. I make my decisions accordingly. (Sometimes you can add the group part yourself, the recent ecourse I took was online, but I took it together with a small group and adding that dynamic ourselves at least doubled it’s value for me!)
- Know what you are comfortable with. If you are looking for a healer but don’t like people touching you, make sure you find someone who practices a technique that is hands off, or can make adjustments to accommodate you.
- Know what you can afford. Financially, energetically and time-wise. You might be able to compromise or negotiate if you are really set on a teacher or program and it’s a stretch, but if it’s just not feasible, don’t force it. It’ll negatively impact the experience, not giving you or the service provider a fair shot.
- Don’t be afraid to test the waters. I took a one-time introductory course with my shamanic teacher and read her books before I signed up for a yearlong apprenticeship. If those first experiences hadn’t felt right to me, I would have kept looking.
Sometimes we still find ourselves with a teacher or healer that is a bad fit, or even unscrupulous. If this happens, you need to decide how big of an issue it is. Can you let the relationship just run its course or do you feel the need to cut ties immediately? What might the repercussions be? Could you be out money? Would it still be worth it to you? Only you can answer these questions – check your gut! If you need to cut ties, be honest but polite. Say you aren’t comfortable continuing working with the person and that you’ll no longer be seeing them. If appropriate, ask for money back for services not yet received. And chalk it up to being a learning experience.