Help Yourself: Does self-help actually apply to students?

Katie Larkin discusses the pros and cons of the modern genre of self-help for students

There is a significant rise in the ‘self-help book,’ a nonfiction piece that holds tips and tricks to better your everyday life. But how helpful can these really be? Are these affordable and impersonal alternatives to therapy worthwhile, or is the opinion of one person all you need? Some of 2023’s bestsellers in the genre have made headlines this year such as clinical psychologist Dr. Julie Smith’s Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? and Atomic Habits by writer and speaker, James Clear. 

Practising self-help to better your life, strengthen relationships and experience more is incredibly important – not only as a student, but as a person from any walk of life. Being able to manage and understand emotions, process them adequately and get on with the trials and tribulations of everyday life is essential to maintaining a healthy and importantly, happy mind. 

Unfortunately, access to therapy and professional psychological help can come at a harsh price, and often won’t fit in with someone’s other commitments, such as a hectic university schedule or a full-time job. This is where a ‘self-help’ guide can be a nice, easy, and inexpensive alternative. 

Dr Julie Smith wrote her book based on conversations had with real-life therapy patients and the advice she gave to combat issues such as anxiety and depression. James Clear wrote his book based on habits he has formatted to better his own personal life and shared the guide to help people do the same. 

The self-help genre is new and on the rise, but should it be? This student-centred pros and cons list will help you decide for yourself. 


Bettering yourself is never a bad option. 


A self-help book can potentially be a cheap way to get professional advice over a personal issue or slump. Maybe you are stressed with your lack of motivation or would like to form better habits. A book such as Atomic Habits and Why Has No One Told Me This Before? could be the answer to your problems. Today, students don’t often have the money for a lot of luxuries, but websites like enable inexpensive and second-hand copies of loved books to be delivered to your door. 

Borrowing Knowledge

Often, these books are written by people who have had first-hand experience with helping themselves and other people. Minor issues (not that there are any!) that are separate from psychological traumas such as infrequent stress or nerves, could be solved from the methods suggested in these books.

What’s the harm? 

Bettering yourself is never a bad option. Regardless of circumstance, there isn’t much bad that can come from reading a self-help book, even if you don’t take the advice on board. Young people need to have foundations to get them through life, and knowledge to assist any psychological struggles is detrimental. 



Taking the time from a busy student schedule with plenty of commitments to read a self-help book that is likely filled with heavy content is not always feasible. Students need to value the few moments free to enjoy friends or engage in other passions such as novels, music, and sport, and maybe a self-help guide isn’t the nicest way to spend your small amounts of free time. 


Often, to combat personal dilemmas, personal advice is needed. Most of the time, psychological issues as well as stress and anxieties are based on very personal instances that cannot be dealt with general advice. While a self-help book will offer advice that can be useful, it likely won’t solve a bigger issue. 

Scratching the Surface

Similar to what was previously said, a self-help book will not solve your problems if that is what you are hoping for. It will likely suggest foundations for growth and suggestions on how to help certain issues, but unfortunately, it won’t delve deep enough into your personal psyche to make a big enough change. 

Understanding Yourself 

Often when faced with adversities, it is hard to understand what the problem is, where it is coming from, and how to even begin to address it. Therefore, therapy can be so important and useful, as it allows a second person to look into what may be causing your problems. If you are struggling to understand yourself, it is certain that a book won’t be able to answer these concerns either. 

Who says? 

The author has control over what information is being shared with you in the case of any self-help book. It is worth it to be sceptical of who the author is, and why they feel their opinions are important enough to share. As mentioned, it is you who can help yourself with assistance from other resources, and maybe what the author has found helpful for themselves, and others won’t mean anything to you. 

If you are struggling to understand yourself, it is certain that a book won’t be able to answer these concerns either.

The rising self-help genre has pros and cons you need to consider before taking the plunge. However,  these books may be a suitable guide for mundane issues.However, if you are experiencing high levels of stress or any mental and psychological health problems, please contact the student help service and speak to a professional.