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Self-help, or self-improvement, is a self-guided improvement—economically, intellectually, or emotionally—often with a substantial psychological basis. There are many different self-help movements and each one has its own unique focus, self help techniques, associated beliefs, proponents and in some cases leaders.
Self-help often takes place on the basis of publicly available information or of support groups where people in similar situations join together. From early exemplars in self-driven legal practice and home-spun advice, the connotations of the phrase have spread and often apply particularly to education, business, psychological or psychotherapeutic nostrums, purveyed through the popular genre of self-help books. According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, potential benefits of self-help groups that professionals may not be able to provide include friendship, emotional support, experiential knowledge, identity, meaningful roles, and a sense of belonging.
Groups associated with health conditions may consist of patients and/or their care givers. As well as featuring long-time members sharing experiences, these health groups can become lobby groups and clearing-houses for educational material. Those who help themselves by learning about health problems do exemplify self-help, while one might better regard such groups as peer-to-peer support.
History[edit | edit source]
The authors of the 1994 book First Things First invoke wisdom literature dating back as far as 2500 B.C. as a validation of their particular enumeration of fundamental human needs. Within classical antiquity, some [attribution needed] have seen the advice poetry of Hesiod, particularly his Works and Days, as an early adaptation of Near Eastern wisdom literature. The Stoics offered advice with a psychological flavor. The genre of mirror-of-princes writings, which has a long history in Islamic and Western Renaissance literature, represents a secular cognate of Biblical wisdom literature. Proverbs from many periods, collected and uncollected, embody traditional moral and practical advice of diverse cultures.
The actual phrase "self-help" often appeared relatively early on in a legal context, referring to the doctrine that a party in a dispute has the right to use lawful means on their own initiative to remedy a wrong.
Samuel Smiles (1812-1904) published the first self-consciously personal-development "self-help" book — entitled Self-Help — in 1859. Its opening sentence: "Heaven helps those who help themselves", provides a variation of "God helps them that help themselves", the oft-quoted maxim that also appeared previously in Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac (1733 - 1758).
Some commentators[attribution needed] suggest that Dale Carnegie (1888-1955) began the self-help movement in the 20th century when he published How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936. Having failed in several careers, Carnegie became fascinated with success and its link to self-confidence, and studied the subject for years. Carnegie's books have since sold over 50 million copies.
In 1902 James Allen published As a Man Thinketh, which proceeds from the conviction that "a man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts." Noble thoughts, the book maintains, make for a noble person, whilst lowly thoughts make for a miserable person.
Dr Neville Yeomans, an Australian Psychiatrist, Clinical Sociologist, Psychologist and Barrister pioneered Self-Help and Mutual Help in Australia through his pioneering work at Australia's first therapeutic community Fraser House (1959-1968), an 80 bed residential unit in North Ryde Sydney. Former inmates of this unit started many self-help groups around Sydney. Neville's life work is detailed in Dr Les Spencer's PhD dissertation:Cultural Keyline - The life work of Dr Neville Yeomans - Internet Source <http://www.laceweb.org.au/ck/ck.htm>
Self-help and mutual-help are very different to, though may complement service delivery by professionals. A detailed paper on this difference may be found at internet source <http://www.laceweb.org.au/int.htm>. This paper explores interfacing local self-help and International Aid's service delivery model. The paper provides a rich resource on self help processes.
The self-help marketplace[edit | edit source]
Research firm Marketdata estimated the "self-improvement" market in the U.S. as worth more than $9 billion in 2006 — including infomercials, mail-order catalogs, holistic institutes, books, audio cassettes, motivation-speaker seminars, the personal coaching market, weight-loss and stress-management programs. Marketdata projected that the total market size would grow to over $11 billion by 2008.
Within the context of this larger market, group and corporate attempts to aid the "seeker" have moved into the "self-help" marketplace, with LGATs and psychotherapy systems represented. These offer more-or-less prepackaged solutions to instruct people seeking their own individual betterment.
Criticism[edit | edit source]
Some critics have suggested that self-help books and programs offer overly "easy answers" to difficult personal and social problems. Commentators have criticised self-help books for containing pseudo-scientific assertions that tend to mislead the consumer, and many different authors have criticized self-help authors and claims. Christopher Buckley's book God is My Broker (1998) asserts: "The only way to get rich from a self-help book is to write one." In her 1993 book I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional, Wendy Kaminer criticizes the self-help movement for encouraging people to focus on individual self-improvement (rather than joining collective social movements) to solve their problems.
Others have countered that self-help is a universal human behavior and is actually far older than any formal kind of professional therapy. Some[attribution needed] have claimed that opposition to self-help plays into the agenda of psychiatric professionals who make their living off of treating peoples problems and who may therefore be resentful of nonprofessionals moving in on their territory, or who may be challenging traditional orthodoxies about how to overcome various psychological or life problems.
The self-help world has become the target of parodies. Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos (1983) offers a book-length parody. In their 2006 book Secrets of The Superoptimist, authors W.R. Morton and Nathanel Whitten revealed the concept of "superoptimism" as a humorous antidote to the overblown self-help book category. In his comedy special Complaints and Grievances, George Carlin observes that there is "no such thing" as self-help: if one is looking for help from someone else, they don't technically get "self" help; and if one accomplishes something by one's self, they didn't need help to begin with.
Scholars also have targeted self-help claims as misleading and incorrect. In 2005, Steve Salerno portrayed the American self-help movement (he uses the acronym SHAM: the Self-Help and Actualization Movement) not only as ineffective in achieving its goals, but also as socially harmful. Sociologist Micki McGee argues in her 2005 book Self-Help, Inc. that the burgeoning self-improvement industry masks Americans' economic anxieties during a period of economic decline. She sees Americans as "belabored" — at work on themselves, inventing and re-inventing themselves so as to remain employed and employable.
Others have pointed out that the term self-help is far too general to be challenged as a single entity and should therefore only be evaluated on a case-by case basis, since there are many different kinds of self help techniques and movements. Thus the effectiveness or non-effectiveness of any one self-help approach for any one problem would say nothing about the effectiveness or non-effectiveness of any other self-help approach. Thus lumping all self-help approaches together is unscientific and does not contribute to a careful examination of any one technique. The point has also been made that self-help behavior is as natural and as ubiquitous as breathing, that essentially everyone engages in self-help on some level as a part of everyday living.
Commercial and non-profit organizations and institutionsTemplate:Which? offer a number of self-help groups and programsTemplate:Which? based on psychological principles and overseen by mental-health professionals. Research has suggested that group psychotherapy for certain situations works as effectively as individual psychotherapy. Psychologists generally recommend empirically validated therapies, for example, cognitive behavioural therapy which has strong clinical evidence for treatment of various mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and stress-related symptoms.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Abraham Low Self-Help Systems
- Personal development
- Self actualization
- Self care skills
- Self help techniques
- Self (psychology)
- Self-help groups for mental health
- Support groups
- Wisdom literature
Footnotes[edit | edit source]
- APA Dictionary of Psychology, 1st ed., Gary R. VandenBos, ed., Washington: American Psychological Association, 2007.
- Steve Salerno (2005) Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless, ISBN 1-4000-5409-5 p.24-25
- Covey, Stephen R., Merrill, A. Roger, and Merrill, Rebecca R., First Things First: to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy. New York: Simon and Schuster (1994)
- The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition, 1989) traces legal usage back to at least 1875; whereas it detects "self-help" as a moral virtue as early as 1831 in Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus.
- O'Neil, William J. (2003). Business Leaders & Success: 55 Top Business Leaders & How They Achieved Greatness. McGraw-Hill Professional. pp. 35-36. ISBN 0071426809
- Starker, Steven (2002). Oracle at the Supermarket: The American Preoccupation With Self-Help Books. Transaction Publishers. p. 62. ISBN 0765809648
- PRWeb (September 21, 2006). Self-Improvement Market in U.S. Worth $9.6 Billion. Press release. Retrieved on 2008-12-18. “Marketdata Enterprises, Inc., a leading independent market research publisher, has released a new 321-page market study entitled: The U.S. Market For Self-Improvement Products & Services.”
- Coon, Dennis (2004). Psychology: A Journey, 520, 528, 538, Thomson Wadsworth. "... programs that claim to increase self-awareness and facilitate constructive personal change."
- Amazon.com editorial review of God Is My Broker
- Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1983.
- Carlin, George. Complaints and Grievances [DVD]. Atlantic Records.
- Piper, W. E. (1993) Research on Group Psychotherapy. In Comprehensive Group Psychotherapy In Kaplan, HI., & Sadock, BJ., (Eds.). Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.
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