Mailvox: the inutility of self-help

I mentioned in the recent Darkstream how dubious I am of both self-help books and therapy, prompting this perceptive comment.

So true! I used to visit with a young man whom I’d see off and on. He was always scarfing up the self-help books. He was in his late 20’s, but lived with his parents, didn’t even own a car, had to use his brother’s truck. His parents even paid for him to attend a self-help conference somewhere for a week and he would propound on the ideas ad infinitum if you’d let him, but he never became self-sustaining or able to support himself to this day. I saw him a couple of weeks ago at a bus stop and gave him a ride and he is still at it. 

Talk-talk may be better than war-war, but it is no substitute for act-act. The thing is, if you stop and think about it, there is absolutely no reason that therapy or self-help books should make any difference whatsoever to the average individual, given what we know about the inability of information to transform the rhetorical mind.

From the transcript:

I’m not into self-help stuff. I have resolutely ignored all self-help stuff dating back to the days of Tony Robinson. I frankly regard them as being, by and large, scams. I think that if you’re going to help yourself, it’s probably not going to come in the form of a book, it’s probably not going to come in the form of a television show or a series of video lectures. Now I understand that that people feel that they are helped through reading these books, that they feel that they are improving their lives by seeing therapists and all these sort of things, but one thing I’ve noticed about people who go to therapists and people who read self-help books is that they never seem to get better.

By which I mean, once somebody starts going to a therapist they never seem to stop. When they start reading self-help books, if you see the kind of person who buys self-help books, what you tend to notice if you’re at their house, or if you’re at their apartment, is that they have a library full of self-help books. This is why I’ve always been intrinsically dubious of of people who rely upon this kind of stuff, and these kind of people, and you know, when I see people who actually improve their lives, they tend to go to the gym. I’ve seen many, many people start off as skinny little guys with spaghetti noodle arms who have no confidence and get no attention from anyone, and seen them transform themselves over the period of two or three years. It’s always kind of fun to see these guys come in, and they’re not really in shape, they’re very out of shape, they’re very lacking in self-confidence and that sort of thing, and then you see them improve over time.

And then one day you see them walk in, and they’re there with their girlfriend who is moderately attractive. and you know that their life has improved. Somebody just said, “I really think most people use those self-help books to distract themselves from their real problems and to avoid making real changes.” I think that is true.