The first self-help book, in its more modern form, was published in 1859 by Samuel Smiles and was appropriately named, Self-Help. Today the name can refer to all sorts of self-improvement, usually with a psychological component.
I’ve been thinking about the stigma attached to the term self-help. It seems that as much as we shy away from it, we also seek it. In fact, it’s all around us – the urge to improve and address problems in our lives. In a word, we want change.
But change isn’t easy. Silicon Valley takes a decidedly technical approach – lots of measuring and rules. Mainstream media, however, utilizes story. In particular, television is currently immersed in a self-help renaissance of sorts. I did a survey of the landscape recently and came up with these examples of self-help on television.
|Beyond Scared Straight||Jail||A&E|
|16 and Pregnant||Teen pregnancy||MTV|
|Teen Mom||Teen pregnancy||MTV|
|The Buried Life||Varied||MTV|
|Why Can’t I Be You?||Relationships||MTV|
|Celebrity Rehab||Substance abuse||VH1|
|Rehab with Dr. Drew||Substance abuse||VH1|
|Why am I Still Single?||Relationships||VH1|
|Can’t Get a Date||Relationships||VH1|
|You’re Cut Off||Relationships||VH1|
|Bridal Bootcamp||Weight loss||VH1|
|Dog Whisperer||Relationships||National Geographic|
|My Cat from Hell||Relationships||Animal Channel|
|Extreme Makeover: Weight loss||Weight loss||ABC|
|The Biggest Loser||Weight loss||NBC|
|Ready for Love||Relationships||NBC|
|I Hate My Job||Career||SpikeTV|
|Shedding for the Wedding||Weight loss||CW|
|My Shopping Addiction||Money||Oxygen|
|Get to Work||Career||Sundance Channel|
|Iyanla Fix My Life||Varied||OWN|
|Oprah’s Life Class||Varied||OWN|
|Oprah’s Master Class||Varied||OWN|
|America’s Money Class with Suze Orman||Money||OWN|
|Breaking Down the Bars||Jail||OWN|
|Breakthrough With Tony Robbins||Varied||OWN|
|In the Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman||Sex||OWN|
|My Mom is Obsessed||Relationships||OWN|
|Addicted to Food||Substance abuse||OWN|
|Interior Therapy with Jeff Lewis||Relationships||BravoTV|
|The Millionaire Matchmaker||Relationships||BravoTV|
|Pregnant in Heels||Parenting||BravoTV|
|Tabitha ‘s Salon TakeOver||Business owners||BravoTV|
|Thintervention with Jackie Warner||Weight loss||BravoTV|
|My Strange Addiction||Varied||TLC|
|Hoarding: Buried Alive||Hoarding||TLC|
|My Crazy Obsession||Varied||TLC|
Also in the same genre, Enlightened on HBO.
In general, these shows seem focused on the key problems of life: health/weight, relationships, money, or career. Also, they all take the same approach to presentation – they use the classic hero’s journey.
Further, there seems to be a migration lately from the larger universal problems to the more niche issues – like hoarding. Does this hint at the coming personalization of self-help?
I’d argue the combining of story and technology is essential to realizing relevant and sustainable change in the self-help industry. A potentially perfect medium is an interactive ebook. Which makes you wonder what Self-Help would look like if it was published today.