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Self Help

Self help is a self-guided form of treatment. It has existed for a long time. It is the belief that individuals can recognize their own problems and go about fixing them own their own. In this article we will look at the history, the use, the effectiveness and the criticism of the self help phenomenon.


One of the earliest examples of self help can be found in “Works and Days”, a book by the stoic Hesiod. In the book, ethical advice is given on flourishing, welfare and well-being. Another example of early self help can be found in the pages of the bible, in the book of Proverbs.

The term “self-help” began being used in law during the 1800s in regards to any parties in a dispute where they are able to means lawfully into their own hands to solve a problem or disagreement.

In 1859 a book by the name “Self Help” was written by Samuel Smiles. In the book the popular quote “Heaven helps those who help themselves” can be found. In 1936, the book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” would sell over 50 million copies and be one of the most popular self help books ever written. Self help books seemed to be at their most popular during the last third of the 20th century. This was during the time of postmodernism and it is believed that the two influenced each other a great deal.


Self help books originated to guide individuals through self-improvement. Self-help can apply to psychotherapy, business, education and psychology. There are many different groupings that exist in the self help category. They all have their different proponents, associated beliefs, techniques, focus and, sometimes, their own leaders. Self help groups, like the twelve step program, have actually contributed new language such as: co-dependency, dysfunctional families and recovery.

Self help is now even being used in business and in the marketplace with businesses using them to help motivate their workers. A popular book series titled “…For Dummies” is an example of the self help book that has expanded into the market and beyond the individual.

Man choosing a self-help book


Self help groups are able to offer some things a psychiatrist would not be able to, such as: a sense of belonging, meaningful roles, identity, experiential knowledge, emotional support, and friendship. Some self help groups become what is more like a peer help group. These groups have garnered quite a bit of popularity over the past few years. These groups often turn into lobbying groups that help to change policies in their different areas of focus.


One of the major criticisms of self help books is that there are a certain group of individuals that keep reading them whether they are helped or not. The more they read them the higher the demand is and so more books are made that are not actually helping anyone. Reading the books becomes like an addiction. There is a famous quote that says, “The only people getting rich from self help books are the authors”.

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