Why haven't psychological techniques for managing and improving our lives been more vigorously developed and taught to everyone? If self-help is occurring in every life almost all the time, improving our self-help ability and efforts seems like such a sensible idea. Strangely enough, the methods of self-direction, self-control, and other forms of self-help have never been organized and taught as a distinct part of our family, educational, religious, informational, or social systems. Let's consider for a moment why self-help knowledge might be neglected. Why is self-help an orphan, apparently not wanted as a whole, integrated discipline by any social institution? Why would anyone or any group conspire to keep suffering people from getting useful information?
First of all, in spite of all our "fascination with people," we humans have resisted studying ourselves psychologically and scientifically. As Francis Bacon said, "Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true." We like having a grandiose view of ourselves. For instance, one of the last sciences to develop was psychology; that was only 100 years ago. About 450 years ago, Copernicus almost lost his head for suggesting that man and earth were not at the center of the universe. About 150 years ago, Darwin suggested humans evolved along with other living things. That idea is still bitterly opposed by some religions. About 100 years ago, Freud suggested that we humans aren't even in conscious control of ourselves, unconscious forces really determine what we do. Unconscious factors are still denied by many people. Humans are prone to oppose anything that lessens their greatness, superiority, power, or importance. Thus, we as a species may even resist the idea that anyone (or anything less than God) is needed to help us cope better with our lives.
Most of us don't like the idea that living optimally requires work. Look at it this way. If each one of us is attempting to mentally cope with some concern or task almost every moment of our life, in the course of a lifetime every person will deal with millions of unique situations and thousands of different kinds of problems. Every day there are probably several situations in which you think: "I'd like to do that better." That's real life. Sometime during your life you will probably face almost every kind of human difficulty. In this sense, intelligent living is complex and a lot of trouble. On the other hand, many, many other people before you have faced the same concerns. Therefore, given the right flow of information, you could benefit greatly from the experience of others and from some advanced preparation to face a wide variety of predicaments. As a species, we seem more inclined to say "Oh, it won't happen to me" than to do our preventative homework.
Ideally, each of us would have in our heads a readily available, comprehensive self-help system for solving many kinds of problems. Such a system would be based on a sound general understanding of behavior and relationships, i.e. a science of coping. Much knowledge is already available. Wise people have gathered wisdom for thousands of years. In addition, during the last 100 years, psychology has learned much that is new as well as confirmed many of the beliefs of wise people. There is a rough consensus about how to best handle many situations. Self-change methods (which are essentially the same as therapy techniques) have been shown to be effective with a very wide variety of problems. We have many such methods. We don't need to invent the wheel every time an ordinary problem comes up. But we haven't yet learned how to systematically pass this information along to everyone.
Twenty-five years ago, I thought self-help books, informative TV talk shows, and personally useful Psychology classes taught in schools would have "given psychology away" by now. I assumed that by the year 2000 almost everyone in this country would be a skillful self-helper (in terms of understanding and managing their own lives) . The truth is the general public, I suspect, has made very little progress in acquiring useful psychology. Let's see if we can understand why self-instruction--the most cost effective source of help--has been neglected or mishandled, while expensive and questionable sources of help have flourished, such as individual psychotherapy, psychiatric drug prescriptions, chiropractors, faith healing, astrology, mystical channeling or past lives therapy, illegal drugs for pleasure, etc.