Monday, May 27, 2013

When MLM Meets Psychology, very bad things ensue

Amway Center
Amway, not always associated with ethics...
Amway Center (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Those who read a lot of entries on this blog will note that a LOT of the entries involve psychology, such as cognitive bias, coercive persuasion, mental manipulation, and so on and so forth. It could almost be said that a psychologist would be the ultimate MLM salesperson, as he knows all the triggers to push in people. Fortunately, most psychologists have professional ethics code that would stop them from exploiting their... talent.

Or so I thought, until I came across this old case in California.

In 1999, a Dr. Tom Allison was found to have been severely negligent when he recruited a couple, the Brannans, whom he had been counseling for three years (one's dissociative, the other schizophrenic), into his Amway downline. Not only did they join as his downline, he also paid for quite a bit of their training and travel expenses to various events.  As a psychologist, these are indeed patient boundary violations and professional ethics violations. He apparently tried to argue that the trips were "therapeutic", and he only let them join because they needed money, never mind the fact that he stands to benefit from their sales of products.

His explanation was rejected. His license was revoked, then the revocation stayed, and he was given 5 years probation (on his California medical license). He was also fined $11500 for investigative expenses.

This sounds like the board was rather hard on him, but a different version of the story painted a dramatically different picture.

Those who actually read the board decision would be surprised that any punishment was taken, as the board basically concluded that the psychologist was himself coercively manipulated by the couple he was counseling, esp. the wife, into violating his ethics code and breaking the patient boundaries. Quoting from the RecordNet report by Michael Fitzgerald:
The board said the Brannans -- Marie in particular -- manipulated Allison into social and business relationships because they envied his lifestyle. They wanted to be part of it. They wanted his friendship.
Allison, who should have known better, not only enlisted the Brannans into Amway, he sold them Amway products, took them to Amway parties, drove them to Amway functions, loaned them personal items and hired Sam to do odd jobs, the report said.
I'm surprised he didn't f*** the wife too. 

The couple's now divorced, according to the article.

The problem here is MLM itself is designed to break boundaries. Normally, we have separate lives: a business / work life, and a personal / family life. MLM is specifically designed to break the barrier between the two. Take your work home? Heck, your life IS your work, and vice versa!

Make sure your life is in order before you even THINK about MLM, because you will cause some severe turbulence when you introduce MLM into it.

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