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Self-Help Books and Therapy Culture – Have We Overdosed?

A spoonful of healthy scepticism

Calm and content, or a brainwashed sucker?

“Look into my eyes… deep into my eyes. In a moment, when I click my fingers, you’re going to wake up and believe you’re a chicken. You’ll strut around the room flapping your arms, pecking for seeds and making occasional clucks. In three… two… one….”

This is my idea of hypnosis. It may well be your idea of it too. Is it stage magic? Is it a complete con? Or is it some truly deep and powerful phenomenon that lets us access the unconscious, as was believed by the early practitioners in the 1880s? I don’t know, but I know that I don’t like it. I’ve never trusted hypnosis any more than I’ve trusted psychoanalysis or indeed therapy culture in general, the latest manifestation of which is this massive fashion for self-help books, self-care podcasts and mental wellbeing apps. These things are the hypnotic treatments of today and we should be wary of them. They claim to promote health, but they’re also generating wealth. It’s an industry, and I think that much of the time the writers and practitioners take us all for a bunch of suckers.

As someone very much in the English tradition, I favour such unfashionable things as the stiff-upper lip, self-control and common sense. I don’t think we need an expert to tell us how to think carefully about the consequences of our actions. We can work that out for ourselves if we’ve half a brain. I don’t think we need a “life coach” to tell us that we shouldn’t be greedy and eat all the pies or else we’ll tubby up. And I certainly don’t think we need any sort of app-based guru to tell us that if we fritter away all our money on shiny new things it’s probably not going to bring us lasting contentment. I’m not saying that managing our behaviour is always easy or that there aren’t very painful reasons that we do things sometimes. But in general I don’t think it’s nearly as complicated as it’s so often made out to be by the self-help trend.

Take Marie Kondo’s book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying” for example. Anyone who bought this should give themselves a sharp slap round the face. Does it really take a sweet little lady from Japan to tell us how to put our shirts on hangers, take our old bits and bobs to the charity shop and then get the hoover out? It’s pathetic. My grandparents’ generation were in The Blitz. If your home wasn’t bombed to smithereens you were grateful, and you made good use of what few possessions you had under wartime rationing to “make-do and mend” – darning socks and unpicking old jumpers. Are we all now so spoilt and helpless that we need professional instruction in order to de-clutter our homes and get a bit organised? I find it absolutely shameful that a book about tidying was a bestseller and had a TV series made off the back of its success.

And Kondo’s book is just the tip of the iceberg. The shelves are packed with paperbacks that tell you how to do things that anyone with an ounce of sense should know how to do already. If you’re carrying a few extra pounds and getting wheezy walking up the stairs then it’s perfectly obvious you should get off the sofa and just go for a stroll once in a while to keep fit. You don’t need Joe Wix to tell you that. The self-help blogs are even worse. There are thousands of the bloody things, all dressing up timeless wisdom to sound new, flashy and clever. All the advice consists of insights that we already know from a language and culture rich in proverbs and idioms.

Read the complete article at Menswear Style, an online men's fashion and lifestyle magazine and one of the leading digital publications in the UK.


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