Self-help or self-improvement refers to self-guided improvement"APA Dictionary of Psychology", 1st ed., Gary R. VandenBos, ed., Washington: American Psychological Association, 2007.] —economically, intellectually, or emotionally—most frequently with a substantial psychological or spiritual basis.

The basis for self-help is often self-reliance, publicly available information, or support groups where people in similar situations join together. From early exemplars in self-driven legal practiceSteve Salerno (2005) "Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless", ISBN 1-4000-5409-5 p.24-25] and home-spun advice, the connotations of the phrase have spread and often apply particularly to education, business, psychological or psychotherapeutic nostrums, purveyed through the popular genre of self-help books and through self-help personal-development movements. According to the "APA Dictionary of Psychology", potential benefits of self-help groups that professionals may not be able to provide include friendship, emotional support, experiential knowledge, identity, meaningful roles, and a sense of belonging. Any health condition can find a self-help method or group such as parents of the mentally ill. But there are limits and these methods do not work for everyone. As well as experienced long time members sharing experiences with a similar practical problem such as finances of a health problem, these health groups can become lobby groups and educational material clearing houses. Those who help themselves by learning about health problems are helping themselves through self-help. But self-help in this context is often really peer-to-peer support.

ociological theories of self-help

An expansion of the technologies that empower individuals to conduct both trivial and profound activities binds together the diverse genres which apply self-help conceptsFact|date=February 2007. Self-help book-publishing arose from decentralization of ideology, from a growth of publishing industries using expanded printing technologies and (at the pinnacle of growth ) from the spread of new psychological sciencesFact|date=February 2007. Likewise, self-help legal services grew around expanded access to document-production technology (viz: the printing industry in the 18th century).Fact|date=September 2007 The Internet, with the ever-expanding selection of commercial and information services which it offers for free, exemplifies movement toward self-help on a grand scale.Fact|date=September 2007


The authors of "First Things First" invoke wisdom literature dating back as far as 2500 B.C. as a validation of their particular enumeration of fundamental human needs [Covey, Stephen R., Merrill, A. Roger, and Merrill, Rebecca R., "First Things First: to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy". New York: Simon and Schuster (1994)] . Within Classical Antiquity, the advice poetry of Hesiod, particularly his Works and Days, has been seen as an early adaptation of Near Eastern wisdom literature. The Stoics offered advice with a psychological flavor. The genre of mirror-of-princes writings, which has a long history in Islamic and Western Renaissance literature, represents a secular cognate of Biblical wisdom literature. Proverbs from many periods embody traditional moral and practical advice of diverse cultures.

"Self-help" appears to have been first used in the legal context, referring to the doctrine that a party in a dispute has the right to use lawful means on their own initiative to remedy a wrong.

Samuel Smiles (1812-1904) published the first self-consciously personal-development "self-help" book — entitled "Self-Help" — in 1859. Its opening sentence: "Heaven helps those who help themselves", provides a variation of "God helps them that help themselves", the oft-quoted maxim that also appeared previously in Benjamin Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanac" (1733 - 1758). Alcoholics Anonymous was started by two alcoholics, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith who first met on May 12, 1935. The twelve-step program grew from this to become perhaps the world's most popular basis of self-help care.Fact|date=September 2007

Dale Carnegie (1888-1955) is often considered to have began the self-help movement in the 20th century when he published "How to Win Friends and Influence People" in 1936. Having failed in several careers, Carnegie became fascinated with success and its link to self-confidence, and studied the subject for years. Carnegie's books have since sold over 50 million copies. [O'Neil, William J. (2003). "Business Leaders & Success: 55 Top Business Leaders & How They Achieved Greatness". McGraw-Hill Professional. pp. 35-36. ISBN 0071426809] Napoleon Hill's "Think and Grow Rich" (1937) described the use of repeated positive thoughts to attract happiness and wealth by taping into an "Infinite Intelligence". [Starker, Steven (2002). "Oracle at the Supermarket: The American Preoccupation With Self-Help Books". Transaction Publishers. p. 62. ISBN 0765809648]

The self-help marketplace

Research firm Marketdata estimated the "self-improvement" market as worth $8.5 billion in 2003 — including infomercials, mail-order catalogs, holistic institutes, books, audio cassettes, motivational speaker seminars, the personal coaching market, weight-loss and stress-management programs. Marketdata projected that the total market size would grow to over $11 billion by 2008.Fact|date=September 2007

Within the context of this larger market, group and corporate attempts to aid the "seeker" have moved into the "self-help" marketplace, with LGATs and psychotherapy systems ready with more or less pre-packaged solutions to instruct people seeking their own individual betterment.Fact|date=September 2007

There is also a market of computer self-help books such as the Dummies Guides and the The Complete Idiot's Guide to....


Some critics have suggested that self-help books and programs offer "easy answers" to difficult personal problems. Commentators have criticised self-help books for containing pseudo-scientific assertions that tend to mislead the consumer, and many different authors have criticized self-help authors and claims. Christopher Buckley's book "God is My Broker" (1998) asserts: "The only way to get rich from a self-help book is to write one." [ [ editorial review of "God Is My Broker"] ] In her 1993 book "I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional", Wendy Kaminer criticizes the self-help movement for encouraging people to focus on individual self-improvement (rather than joining collective social movements) to solve their problems.

The phenomenon has been the target of parodies. Walker Percy's "Lost in the Cosmos" ["Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book". New York: Farrar, Straus, 1983.] is a book-length parody. In their 2006 book "Secrets of The Superoptimist", authors W.R. Morton & Nathanel Whitten revealed the concept of "superoptimism" as a humorous antidote to the overblown self-help book category. In his comedy special "Complaints and Grievances", George Carlin observes that there is "no such thing" as self-help: if one is looking for help from someone else, it is not technically "self" help; and if one accomplishes something by themselves, they didn't need help to begin with. [cite video
people = Carlin, George
title = Complaints and Grievances
medium = DVD
publisher = Atlantic Records
location =
date = 2001-11-17

Scholars also have targeted self-help claims as misleading and incorrect. In 2005 Steve Salerno portrayed the American self-help movement (he uses the acronym "SHAM: the Self-Help and Actualization Movement") not only as ineffective in achieving its goals, but also as socially harmful. Sociologist Micki McGee argues in her 2005 book "Self-Help, Inc." that the burgeoning self-improvement industry masks Americans' economic anxieties during a period of economic decline. She sees Americans as "belabored" — at work on themselves, inventing and re-inventing themselves so as to remain employed and employable.

There are a number of self-help groups and programs offered by commercial and non-profit organizations based on psychological principles overseen by mental health professionals. Group psychotherapy has shown for certain situations to be as effective as individual psychotherapy.Piper, W. E. (1993) Research on Group Psychotherapy. In "Comprehensive Group Psychotherapy" In Kaplan, HI., & Sadock, BJ., (Eds.). Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.] Psychologists generally recommend empirically validated therapies, for example, cognitive behavioural therapy which has strong clinical evidence for treatment of various mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and stress-related symptoms.Fact|date=September 2007

ee also

* Conduct book
* Do it yourself
* Mirror-of-princes writing
* Mutual Aid Societies
* Nightingale Conant - a major provider of self-help materials
* Self-experimentation
* Self (psychology)
* Wisdom literature
* Self Help Development International - an Irish development agency.
* Self-help groups for mental health
* Support groups

For articles on individual:


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  • self-help — n. Handling some matter that could involve legal authorities without using the normal legal process, such as taking possession of collateral when a debtor defaults or evicting a tenant for nonpayment of rent without involving the police. The… …   Law dictionary

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  • self-help — self help′ adj. cvb (of a book, home study course, program, etc.) offering individuals information or counseling on how to help themselves attain certain goals • Etymology: 1825–35 self help′er, n. self help′ful, self help′ing, adj …   From formal English to slang

  • self–help — / self help/ n: the act of redressing or preventing a wrong by one s own actions rather than through legal proceedings ◇ The Uniform Commercial Code permits creditors to repossess collateral by self help if it can be done without a breach of the… …   Law dictionary

  • self-help — n [U] the use of your own efforts to deal with your problems, instead of depending on other people ▪ a shelf of self help books ▪ Our program emphasises self help. ▪ a self help group for single parents …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • self-help — 1831, from SELF (Cf. self) + HELP (Cf. help). Apparently coined by Carlyle. British Self Help Emigration Society is attested from 1887 …   Etymology dictionary

  • self-help — noun uncount things that you do to solve your own problems instead of depending on other people. A self help group consists of people who discuss their problems and find ways to deal with them. A self help book is designed to help you solve your… …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • Self-help — a. of, pertaining to, or useful for the process of developing one s capabilities or solving one s problems; as, self help books on writing for profit. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Self-help — n. 1. The act of aiding one s self, without depending on the aid of others. [1913 Webster] 2. (Law) The right or fact of redressing or preventing wrongs by one s own action without recourse to legal proceedings, as in self defense, distress, aba …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • self-help — s.m.inv. ES ingl. {{wmetafile0}} tecnica per imparare a risolvere da sé i propri problemi, spec. comportamentali e di relazione {{line}} {{/line}} DATA: 1887. ETIMO: comp. di self se stesso e help aiuto …   Dizionario italiano

  • self-help — [self′help′] n. care for or betterment of oneself by one s own efforts, as through study …   English World dictionary

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