Do Self Help Books Do Any Good?

These books seem to be everywhere, especially in cardboard boxes at car boot sales marked 25 / 50 cents each.

The titles and subjects are always very similar; 100 Ways in which to succeed, The First 5 seconds, Setting Goals and Targets, How to Win Friends, How to sell yourself, and Getting Started in XYZ, etc. Do these self help books do any good .


I’ve my own fave 5, but can’t proclaim them to be a nirvana gateway for you, as your mental/emotional basement has a different store of demons than mine.

Not unlike picking a suit, they can be found in a variety of places, and you’ll know it’s right by how it fits.


I’m with danceswithcats. You have to listen to what they say. Go to a bookstore, read a few pages of it. See if you like the writing style. See if it’s something you need help with.

I have read exactly one self-help book and it helped me sort of clean up some of the internal bile left behind by a bad familial relationship. But I had been working on it for years, so I was ready for the book.

The cynical view is that no publisher in its right mind would ever print a self-help book that actually worked, because if they did people wouldn’t need to buy the next self-help book that comes along. And that would destroy the entire publishing industry.

I’ve read two of Anthony Robbin’s books and really liked them, but I still have all the same problems. I guess you’ll get out of them what you put in.

I confgess there are a couple I have liked, but the phrasing of the OP’s question made me think:

If you are helping yourself, why do you need a book written by someone else?

Rather oxymoronic.

Well, it’s kind of like building a do-it-yourself doghouse based on instructions from the book.

Maybe you know how to do most of the things that go into building a doghouse. Maybe you’ve already even built a doghouse or two, but were never really happy with the results.

If the book on doghouse-building addresses the areas you are weak on and overall is well-written, authoritative, and informative, you might end up with a really great doghouse, which you did build yourself—but you needed some advice from the book on how to do it. Most self-help books (the ones that actually work) are more like that than you think; there is work for you to do. If you just read the book, the book does not help you. Only you can help you.

To be honest, the only self-help book I ever really used was one on how to improve your handwriting, and it was really great. It was my many hours of practice that improved my handwriting, but I couldn’t have done it without the book’s advice and examples.

Also, I do which is basically an ongoing self-help book, and that’s working pretty well for me. What I learned from that is that sometimes you can think that you already “know” something, but still need someone to repeat it (more times than I’d like to admit) before it really sinks in and you see how to apply it in your life.

I’m pretty skeptical about self help books. But there’s one called Feeling Good, by Burns or something, that’s undergone clinical trials. THere have been reports published in peer-reviewed journals that show that the methods outlined in this book can be more effective than medication for some patients.

Yes, and I would add that a lot of self-help books, particularly in the area of psychology and relationships, really act more as salves. You buy a book called “Getting Past Divorce” because it gives you hope that you really can get over a divorce, and the examples of real people in the book help you see that you’re not alone. In some cases, just buying the book is enough to comfort people. E.g., when someone buys a book about getting organized, what are the odds they’re actually get organized? Buying the book becomes a way of reminding yourself to get organized. Honestly, most self-help books (not to mention men’s and women’s magazines) cater to these doubts and insecurities.

Say, what was the name of that book? I really need something like that.

The more specific the claims the more likely the book is to work. The more specific and concrete the exercises in the book the more the book is to work. A book that says it can help you be a more effective speaker and then has voice exercises can probably help you become a more effective speaker. A book that says it can give you more confidence is borderline case. Perhaps it has some self-esteem exercises and a lot of finding what you are good at exercises, which can really help your confidence. A book that says it can improve your life and tells you that coincidences have deep significance is a waste of money.
Oh, and I too need the handwriting book. My handwriting is atrocious.

Benjamin Franklin describes the earliest self-help program I know of in his Autobiography .

Teach Yourself Better Handwriting by Sassoon and Briem. Looks like there’s a new edition.

I mentioned the other day that I had terrible handwriting in college, and one of my students said, “No way! Your handwriting is beautiful!:slight_smile: