• Adam Rothwell

Self-help: the meaning behind the buzzword

The self-help industry is massive. Sales of books on a range of topics within the field account for billions in sales annually, YouTube has thousands of videos on the subject and there are countless courses for those who want to improve themselves. However, what does it all actually mean and what does self-help offer you?

Firstly, considering what self-help actually is, it is the act of looking to improve yourself. This can take many forms and may be physical, emotional, financial, intellectual, in relationships and the list goes on. Dependent on where you look or what you learn, self-help will differ in it's process and demands.

Why would a mental health professional suggest self-help?

There are a number of reasons for this and of course, they may differ from individual to individual. The first reason may be that there are obvious things you can think of that would improve your quality of life. This may be sorting a financial issue, or a physical health complication. The professional may not be able to sort this for you so you would need to take those steps. Secondly, any counsellor, therapist or nurse will have an aim to help you have autonomy in your life, and to make choices for yourself. Self-help offers you this opportunity to make decisions for yourself and create change of your own accord. Finally, in some settings there may be waiting lists for therapy and self-help can provide support and movement forward while you wait.

Where do I get started?

There are so many different ways to get started, it can feel like an immense task before it's already started. On top of this, you may not have a clear understanding of what the issue is you are trying to address. There are two things you can do to initial the process. The first is consider something called Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Abraham Maslow was a humanist theorist who created a pyramid like structure describing the order in which we need to meet our needs to be happy and fulfilled. Start at the bottom of the pyramid and consider if all your needs are being met physically. So for instance, if your sleep is poor and affecting your functioning, you may want to research how to improve this. As you work up the pyramid, you may create some areas of your life where you realise there is work to be done. This may be looking at your physical health, working on relationships and intimacy, working on your self-esteem, and for those who have everything they need to succeed, working towards self actualisation.

Another way to consider where to start, in a more structured way is to complete the Wheel of Life. Sounds like a game show, I know, but this is a useful way to evaluate how satisfied you are with different aspects of your life. I have created a downloadable version of the Wheel and you can download this here:

Wheel of Life
Download PDF • 104KB

When completing the assessment, you score different areas of your life based on how satisfied (from 1 - 5) you are. Elements include your finances, intimacy, time for your self and your family life. This is an effective way to figure out what is lacking in your life. You then have the opportunity to consider how to address the imbalance moving forward. This then helps you find self-help resources in the right area, or seek professional support if appropriate.

Enjoy the start of your journey and I wish you well. Come back for further ideas in this series about how to support yourself to thrive.


Adam Rothwell is a registered Person-Centred counsellor working with clients online, by phone and in person in the UK.

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