“Holistic” Ableism, Fauxhemians, Oh My: The Dangers of Health Misinformation on Social Media
Before we start, here is a glossary of the major terms I used so we can all be working from the same place of definitions during this essay reading experience:
“Holistic” Ableism: An accidental term I made up in a rant to concisely describe the ableism many “holistic” figures with status, ie social media influencers or self proclaimed gurus in communities, uphold in order to set themselves up as people with “special exclusive knowledge” that others, namely disabled people, cannot receive from anywhere else (especially western doctors). They often reduce disability to a personal failing ie dietary, poor self care, believing the diagnosis as truth, and more nonsense. Doing this usually results in cult of personality — making many of these figures impenetrable from critique and they are able to finesse hella money by taking advantage of the desperation and vulnerability people have who are really desperate to no longer suffer. The holistic is in quotation marks because these people actually do not uphold the principles of holistic care.
Ableism: is deeply informed by capitalist logic. Capitalism requires labor power. Under capitalism, disabled people are made to be disposable — it labels anyone who cannot produce value within the process of commodity production as being disposable. That logic has negative consequences for disabled people.Ableism is a set of beliefs and practices designed to discriminate against disabled people and make disabled people easily disposable — especially those who are colonized. It also is a refusal to humanize and empathize with the unique struggle of disabled people but instead prioritize able bodied people.
Fauxhemian: A person who is not genuinely well informed in holistic traditions, practices, and medicine. Is usually very spiritually confused too. A great example = New Age “practitioners” — for more detail on this example and its application to the term fauxhemian, read a thread by me on Twitter complete with sources: https://twitter.com/itswalela/status/1125078605808070661
Colonialism: To paraphrase James Yaki Sayles, Colonialism is as a whole: the exploitation of natural resources and the prevention of the independent development of industry, the drawing of arbitrary national borders, and the implantation of alien political systems; the imposition of eurocentric education system, the distortion of the history of the colonized peoples.
Settler Colonialism: Distinguishes itself from other forms of colonialism because the fundamental goal of settler colonialism is the total extermination of the indigenous population or the colonized people in order to create space for settlers to create their own society and see themselves as “the new native” and essentially replace them. For example: the US is a settler colonial state and because the base logic was extermination, they didn’t have indigenous labor so settlers had to “source” labor via enslavement and force Africans to work to build their nation
SO what prompted this whole essay was a result of me scrolling on Instagram and seeing a post that made me scratch my head and say “that’s ableist.” The post came from an extremely popular Instagram account known as “the holistic psychologist” spearheaded by Dr. Nicole LePera. The post was the following:
The logic informing what Dr. LePera wrote places a lot of personal responsibility on the patient for having mental illness. How so? Dr. LePera speaks of a new paradigm in which she gives people the tools to become self healers which involves: becoming conscious, acknowledging childhood trauma, triggers, speaking “messages of limitless empowerment,” reparenting, self care, and more. The problem is: these words are juxtaposed next to paragraphs in which she’s also talking about mental illness in quotations saying “mental illnesses” aren’t in fact mental illnesses but rather messengers of life experience and trauma & so once we can heal ourselves of that, then we can move forward as “conscious warriors.”
Of course, it is imperative for us to be equipped with the tools to aid our coping mechanisms. Of course it is important that we become aware of our triggers, our trauma, our family’s trauma, and work on that. However, sometimes even doing all of that is not enough. Sometimes we need more and sometimes that is in the form of professional help like a psychotherapist or psychiatrist. Because the state of our mental health or having a mental illness isn’t a result of our “failings” to self heal.
In 2019, my mental health was on a downward spiral. I was feeling suicidal and decided I needed to see a therapist. I started working diligently with an incredible trauma informed therapist who could see me and all the ways I moved through the world, he respects my politics, and specializes in disability esp cancer. I felt seen as a whole person, he assigned incredible homework to do in between our visits: journaling, establishing a routine, self care, going to yoga, and more. I was becoming self aware of my triggers, I was unpacking hella trauma, and still I felt disappointed where I had periods of time where it felt like nothing was working. I soon realized that I needed to see a psychiatrist too. Two weeks later, I was diagnosed with depression, generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD/CPTSD, and PMDD. I exhaled relief because it made sense. I cried because I finally understood that this suffering wasn’t deserved or was the result of me not trying hard enough. Over the course of 6 months I worked with my psychiatrist consistently either once or a couple times a month. He collected as much personal history about me as possible (he basically has an autobiography of my life at this point) and we worked slowly to find dosages of each medication until we found a perfect fit. Through the balance of both medication and being intentional about my work in and outside of therapy, I’m in a better place than I have been in 12 years.
At first glance, The.Holistic.Psychologist’s posts appear insightful and helpful, especially for those who don’t have access to therapy ie many poor people, especially poor colonized people. I was recommended to her page from a friend and had even shared some of her posts a couple times. I mostly trusted the recommendation because of how many mutuals we had (poor mistake I learned last year). However, upon seeing this post yesterday, I decided to delve further into Dr. LePera’s page and found multiple posts filled with ableism that I had either missed before or were older. I also received messages of first hand experiences from her former followers about her lack of accountability as well as her seemingly harmless yet genuinely harmful rhetoric.
Here are a small number of examples (for more examples honestly just go to the IG page and scroll):
And this account isn’t isolated, this is a pattern across many pages online (and people in real life) proclaiming to be “holistic” healers, practitioners, or filled with “holistic knowledge,” because they read something online or they feel like they are when that’s simply not the case. Instead these people masquerade problematic rhetoric that is usually ableist as “self healing.” Hence: “holistic” ableism.
Hood Healer, an account with over 100,000 followers on Instagram, being homophobic and using ableist slurs: https://twitter.com/_iamtiredLord/status/1191815041575792640
Dr Sebi: “Dr. Sebi” Was Either A Complete Fool Or A Complete Fraud, But He Was No Healer — a complete breakdown on Dr. Sebi’s nonsensical misinformation being presented as cures.
As we can see in these examples (this is a very small number, there are plenty more out there), the problematic rhetoric expands beyond ableism but can also turn into ableism + classism, queerphobia, “I don’t see color,” and “positive vibes only,” toxic positivity, one cure for all nonsense. And the worst part is, many of these self proclaimed healers either have a sizable social media following, or heavy duty client lists, or are founders of centers, or are often selling a product or workshops to “deepen the understanding.” This is a lucrative business for either social capital or monetary profit because healing is something everyone desperately wants.
There’s nothing wrong with surviving under capitalism, but these people aren’t as informed as they present themselves to be, hardly offer sources, if they do it’s to a random off base sole study that they believe “proves” their point (studies need to be peer reviewed and conducted multiple times), they meld too many wildly different cultural & spiritual practices (which is dangerous and here’s a twitter thread I wrote with plenty of sources and further reading: https://twitter.com/itswalela/status/1125078605808070661), and constantly push misleading ideas rooted in problematic beliefs. The result is staggering because a wealth of misinformation is spread, many are made to feel they aren’t “doing enough” to “fix” their disability, and these people are constantly put on a pedestal.
This isn’t a tirade against holistic medicine. It’s a critique of fauxhemians who claim to possess “holistic” knowledge and in fact are causing harm or have the potential to cause great harm. Holistic medicine at its core is to treat the entire being. A lot of fauxhemians or fake “holistic” experts are proponents of these over simplified one type fits all blanket fixes to extremely complex diseases, disabilities, or disorders and that approach IS NOT a holistic approach. A holistic approach considers everything — so, reducing shit to one size fits all solutions (usually coupled with disregarding diagnoses) is in fact dangerous.
And believe me, I have empathy for our desire to self heal. I understand how people such as this become so popular online or in communities making them impenetrable from critique due to the cult of personality surrounding them. I believe for many colonized people in particular — the ongoing violence of capitalism and settler colonialism in that we’ve been stripped of our traditions, that we are exploited, displaced, murdered, and treated as disposable — results in a deep yearning to have a say in our destiny. Pages like The.Holistic.Psychologist or The Hood Healer or Dr Sebi or whomever else appeal to our desire to exercise some form of self determination; where we feel as though we are active participants in our healing because we aren’t relying on a system designed to kill us or maybe because we hope we are practicing something similar to our ancestors. Many people masquerading as “holistic” practitioners or “holistic” therapists will use buzzwords (often incorrectly) to gain our trust but ultimately they prey on our vulnerability and desperation — especially for those of us who are colonized disabled people. And I know that because I have experienced it first hand.
In 2017, I was diagnosed with advanced stage leukemia — a battle I am still fighting almost 3 years later. My cancer is complex, it is smart, it often stuns oncologists as it doesn’t “act how it should,” and it cannot even be broken down simply in a sentence. There are many factors at play with my cancer, my treatment, my genes, my longevity, etc. It’s overwhelming and to describe it accurately would require a ton of medical mumbo jumbo. I remember being 23 years old and being overwhelmed with all of this. I remember desperately wanting more for myself and some semblance of control over my life. Navigating a medical system that is designed to not give a fuck about us and that usually kills poor Black people, I felt like MediCal was in charge of my life and I wanted to do more to heal & secure my future.
Due to my many terrifying encounters with careless doctors, I was very open at the start of my cancer journey to try alternatives. I was introduced to an older woman who claimed to have been given divine knowledge. She was well known in my neighborhood and so at the time, there was no reason not to trust her. She proceeded to tell me about a regiment she has for everyone which was: eating a vegan diet and drinking an EXTREMELY diluted chlorophyll drink. She claimed doing both would cure my cancer. The catch: I couldn’t be on my oral chemotherapy and the drinks would cost me $60 a week. She never once asked for details on my cancer, the medications I was taking, my family history, other supplements I was on, there was nothing. But naive me was so desperate and too trusting, I gave in.
After about a month of this “regiment” in 2017, I went to an ER because I wasn’t feeling well. A blood test revealed my white blood cell count was 100% more than normal at 100,000. Moments like this are dangerous for someone with my advanced staging because once our counts start spiking, it’s extremely difficult to bring them down and the risk for infection is always high. Luckily, my count started coming down after going back on my oral chemo. However, this still didn’t change the fact that my life was close to being on the line because I listened to a VERY convincing ‘holistic’ practitioner aka a fraud who finessed $240 from me for some knock off chlorophyll drinks and told me to go vegan.
In 2018, I met my acupuncturist at a community holistic center. I told her the story I just told y’all. I also told her the story of how I tried Simply Wholesome’s famous olive oil cleanse that landed me in the hospital because the gallbladder is not designed to process copious amounts of oil. She started shaking her head profusely. She then warned me to not trust anyone who claims to be a “holistic” practitioner but is unwilling to accept my diagnosis as valid, who tells me I have to go off my chemo to receive their care, who is unwilling to work with my western doctors, and who does not inquire more about my disabilities & their complexities. And just like that, a light illuminated. Using those guidelines, I’ve been able to create an impeccable care team of holistic practitioners that balance out my western care.
What my acupuncturist said also made me spot fauxhemians much more quickly. The ones who I detected as frauds were: those who claimed to be students of Dr. Sebi without knowing Dr. Sebi himself was an entire fraud, those who wanted me to go off my chemo / put my cancer in “” / and wanted me to PURCHASE their product (I believe in compensating people, this is very different), New Agers, those who shoved veganism down my throat, those who made clear they didn’t understand nor were they willing to understand the complexity of my cancer, those who didn’t have mentors, or licensing, or tradition, those who insinuated my chemo would limit my spiritual capabilities, and let’s never forget: random people doling out unsolicited advice because they read swipe throughs on meme pages about gut health or alkalizing my diet.
In an age where social media can be one of the greatest places to build community and feel seen, it is also a place that often relies on lack of critical thinking (ie taking a meme that says drinking sea moss will help with mental health for face value). When we do not question the information we are being told, when we are not investigating for ourselves but instead putting other people on pedestals and allowing them to tell us shit cuz we have tons of mutuals or they have a ton of followers — well it becomes a damn mess. It results in a really agonizing cycle of misinformation being spread and especially when it comes to ‘holistic’ ableism and fauxhemians: it can border becoming really fuckin dangerous as it can play with peoples physical and mental well being.
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