We Need A Better Label Than Self-Help

Published on 6/29/2020

The term self-help was first introduced in the 1800s, and in 1828 George Combe linked it to the concept of self-improvement through self-control. From there, it slowly grew into the multi-billion industry that we view it as today. Self-help authors are growing into household names, casually referenced within conversations and too many Instagram captions. There are few of us who don't hold a copy of a self-help book by either Rachel Hollis, Tony Robbins, Eckhart Tolle, Brené Brown or Dale Carnegie.

But self-help books remain a secret shame, that many of us feel uncomfortable owning up to. We’re happy to discuss the information and the author, but there is the subtle gut clench when you admit the genre. When someone asks what you’re reading, or what kind of book that is, and you have to say the dreaded words.

“It’s a self-help book”

It should be simple enough, it is a book about helping the self. That’s what it does. But there is this anchor to the self-help term, assumptions that get piled onto. In the past, the self-help category was considered to be for middle aged women unhappy in their body or marriage. That isn’t the case anymore, self-help books can help you become a writer, a better parent, a CEO, a better friend and more. They’re for everyone, yet they still feel like this feminine embarrassment.

Maybe it is admitting that you need self-help by them. That you’re not functioning at your best level, that a cog isn’t quite turning as it should. We still struggle to say when we need help, to admit we need therapy or a time out. We still live in a society that prefers extroversion and perfection. Perfect bodies and yes, perfect minds. But a self-help book isn’t a sign of weakness, because it takes strength to acknowledge that you are not at your best, that you have room for improvement.

Maybe it’s the fixation of self. To be indulging in yourself. As if that makes you egoistic or selfish. But the self is where everything else begins. It is the first ripple of the butterfly effect. What you think affects what you feel affects what you do. And that doing affects a lot of others outside of yourself. Take the time to read your self-help book, to work on being better. If we all did that, society would be in a far greater state.

So the issue isn’t in reading self-help books, but admitting that we are, reducing this secret shame. And maybe that can come from a rebranding, a title change to shake off those old cliches. So here are my seven proposals for the dilemma of the self-help label, please comment with which you’d would like to proceed with.

Proposal 1: “Growth Books”

No time to waste, and certainly not with the name. You want to save your time for the contents of the book, you want to get back to growing. These are growth books, they help you to further yourself. Like a sapling being watered with words. And using the term books should authenticate them further.

Proposal 2: “Mind Reads”

It’s all about the mind. Even if the self-help book (or rather “mind read”) is related to fitness or physical themes, it all begins within the mind. Mind over matter, right? They’re a gift to your mind and henceforth a mind read.

Proposal 3: “Mind Food”

On that note, we could go a step further, and take food for thought more literally. Why not label them as exactly what they are, food for your mind? But we should consider that many could consider this to reference bananas or salmon leading to possible confusion.

Proposal 4:“Cheap Therapy”

You get to avoid a therapy waiting room as well as plenty of dollars, with many self-helps books marketing themselves to be a simplified version of therapy. And while I would never recommend choosing a self-help book over therapy, choosing to read a self-help book suggests an openness to change, which is the cornerstone of therapy and getting better.

Proposal 5: “Self-Improvement”

People don’t like change, so why not stay close to the original? The difference in renaming self-help books as self-improvement is that it removes the ‘cry for help’ innuendo attached. It relates to improving the existing, instead of building from scratch or being a failure. The only downside is that this is a little mouthy, so it might not catch on so quickly.

Proposal 6: Settle for Non-Fiction

Technically, self-help books are non-fiction. They belong alongside the ranks of a memoir or biography, you could even consider them to be an autobiography of success. Could we just call them non-fiction and not mess around with specifics? Focus our time on actually improving rather than explaining what we’re reading.

Proposal 7: Cut the Judgement

And finally, what if we could call them self-help books and remove all of the existing drama around that? If we as a society could pledge to no longer criticise these books, and instead realise their worth and value in society. Focus on the contents within, the author attached, rather than a tired trope.

Or if you’re the one choosing to read this book, accept that you don’t need others to appreciate self-help books as you do. Isn’t that one of the primary focuses of these books, to no longer care what others think of you? Here’s the first test, good luck!

Consider the flaws of self-help books, find a good one, and start reading instead. Maybe even add one to your book club list!



Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

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