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The Self-help industry
25 Feb 2012

THE self help industry now churns out over 2 000 books every year alone in just the U.S. The books offer to solve a range of problems that vary from relationship issues to health problems and financial advice. The whole self help industry is estimated to be worth $9 billion (R68,3 billion).

Psychology student Agnes Berg asked whether self help books can really help us. Respected psychologists like Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi argued that self-help books will clearly not help people to become thin, rich and well-adjusted; indeed they will probably have no effect whatsoever. Worse, some have claimed self-help books are actually bad for us by promoting “false hope syndrome”. More radically, Steve Salerno, author of Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless, claims the whole self-help syndrome is responsible for the high divorce rate, increasing drug abuse and the end of romance.

While Salerno is probably exaggerating, there is no doubt that the dollar nine million people spent on self help might be better spent on actual therapy. There is little evidence to show that reading a book creates long-lasting changes. It seems that the books can work for less severe problems like mild depression or anxiety. But Berg says the majority of the books focus on personal growth, which is hard to measure.

Berg argues that the most effective tool they offer is — hope. Exposing ourselves to hope probably helps us cope better with life, even if it can’t really make us all thin, rich and ecstatically happy.

The dark side of this is false hope, which promises unrealistic results and expectations while emptying the wallet.

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