The stages of being a self-help book editor: Stage One - Self-Diagnosis & Inquiry

What happens when you first get a job as a self-help book editor?

Posted Dec 10, 2010

My colleagues and I have talked about this phenomenon before: the fact that when you work as a self-help book editor, you go through several stages of processing and integration. Think of it: you're an otherwise normal person, living a normal life full of normal joy, pain, struggle, learning, conflict, growth, and evolution. You've had your share of family and relationship stuff, you've struggled with your share of personal mental and physical wellness issues, as we all do. And then, all of a sudden, you get this job and you're thrown smack-dab into a veritable information wonderland. There's help for everything: Relationships! Anxiety! Stress! Trauma! Syndromes and health problems you've never even heard of! There's CBT, ACT, DBT, Buddhist psychology, psychodynamic approaches, mindfulness techniques, compassion-focused therapy, HeartMath. And for anyone who is interested in editorial work, with a love of books and curiosity being prerequisites, it's like finding yourself in a candy store, presented with book after book after book designed to solve any problem you or yours may have, and maybe some you didn't even know you had. I imagine it may be a little bit like starting your training in psychology. Suddenly, you have all the tools for healing directly at your fingertips.

The first stage of being a self-help book editor is Self-Diagnosis and Inquiry. You come in and look in marvel at the shelves and shelves of books that promise to help you. On your first day, you probably go back to your office with a stack of 10 books that ring some bell inside you. You pretend it's "research", because, after all, part of your task now is to get familiar with what types of books your company publishes. But every book you choose somehow applies to you. There may be books on self-esteem, assertiveness, depression, choosing the life you want, becoming happier through meditation, sleep disorders, and getting the most out of therapy. The first few weeks or months, you read books from your company all the time. You get familiar with the formula. You learn things you never knew before, and you start to practice some of them. Maybe you start watching your thoughts more thoroughly, you do relaxation exercises in your office, or consider starting a meditation practice.

And there are all these terms now! MDD, ADD, BPD, Narcissist, Bipolar, Highly Sensitive, GAD, PTSD. It's vegetable soup. You start wondering if those little niggling things you've struggled with all of your life have a diagnosis - a tendency to get anxious, a melancholic mood, trouble with relationships. You read the diagnostic criteria of every book you come across, mentally checking off the symptoms you've experienced. At various times, myself and my colleagues have wondered if we suffered from Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress, White Knight Syndrome, intimacy issues, being a chid of narcissists, and being romantically unintelligent. I won't tell you what we've concluded, if you don't mind. Some secrets should stay secret.

Most of the time, you decide that you're really OK, after all, even if you could stand to do some work on those little niggling issues. But one thing you do know: you'll never, ever have to buy a self-help book again.