Personal development gets a bad rep in non personal development fields. I was recently reading a book and it talked about trying to work on mental health and it denoted failed attempts with "self-help" and "life-coaching" as if saying that they don't work. So it begs the question; can personal development and self-help programs help people with mental health disorders?
Maybe you've heard jokes about self-help books and the people who read them. There are many negative beliefs associated with the personal development world. Some of these beliefs are:
It is all just frauds writing that stuff.
You are a loser if you read self-help.
Self-help keeps you in victim mode.
Having heard these kinds of associations, you may not want to go anywhere near self-help books. Yet, when talking to people in personal development based industries, self-help is regarded as magic! So which is it and does it matter if your issues are related to mental health?
Psychology vs. Pseudoscience
There is a big difference between legitimate studied scientific approaches and straight up fake science. A lot of people view the field of psychology with the same negative beliefs as self-help. They believe that therapists are just trying to get money from you, that you are a loser or crazy if you go see them, and that you should just buck up and get over it.
There are years and years of studies and work that has gone into the field of psychology and proven methods have been created to help people with disorders like depression and anxiety.
Mental health stigma is still a huge problem. Getting help can be incredibly hard when the people around you don't believe you and what you are going through.
There are also a lot of beliefs and a lot fake science out there getting in the way of people's health. Sadly, these are sometimes packaged as Self-Help books.
This doesn't mean that all personal development books are bogus. It means that you have to do your research and take everything with a grain of sand.
How To Use Personal Development
I can give you my opinion but, at the end of the day, what matters is your health. We don't always make the best decisions on our own. Having dealt with mental health problems I understand the pull of a great looking solution. I have read books that helped me incredibly and I have read books that, had I believed them, could have caused a lot of damage. So I want to share these points to consider:
1. Self-Help books are not aimed to help with psychological disorders.
Although they may mention helping people with depression and anxiety, unless they are specifically geared towards a mental health disorder, they are usually referring to temporary human states within generally healthy humans. This means that their advice is for a healthy adult who experiences anxiety at times but not one who has a Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This is important to note because the advice may be helpful for small problems or temporary fixes but may not address major issues or provide longterm relief. It may also completely disregard the causes of a persons symtoms. Positive affirmations and visualization may be a helpful tool for someone who tends to fall on the pessimistic side of life but it may not be a helpful tool for someone who experienced Dissasociation and Flashbacks because of childhood trauma. It is important to understand who the audience is, that the book was written for. It is also important to check out the author and their credentials because a business guru, as succeful and happy as he may be, is not qualified to give medical information on DID or OCD. A lot of Self-Help books rely on opinions and experiences and while this doesn't mean that you can't get helpful tools and ideas from these books, it just means that you have to be careful and not rely on getting a cure from them.
2. You are responsible for your mental health.
That sounds rough but it needs to be said. If you suspect that you are dealing with abnormal symptoms, please see a doctor. A doctor will be able to help you determine if there is a physical cause to your symptoms like a vitamin deficiency or another health issue. A doctor is able to diagnose you properly so that you know what is really going on and a doctor can help you create a plan of action. Like I mentioned above, the fields of psychology and psychiatry are legitimate. Most of the time there are options to help you and you get to be a part of the process. You may choose to take medication, go to talk therapy, or group sessions or you might have to do more specific types of treatments. There are programs, books, and websites dedicated to helping people. IT DOES NOT MAKE YOU A VICTIM TO GET HELP. Regardless of the stigma or the beliefs of ignorant people in your life, it takes STRENGTH and COURAGE to work on yourself!!! Do not allow anyone to tell you that it's all in your head. You get to take control and you get to be responsible for your health. This means that upon receiving a diagnosis you need to take the time to research and learn what your disorder is, how it affects you, how it doesn't affect you, what the prognosis it, and what will and won't help you. This is important because if you pick up a self-help book, you need to be able to know if what the book teaches is going to help or worsen your symptoms.
3. Self-Help books are not Magic.
This is coming from a personal development coach. I can tell you that anyone that sells you on that idea is bogus. Look at the words SELF - HELP. They imply work. It means that you have to help yourself. The books are just books. They don't create anything in your life. You get to take the information and use it. If all you do is take the information and hide it in a folder in your mind it wont do anything. I've been there and I know that it doesn't work. Even in coaching, the relationship requires both parties to do work. None of the advice will work if it doesn't lead to action and change. Any book that tells you that it will be easy and you don't have to do anything is lying or is wrong for you. Look, personal development can be very helpful for someone who struggles with mental health issues, who has ALREADY been diagnosed, has a management plan, and is ready to get better. Personal development will not help a person who is unwilling to get help, who is unsure of what the issues are, or who is actively mismanaging their health.
4. Self-Help books can be just motivational.
You don't have to look at every personal development book as the next fix-it-all of your life. You can just read them and find motivation from them each day. Most of the books, especially when read cautiously, promote good things. They aim to help you to be the best version of you, they teach you skills and give you coping tools, they share motivational stories, ask you mind opening questions, and aim to help you help yourself. You can take a little from each book and work it into your life and keep developing as a person. That is what personal development is. You never stop growing. You never stop learning. You never stop acting.
You will get mixed advice when asking this question. That is because your mental health and your personal development is unique to you. What works for one person may not work for someone else. What doesn't work for one person may work for you. There are soo many factors at play and it really comes down to what is best for each individual person and their health. What is going to help you? What isn't'? Those are the questions to ask yourself, not whether other people think it is good or bad. I hope that this article gave you some thinking to do and helps you decide what the best answer for you is. If you liked the article please share it :)