Why Self-Help Books Can Be Totally Awful

Useless BooksSince last week I wrote about what can make self-help books totally awesome, it only seemed logical that I should follow up this week with why they can be totally awful.

Self-help books are abundant, so you have a ton of choices. Wait. What?? Wasn’t this a reason that I listed last week for why self-help books can be totally awesome? Why yes, it was. However, this is one of those reasons that swings both ways. Put simply, having a ton of choices can be awful for some people. For example, if someone is in the throes of anxiety, it may feel completely and utterly overwhelming to even consider the multitude of books out there on the topic.

Self-help books that discuss mental health issues are not always written by professionals in the mental health field. Seriously, check it out. Yes, the majority of the books seem to be written by social workers, medical doctors, psychologists, and counsellors. However, I’ve seen (and read) self-help books written by freelance writers, news anchors, nurses, and laymen (often autobiographical in nature). There is also a large subset of self-help books that are written by religious and/or spiritual leaders. Needless to say, you really have to be selective when picking out your self-help books and take a look to see if the writer is likely to meet your individual needs.

Self-help books can have an ‘airy-fairy’ quality to them. I’ll admit it – this may just be something that makes self-help books awful for me. With some self-help books, I feel like I’m reading a compilation of inspirational quotes, obvious suggestions, and/or silly directions. When mental health or daily struggles are the topics on the table, I’m not into impractical, fanciful, or foolish discussions. I prefer straight to the point, well researched, intelligent discussions. In my opinion, airy-fairy writing is not useful.

Self-help books may discuss issues in a manner that makes it seem as though there’s a quick and easy solution. Perhaps this is the negative side of simplistic language – it can make an issue seem too basic or one-dimensional. That’s not the kind of simple, plain language that I like. When people are struggling to make it through a day (for whatever reason), the last thing that they need is to be told a quick fix for their problems. Odds are that a person will feel even worse if the simple solutions don’t work.

Self-help books usually encourage people to take care of their problems on their own. I mean let’s face it, it is right in the title of the genre: self-help. Sure, most self-help books are pretty good about including a caveat about the benefits of seeing a professional. However, the genre title implies that you should be able to sort out the given issue on your own. That sounds potentially isolating to me. Despite what the self-help books and genre may say or imply, you do not need to be alone your struggles and asking for help is not shameful.

Self-help books can perpetuate stigma. Ok, this is similar to the above point…but it’s worth saying again. Stigma is a sensitive topic for me – I’ve experienced it, I’ve witnessed it, and I hear clients talk about it all the time. Many self-help books imply that you can and should heal yourself, by yourself. This perpetuates the silence that still surrounds mental health. Healing, growing, and changing are best achieved when you feel supported, valued, and loved by others. It is much more difficult when you feel alone.

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