Before she announced a bid to seek the Democratic nomination for the presidency, I had mostly forgotten about spiritual leader and author Marianne Williamson; however, like many Angelenos, I went through a Marianne Williamson phase. In a dark period of my life, I found comfort in her book A Return to Love, and even went so far as to purchase a copy of Williamson’s Bible of sorts, A Course in Miracles, which is dense and hard to read and honestly all kinds of interesting. I sometimes attended her regular Monday night talks, too.
That said, she is not someone from whom anyone should be taking medical advice, despite the fact that she is keen to give it. This is true of all non-credentialed influencers and celebrities. The fact that some are prone to doling it out to audiences with whom they’ve built trust and admiration for other reasons is a large part of what gives wellness a bad name. The wellness industry has become hotbed for hoaxes in part because of those offering dubious medical advice, people who at one time might have only influenced others as far as their voice could carry but now reach millions at once via social media. Some are harmless, sure, but many are actively dangerous. Consider blogger Belle Gibson, who claimed she’d cured a non-existent cancer and offered health advice accordingly, potentially leading very sick people away from live-saving medical treatments in favor of nonsense therapies.
Earlier this summer, Williamson called vaccines “draconian” and “Orwellian,” and said that she doesn’t see a difference between government-mandated shots and abortion regulations—statements I consider dangerous. She’s since backtracked, saying that she misspoke, that she does believe in science and life-saving vaccines, but that she doesn’t trust Big Pharma. Still, I would prefer someone with 2.7 million followers on Twitter, and now a platform on the national political stage (she was the top-searched candidate following Tuesday’s Democratic debate on CNN), not to call vaccines into question at all given their critical function in society. Besides, whether or not you “believe” in vaccines, I think we can all agree that our thoughts on the matter shouldn’t be informed by celebrity opinion. With regard to vaccines, we should consult professionals educated in the fields of medicine and science.
Marianne Williamson is not someone from whom anyone should be taking medical advice, despite the fact that she is keen to give it.
Vocal skepticism about vaccines isn’t Williamson’s first attempt to promote pseudoscience. Some allege she played a Gibson-like role at the height of the AIDS epidemic by leading patients who visited the Los Angeles Center for the Living, a support center for the terminally ill which she founded, away from medicinal therapies in favor of more esoteric “treatments,” such as positive thinking. Passages immortalized in the bestselling book A Return to Love offer damning evidence of the types of messages she may have been feeding this vulnerable population. Williamson denies she preached against medical interventions, and she is seen by some as an early AIDS activist. Both the Center and Project Angel Food, which she also founded in the late ’80s, served mostly people impacted by AIDS.
Harder to deny would be Williamson’s more recent writings, in Tweet form, condemning a different type of medical intervention: antidepressants. For instance, she dubbed the “psychotherapeutic-psychopharmacological-industrial complex” as “one of the most threatening forces in America today,” among other similar tweets. I believe that Lexapro saved my life, and so I think Williamson’s non-medical opinions about antidepressants are the real threat. And yet I continue to enjoy Williamson’s spiritual teachings. I don’t think it’s hypocritical to be interested in what she has to say in that arena while wanting her to just. stop. talking. with respect to physical and mental health.
Well+Good occasionally explores healing modalities that aren’t necessarily backed by science—and we love us some astrology—but when it comes to health, we always look to educated, trained professionals for advice. We’re not asking an astrologist what should be done about irritable bowel syndrome or a celebrity to evaluate treatment for psoriasis. We know that what we write has influence, and we don’t want that influence to compel people to take risks with their health or to invest in placebo treatments.
Ultimately, I’m open to new ideas and revelations when it comes to health, and there are many things we did in the past based on science that are now viewed as ridiculous (hi, fat-free everything), so it’s important to remain curious and discerning. This doesn’t mean discounting science in favor of a celebrity opinion, though, and I hope that’s a hard point with which to disagree.
A recent study of 650,000 children found absolutely no link between vaccines and autism. The wellness industry is a breeding ground for scams—here’s how to avoid being fooled.
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