The Tea of the Self-Help World

The biggest problem with the self-help industry are the very people who keep it in business, as well as the consumers. We, the consumers, are on this hamster wheel of wanting to improve ourselves while never letting anything we previously consumed and learned really settle in and become second nature. Another consumer problem is that we quit when we don’t get immediate results. Since much of self-help is faddy and trendy, the consumer takes on the same characteristics. The last consumer problem is we approach the self-help market thinking there is something wrong with us and this book/course/product will fix us. I say all of this as a consumer of self-help and a doctorate-level mental health professional with almost 25 years of direct patient care. Yes, I too have fallen prey to big self-help personalities. Without ripping any one of them to shreds (as much as I would like to, they have better legal representation than I do), let me talk in generalities and give you the real tea on the self-help market/racket. 

Almost none of the current stuff out in today’s self-help market is original material. Since many of the traditional philosophies are now public domain, anyone can grab them, create their own interpretation, and feed it to the masses as something new and innovative. They present it as the newest thing that will set you on the path of being the best version of yourself you have always wanted to be, yet they literally steal from A Course In Miracles or Buddhism or plain old psychology. It’s manipulative and deceitful. 

These self-help styles focuses on lack and doesn’t empower the consumer. My favorite kind of charlatans are the ones who take the philosophies of Esther Hicks, who made The Law of Attraction international, the “law” that makes people believe they are magicians or something. (Not Ms. Hicks, though. She appears quite genuine.) If you feel you need to attract something, that means you perceive you lack something. I wish more self-help people would start by telling their consumers that they already have everything they need and how to access it, instead of trying to create their own covens/cults.”

Speaking of covens and cults, these “leaders” really beat their consumers down with their “new and innovative” philosophies, basically creating a hive mind. Their followers will either quote the person incessantly or they will start to speak like them. One popular former NYT bestseller has all their followers doing Kundalini yoga and drinking celery juice. They go so far as to tell their followers to go out and use the technology they just learned to coach others. Some of these people (including the leader) are not fit to coach my ex-boyfriend, let alone human beings. Yet because this person said so, it must be true, so we have 1.5 million so-called coaches with weekend trainings trying to be mental health professionals. 

Self-help has become weaponized to create income for the “leader.” I have been an eyewitness to these “leaders” guilting their consumers into spending more and more money on fundamentally faulty courses and shame them when they say no. One Facebook life coach told a friend of mine, “Well, there’s something you are not willing to look at if you are not signing up for this course. You could get a second mortgage on your home.” 

Lastly, the “leader” presents their “new and innovative” ideas with only anecdotal history and/or personal experience, and they never back them up with hard data. Sure, it’s great that something worked for you or Aunt Helga, but this does not make it a universal success. No research has been done to back their claims. One could argue that 12-step programs function the same way, but there is a solid structure built into the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions that has allowed for its existence for over 50 years. 

To the consumers of self-help: it’s good to seek help, but ask yourself why you feel you need help and to be discerning about from whom you get that help. This a very mindful and intentional mindset that will contribute to greater and more authentic results.

Brooklyn-based psychologist Dr. Tony Ortega combines cognitive behavioral techniques along with active coaching and metaphysical principles in his work with his clients. Additionally, he provides spiritual life coaching for individuals seeking a different way to live.. He works with his clients within these three principles: Rewrite Your Story, Find Your Voice, and Live Authentically. He’s the author of #AreYouHereYet: How to STFU and Show Up for Yourself and dating guide #IsHeHereYet: Being the Person You Want to Be With.  


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