Are Self-help Books Worth Reading?

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Do they actually help or hinder you? This helpful guide based on research and my own experiences will give you the answers you seek right now. As it says in the title, these books are designed to give you the means to work on areas of your life and gain insight without having to go to a professional for counselling and guidance.

An article by Brandminds ( suggests that the self-improvement industry is estimated to grow to $13.2 billion by 2022.with $800 million alone in self-help books – staggering really. Millennials are said to be driving the growth of this industry predominantly and are more willing to spend money on self-improvement such as gyms, masterclasses, webinars and books. I’m certain if you’re a graduate or graduating you have most likely dabbled in these books.

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Research into this subject (the good and bad).

Self-help books are discussed in detail in Bergsma’s journal article and I will provide a quick run-down of some different stances and research on this subject. Let’s start with the benefits found from self-help. There is research to suggest that “reading problem-focused self-help materials can be effective in the treatment of disorders, and even have outcomes comparable to therapist administered treatments.”

Research has found success for:

  • Mild/moderate depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mild alcohol abuse
  • Insomnia
  • Sexual Dysfunction

And Less so for:

  • Quitting Smoking
  • Severe alcohol abuse.

Building on this, Bergsma also discusses that “Self-help has great success with people with high motivation, resourcefulness and positive attitude towards self-help treatments.” (Ad Bergsma).

There are negative attitudes towards self-help that are discussed in the journal article. Some of the researchers Ad Bergsma discusses describe the self-help genre as “buying self-help book volumes is a part of a false hope syndrome,” and another source comments that if you’re are not happy before reading self-help, you won’t be happy afterwards.

Furthermore, Steve Salerno who is the author of 'Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless,' comments that 'self-help is responsible for the end of romance, soaring divorce rates, the decline of the nuclear family, excessive political correctness and rising substance abuse.” Steve Salerno discusses in his book that there are many negatives of the self-help industry, such as:

  • Thinly credentialed “experts “dispense advice on everything such as mental health and relationships.
  • Certain twelve-step programs for treating addiction can cause more harm than good.
  • The self-help rhetoric has pushed individuals away from medical treatments by persuading them they can cure themselves through willpower alone.

Ultimately, he believes that self-help is waste of time and money and the societal damage is understated. There is also a problem of outdated psychological concepts that are being provided in the books which can mislead individuals to choose certain behaviours and responses that are not helpful and can be counterproductive. Here is a rundown of some misconceptions and some helpful tips, as summarised in Bergsma’s paper (sourced Paul, A.M. (2001). Self-Help: Shattering the Myths).

  • “Vent your anger, and it will go away. Research shows that expressing anger can keep it alive.
  • When you are down in the dumps, think about yourself being happy by focusing on the positive. Research shows that the result may be the opposite of what you want. It can make your misery of the moment even more apparent.
  • Visualize your goals; it will help you to make them come true. Research shows that we not only need optimism about our ability to reach a given goal, but also a sharp focus on the obstacles that are in the way. You need to pay attention to the obstacles and the necessary steps to reach the goal.
  • Self-affirmation will help you raise low self-esteem. Research shows that this technique is not powerful enough. We need positive feedback from people that matter to us. ‘Self-esteem is the sum of your interactions with others over a lifetime, and it’s not going to change overnight’.
  • Active listening can help you communicate better with your partner. This is an appealing idea, but research shows that even happy, loving couples don’t use the technique. It may be better to take your partner seriously, to avoid hostility and to avoid arousal.”

The claim by Steve Salerno seems to be over-reaching as there are many factors at play with the issues discussed above, none the less, some interesting points to be made.

The underlying theme I got from the research into this subject is that the effectiveness of self-help varies from person to person and of course what the individual is trying to solve as this will affect the results of self-help experience. There is the issue that the books usually take on a “one size fits all” approach which reduces it effectiveness since no one solution will work for everything as we are all different.

From my personal experience, I spent a great deal of time at university reading self-help books because I wasn’t happy with the circumstances that I was creating in my life so I was looking for advice to help me improve on certain qualities such as discipline, resilience, and work ethic. Whenever an issue was appearing in my life, I would hide myself away from the world and search for answers in these books. Looking back, self-help books didn’t help with my situation at University and the months after graduation since I didn’t implement what the various of books I read suggested as a whole. There is still a chance that I have internalised some of the concepts I learnt from the marathon reading sessions of self-help.

In my opinion, it is better to read one book and implement what it advises rather than keep on reading other books hoping to find the answers to my desires. This has been discussed by self-help authors and this is not a new concept. Action beats anything, you can be caught in the cycle of learning and studying and this tricks you into feeling productive about your situation.

I do still think there’s value in self-help books, although I wouldn’t personally recommend to spend large amounts of money and energy on reading them. If you are dealing with a specific thing which is affecting you such as mental health or psychical health; seeking help from a professional will be more beneficial to you.

“Pick 1 book on one self-help subject such as health and wellbeing, digest them and try and implement what it says.” Happy with the results? Move on and continue to read on more. If you are going to read any, perhaps have a look at these popular books as I liked them from my own personal readings.

- “How to Make Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie

One of the most well-known self-help books and it’s a fantastic read. There’s a lot you can learn from this one and it makes it clear in the title. The key take home for me about this book is that it gives you techniques through real-world examples that help to build your emotional intelligence.

Learn how to be good listener and make others feel important - remembering names helps too in all walks of life. Really great read I would recommend.

“The subtle art of not giving a f**ck” by Mark Manson.

There are many great pieces of advice Mark Manson mentions in this book and the take home for myself was that in order to live your best life, the key is to give to a f**ck about less and only give a f**ck about what is important and immediate, and he gives tips on how to achieve this.

I recommend this book and I enjoyed it’s light hearted tone throughout the book.

“The Power of Now” by Eckart Tolle.

The theme rolling throughout the book is about being present in the moment and the benefits this can do for your mental health and overall wellbeing. Although this rhetoric is repeated often, there is a great amount you can learn from Eckart short book and I would highly recommend reading.

I hope you found this helpful in deciding whether self-help books are right for you. Remember if you do buy some, just make sure to stick to one and try and implement what it suggests, focus on one thing at time.

As discussed in the journal article it is advisable to also remember to take self-help books with a pinch of salt, there are some big claims out there that these books can transform lives and some will have outdated psychological theories. This is my two cents on this topic and I hope you found some value from this.

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Are Self-help Books Worth Reading? (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from
“Are Self-help Books Worth Reading?” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
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Are Self-help Books Worth Reading? [Internet] Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2024 Jul 19]. Available from:

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