I was among a crowd of mainly middle-age people walking one recent Wednesday afternoon across the pleasant, grassy campus of Spokane Falls Community College.
A bearded twentysomething man - perhaps he was a student, perhaps not - watched us pass by, a look of bemused curiosity on his face. " Where are you all headed?" he asked.
In answer, I held up my bright purple folder, the one with the words "John Bradshaw Seminar" printed across the front.
"Oh, John Bradshaw," he said, smiling. " All your inner children are going to be healthy and happy."
I laughed, thinking as I did so about how Bradshaw accuses us media types of not understanding his message. Did he, I wondered, ever consider how common-denominator messaging tends to evoke such common-denominator reactions?
Bradshaw, for those of you who have never heard of him, is the high-profile - and I'm taking this right off the cover of his latest book, "Family Secrets" - counselor, theologian, management consultant, public speaker and "one of the primary figures in the contemporary self-help movement."
You'll find no argument about those claims here. I first encountered Bradshaw one night a few years ago while semiconsciously channel-surfing through a dull evening. My thumb paused as channel 7 filled the screen and Bradshaw's Texas-born twang filled the room.
Yes, he was talking about his inner child.
But unlike some other "primary figures in the contemporary self-help movement," whose images seem more tied to talk-show consultations than legitimate therapeutical work, Bradshaw seemed to radiate sincerity. With his voice mirroring the religious fervor of the Catholic priest he once was, he seemed to be making sense.
It is that inherent feel of integrity that allows Bradshaw to stand out in an overcrowded field. It also allows him to hold on to that feeling even while he operates with a marketing philosophy that depends on hot phrases such as "toxic shame," "ego integrity" and, of course, "inner child" - the very phrases that evoke smiles from twentysomething college students.
The benefit of such a philosophy is obvious: Hot phrases are easy to understand and easier to remember. They not only make complicated theories of behavior more accessible, they make it easy for celebrity therapists to attach such popularized theories to themselves.
The danger is equally obvious. Any catch-phrase, even a "hot" one, quickly becomes outdated. It passes over into the realm of cliche, and as it does so it loses effectiveness.
Sometimes it even becomes a joke. Remember "I'm OK, you're OK"?
Yet fashion is the nature of contemporary pop psychology. And even in such a realm, particularly among a crowd dominated by self-promoters, a John Bradshaw is worthy of attention.
There's nowhere near enough room in this limited space to do justice to all Bradshaw has to say during a daylong conference on such topics as personal boundaries, interactive patterns, healthy vs. dark secrets and the need for family honesty.
But we can cover one. When, for example, he talks of "boundary violations," Bradshaw weaves a scene we all should be familiar with: a parent trying to quiet a crying child by stuffing food in its mouth - and unknowingly setting the stage for an eating disorder.
The child, looking to his parent for guidance, gets a distorted sense of values. He fails to learn early on about how to delay gratification, never gets in touch with his body and tends for the rest of his life to eat beyond the point of satiation.
The likely future for this child involves stress, anxiety, unhappiness and, maybe, years of individual therapy. And eating is just one area in which such problems show up.
"You can reduce most human problems to boundary violations," Bradshaw said.
The onus is on parents to correct this situation, he said. And the best way to do that is to honor the child's attempts to establish his or her own identity - even when, initially, something unpleasant might occur.
"One Sunday my son wanted to wear his pajamas to church," Bradshaw told the SFCC audience. "I didn't say no. I just let him do it. I don't know what happened, but he never did it again."
Bradshaw's point, which he made amid the resulting laughter, concerned the need he felt to celebrate his son's attempts to utter his first "no." The boy was only attempting, Bradshaw said, to affirm his own sense of self.
"And when you crush it," he said, "you crush boundaries."
And hurt that inner child to its very core.