Self-Help Isn't Always Helpful

Self-help products can be very tempting. Especially for those who lack time and resources (and who doesn't) or are too embarrassed or proud to seek outside help (no shame). Even those who have sought professional help often use self-help products as additional coping tools. The self-improvement industry has capitalized on this by turning it into an $11 billion industry, according to Marketdata Enterprises, Inc., which has conducted the only business analysis of this industry.

As someone who has used these products (both professionally and personally), I still recognize the potential value.  However, potential doesn’t always translate into success. There are several concerns I have regarding self-help products that aren't always discussed, particularly with consumers of these products.


The majority of self-help consumers are female, which in and of itself is no big deal. Females are more likely to go to college. Females are more likely to read. Makes sense. However, many are not drawn to these products because they already know how freakin' awesome they are and would simply like to expand that. Rather many are sucked in due to promises that feed on insecurities particularly heaped upon women in our society. Radiohead nailed it with "I want to have control, I want a perfect body, I want a perfect soul, I want you to notice." Advertising really hits this home and often self-help falls right in line promising you can have all if you just do this, this, and oh yeah, this. Whereas males are more often encouraged to be and accept themselves without apology so they are less likely to believe they need self-improvement.


Regardless of gender, anyone who seeks out self-help products due to a belief that they are fundamentally flawed will find themselves disappointed. They don’t recognize their deep seeded, often hidden belief of inadequacy and the self-help product may actually further reinforce this. This can lead to exploitation by the self-help industry-perhaps inadvertent yet still exploitative-capitalizing on insecurities rather than genuine concern for the betterment of humanity.


This exploitation is also present in the secret (or not so secret) message that if you simply follow this one self-help program to the T, it will fix everything and forever change your life for the better. When really there are as many ways of living a happy, loving, and fulfilling life as there are individuals in this world. These programs assert that their singular way of doing things will cure all ills. That simply isn’t true. While this one person may have experienced complete transformation following a specific program it's important to realize that was their life path and everyone travels a different one.

Your life path may be similar but no one's is identical to another's. Many of these programs set people up for failure due to their failure to address the infinite variations that exist in our universe.  So, you have all these people shelling out hella bucks, expecting a dramatic shift in their life, only to be disappointed because the program didn’t work for them which leads to my last concern.


Many of these programs are developed by individuals with little to no established expertise on their topic. This isn’t to say there aren’t knowledgeable and talented individuals without credentials who provide sage advice but there is always the potential for danger when an ignorant layperson provides information packaged as professional advice. They don’t always take into account every factor, such as environment or culture, instead focusing on the individual in a bubble (usually their bubble) that doesn’t exist. Often, there is also very little research to back up their claims but they present the information as fact. Or they simply give the worst advice. For example the book, “To Train Up a Child” has been linked to multiple deaths, yet people continue to buy it and put its advice into practice.

That being said, it is doubtful that most who contribute to the self-help industry do so with any malicious intent. At worst, they believe they have some amazing insight to share with the world and want to make a dime doing so. Can’t hate on that. At best, they have legitimately found something that has helped them and hope that others can benefit from it as they have. Even so they still have a responsibility to the consumer to present their product for exactly what it is. Which is a product that sometimes contain helpful advice and sometimes does not depending on the person and situation. The consumer also has to take some responsibility to think critically and remain mindful so as to see self-help products for what they are. And often when we’re living a life of awareness and reflection, we already have all of the self-help we need right where it should be, in our own self.