A skeptic's guide to self-help culture

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro on her new book Promise Land: My Journey Through America's Self-Help Culture.
A kitten hangs in there on the cover of Jessica Lamb-Shapiro's Promise Land: My Journey Through America's Self-Help Culture.

Over the past few years, Jessica Lamb-Shapiro has helped herself to an inordinate number of self-help books. Her part-investigative, part-personal research project involved everything from freaking out with strangers on stationary planes to walking on hot coals while thinking positive thoughts.

Shapiro, the skeptical daughter a self-help writer was decidedly opened minded as she worked her way through hundreds of books and seminars. Now she's chronicled her quest in her book, Promise Land: My Journey Through America's Self-Help Culture.

The writer joins guest host Gill Deacon to discuss the growth and surprisingly broad reach of self-help ideas, the pervasive victim-blaming she found in many books, and why she decided to reveal dark parts of her own story -- including her mother's suicide. 

The program that 'doesn't fail'

Shapiro, who set out to discover whether self-help books can work, found that helpful books tend to make smaller promises and also encourage readers to consider other ideas. 

"The ones that don't work tend to make really outrageous promises and tend to say 'don't read any other self-help books'," she says. "And they also tend to blame the reader if they fail." 

"The program doesn't fail. You fail the program."