I read recently that psychologists have finally taken a small step towards acknowledging that many of the strategies recommended by the stupendously popular self help movement actually work.
Oh, I shouldn’t be sarcastic. Why wouldn’t mental health professionals feel threatened by a movement that seriously impacts their livelihood? Let’s face it, the advice we give our sanity challenged associates has increasingly changed from, ‘I’ll give you the number of my therapist.’ to ‘I’ve got a great book you can borrow.’
Self help books get around the world faster than swine flu rumours around the internet. Self Helper One buys it and is so impressed and de-stressed by the self-help it contains that he cannot wait to pass it on to Self Helper Two. Self Helper Two is in turn so radically enlightened by the information that she no longer needs assistance and hands it on to Self Helper Three. Self Helper Three is days away from embarking on a bus tour to Darwin and won’t have time to finish before he leaves. Could he possibly take it with him? But of course, Self Helper Two insists. After all, a large part of helping yourself is helping someone else. Self Helper Three reads the book on the bus and is so excited and enthused and determined to shake off his past that he leaves his luggage on the bus and walks off into the Northern Territory desert to become a roadie for a passing Aboriginal rock band . He leaves the book in the pocket of the seat in front of him where it is later found by a beautiful Swedish backpacker who can't work out why, for all her blonde locks and long legs and big jugs, she still can't find love. She eventually gives the book to the long term companion it helps her find for his second cousin who is in jail for defrauding the generous Swedish social security system and then... Well, you get the picture. By the time that adventurous self-help book, dog eared and spine broken, finally ends its journey in a dusty second hand book shop in Glasgow, it has passed through the hands of no fewer than fifty struggling people, leaving them a little happier and wiser.
Let’s do a little comparison shopping. Say a therapist charges $80 an hour, one session per week and that on average each of his patients stay in therapy for a year. That equals $4160 per patient. On the other hand, the self-help book which cost Self Helper One $15.95 has made fifty sadder people wiser at a cost of 0.319 cents per Self Helper.
We are talking the Little Psycho Babble Engine who Could here. We are talking the featherweight champion of the mental health world, punching way above his weight. Self help books made me the woman I am today - still mad as a one armed traffic cop but comfortable that way.
Some of my favourites:
The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. This book fundamentally changed the way I looked at the world . I can't thank the author enough.
Men Who Hate Women and The Women Who Love Them by Dr Susan Forward. After I got myself out of a bad relationship, this book helped me leave it behind. Truly. It wasn't me, it was him.
Creative Visualisation by Shakti Gawain. Your world is created in your mind. If you can conceive it, you can achieve it. You are the master of your own ship and all of that cliched blah blah blah. But guess what? Cliches get to be cliches by being fact. This stuff is so true, you can take it to the bank. It's so real, you can taste it.
Of course, there's a lot of dross published as well, a lot of complete tossers writing self help books that help nobody but themselves, but you get that in any field. The general philosophy of self help is that we should each take responsibility for every aspect of our own lives and that includes the responsibility of not swallowing, without due examination, anyone else's philosophy . If ever you were duped by some slick talking positive thinker, self help tells you to thank him kindly for the lesson in how not to get duped a second time.