Sweat Lodge Deaths: Regulate Self-Help Gurus?

James Ray pleads not guilty to manslaughter charges in sweat lodge deaths.

ByABC News
February 4, 2010, 3:12 PM

Feb. 4, 2010— -- James Ray once said, "I don't have bad days; I have challenges."

Appearing in court in Arizona today to plead not guilty to three charges of manslaughter, he is confronting what may be the biggest challenge of his life.

Ray, a self-help guru and motivational speaker, has made millions of dollars telling people how to better lead their lives. His attorneys insist he had no idea that people who died inside a "sweat lodge" he operated on Oct. 8, 2009, were so sick. They say the incident was a tragic accident, not a crime.

But the three deaths stemming from the ceremony are intensifying calls for government regulation of the $11 billion-a-year self-help industry based upon books, lectures, talk shows and radio shows. Critics say some self-help gurus essentially operate as unlicensed therapists, pushing vulnerable people into the danger zone.

For Ray, it's been a hard, harsh fall from his days on the couch at the "Oprah Winfrey Show," and as a contributing teacher to the monster hit book and DVD "The Secret," in which he and others argued that you can "attract" anything you want into your life through the power of your thoughts.

Former Ray employee Melinda Martin said Ray refused to stop the Oct. 8 ceremony inside a makeshift hut -- a so-called "sweat lodge" ceremony in which three people died and nearly 20 others were hurt.

Martin told ABC News that the scene looked as bad as a mass suicide.

"I happened to be on that side of the tent when James came out, stretched his arms up," Martin said. "Everybody hosed him off."