Two “self-help” life coaches were found dead Monday after committing suicide in their Brooklyn home. Lynne Rosen, a licensed clinical social worker, and John Littig, a motivational speaker, hosted a monthly self-help radio show “Pursuit of Happiness.” Despite projecting positive messages like “it’s always too early to quit,” the couple decided to ignore their advice and end their lives early, together.
The death of the two life coaches sheds light on the questionable authority of the self-help industry and those who promote it. In 2008, Americans spent a whopping $11 billion on “Self-Help” products. But how helpful are these products and the people who endorse them? With the growing size of the self-help industry, it appears to be more concerned with the publicity and consumer-friendly mantras, rather than the legitimacy of the help given to buyers. While reading a self-help book may be easier than heading to the doctor, consumers should reconsider the source as self-help leaders may not have the evidence-supported advice that will change your life.
Self-help should not be confused with empirically tested and peer-reviewed therapies. Psychotherapy can be successful when conducted correctly with the support of a licensed therapist. However, when the treatments are left up to the consumers, or taken out of context, they can be quite dangerous. Take for example Rosen’s advice to listeners with depression: "push yourself when there's nothing left to go on," suggesting that a positive attitude can mend depression. The credentials that follow a person’s name don’t make their advice fitting for psychotherapy. Despite Rosen being a licensed social worker, her advice makes light of the severity of depression and contradicts the majority of psychotherapists.
Their suicide points to the gap in the message they proclaim — can you really diagnose yourself and successfully create a "better you"? Furthermore, can you do this with only a book or a radio talk show host? I'm sure there are people who swear by it, but there is no objective assessment that you can give to yourself if you are both the doctor and the patient. In Rosen’s case, she may have been dealing with psychological difficulties, but because she swore by a positive, self-helping treatment, she wasn’t able to successfully overcome her suicidal thoughts on her own.
The self-help field and those on the cover of it takes information from psychotherapy and projects it out to people without the training to use it. Before Americans spend another billion dollars trying to help themselves, they should reconsider their sources and make an appointment with a licensed practitioner. Finding true help will come from tested therapies, not empty mantras from your radio speakers.