Self Help is Indulgent ClapTrap?

If a sign of a good radio programme is that it provokes you to action, then BBC’s Radio 4 Women’s Hour is very good as it has provoked this post!

The programme had a short debate recently between a life coach and an author. The discussion was around whether self help actually makes anyone any happier, given that the majority of self help book buyers are female, and yet the numbers of women with mental health problems are going up.

I found myself (to my own irritation) sat between the two. The coach made many valid points about the value of coaching in helping people to stop seeing themselves as victims, but weakened her authority (in my opinion) by over-advertising her own courses.

The nub of the argument from the author was that coaching is too self centred, too individualised and encourages people to think they can control anything, regardless of external factors. Her view was that this stopped them doing something to challenge the status quo, stopped them becoming active agents for change for the greater good (I am paraphrasing here). She likened it to reality TV which, she believed, encouraged everyone to think they could become a ‘star’ with very little work.

I am sympathetic to the idea that working on issues of one’s own can make us less aware of what is happening in the wilder world leaving us stuck into a ‘I deserve better‘ mentality. Very occasionally, when working in larger organisations, I see this attitude from staff. They are angry about what is happening but don’t always make the connections between what is happening in the world today and what is happening to them. Equally, I KNOW working one to one can be highly effective in helping make positive changes, and also that many of the people I have worked with have made very positive contributions to society as a whole. Coaching done well is not merely self interested new age clap trap!

The author also criticised self help for being a recent phenomenon and symptomatic of our ‘me-me’ times. Well, there she is definitely wrong! You only need to look back at some of the world’s philosophies to see that the idea of choosing how you view what is happening in the world (making the best of it) has a long and venerable pedigree. My personal self help model comes from a Stoic philosopher, Epictetus. He said:

“We are not touched so much by life events themselves but by the view we choose to take of them”

That surely is the founding statement behind all self help philosophies and he made that in AD55!

What do you think? Is self help, or coaching, or personal development indulgent nonsense which helps no one, or does it have a credible role to play in helping people change and achieve to their full potential? I think you can guess my view!

If you’d like to discuss further with me how our working one to one might enrich your life, do give me a call! My confidential number is 01761 438749 or you can use the contact page and I’ll call at a time convenient to you!


Posted on January 24th, 2011 by

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