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What is a Self-Help Book?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A self-help book is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a book written to help the reader with a personal problem such as a relationship, health or behavioral issue. Self-help books are usually written by a psychologist, life coach, doctor or other expert on a certain topic.

Television psychologist Dr. Philip MacGraw, known as Dr. Phil to his fans, has authored many popular self-help books on weight loss and relationship issues. These are common topics in the self-help genre, but business how-to self-help books are also in demand. The Dummies series of books that includes guidance on work topics such as how to master a certain software program is a good example of the business self-help book. Rather than taking a course, a business person can often save a lot of time as well as money by learning new computer skill through books.

Of course, while business solutions may be rather easily gleaned from a self-help book, a book alone is often not the answer when it comes to serious relationship and health problems. Some may argue that a self-help book may give a reader the excuse not to see a medical professional in person, but rather rely on what they read to guide their actions in trying to solve a big problem on their own. Yet others would point out that a self-help book written by a reputable author advises the reader when to seek professional help and this is true for most self-help books.

What a self-help book can do is give the reader more information and more ideas about how to solve his or her problem. Self-help books are not designed to be a substitute for face-to-face interactions with a counselor, psychologist or other professional, but are designed to advise the reader generally on what to do. Whether the book is about how to overcome shyness, how to become more assertive, how to get along better with a sibling or how to argue effectively with a spouse, a self-help book can give added insight to the problem.

If the author of the book has experienced success with his or her methods regarding a certain area, why not communicate that to others in the hopes of helping them also? A reader would be more likely to buy and read a self-help book on weight loss written by a professional whose clients did lose weight or written by an individual who lost weight than he or she would without proven success. It’s a good idea to make sure the book is produced by a reputable publisher and that some proven success using the method or information in the book has been documented before you consider buying a self-help book.

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Discussion Comments
By stoneMason — On Dec 27, 2013

@ddljohn-- I agree that some self-help books are not very helpful. But there are also some great self-help books out there. Before deciding to buy a self-help book, it's a good idea to read about the author. The author should be an expert on the topic. He or she should have lots of experience and should also be a role model.

For example, I wouldn't buy a marriage self-help book by an author who divorced four times. So many people are writing self-help books these days that we as readers have to do our own research and select the right one.

By ddljohn — On Dec 27, 2013

Whenever I go to the bookstore, I see a lot of self-help books but I've never bought one. Some of them seem interesting, like the ones that aim to teach people to be more positive, to break habits and so forth. But others seem too idealistic and kind of silly, like the ones that supposedly teach people how to become rich and successful. I can never take those seriously.

How can people achieve things by simply thinking differently? I don't think that major life changes are as easy as these self-help books make them out to be. I hope people don't fall for these over-idealistic books. Half of them are a waste of money.

By SteamLouis — On Dec 27, 2013

I like self-help and self improvement books on love and relationships. I'm not very good at relationships and I'm too shy to talk about it to someone else. So it's hard for me to get help from a psychologist or even a family member. I think that self-help books give me insight on relationship without me feeling like a complete failure. I also like that I can read these books and work on my issues at my own pace. Self-help books are stress free.

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