Self-Help books on psychology, personal growth, and spirituality must be profitable for publishers and booksellers, because there are thousands of them. They vary in quality, and they don’t come with any consumer warnings or ratings.
Some are inspirational, and others imitate psychology texts. Some are written by trained professionals, some are written by hack writers, and some are written by kooks. Many are written by self-promoting writers, speakers and counsellors on the fringe. The market demands a stream of new books to help people to deal with problems they have identified, based on advice from friends or based on their own insights, as mediated in popular culture. These books are aimed at people who are looking for something to support their feelings about their problems.
The basic self-help book describes a program for self-improvement, outlined in sayings, slogans and catchphrases. Bad writing is common and fuzzy thinking is the standard. Self-help books about personal and behavioural issues, even the better ones, tend to use a lot of the same special terms. Simple words like work, healing and recovery become burdened with meaning, and words like abuse and survival are transformed. You need to learn a new language, and that is the allure of these books – learning the secrets of life. The secrets are revealed if you learn the secret language and turn your back on the reality-based community.
Unfortunately reputable counsellors often recommend self-help books, and unfortunately a lot of the arbiters of popular cultural values (for instance Oprah) use the codes and concepts or popularize and promote the books. It’s just scary that lots of self-styled counsellors, therapists, healers and coaches learned their methods from self-help books, and that people accept this kind of advice on important issues in their lives.