Skip to content

Toggle service links

What could critical psychosocial (anti) self-help look like?

Self-help zines
Can we make self-help books that actually help, rather than restrict?
January 2016 - December 2020

Investigator: Meg-John Barker (Senior Lecturer, OU Faculty of Social Sciences)

This project explores the potential for creating alternative forms of self-help. Specifically it aims to develop self-help materials which differ from - and challenge - the individualising and normative tendencies of conventional self-help and their essentializing, neoliberal framework. Instead audiences are invited to engage critically with cultural messages and to reflect upon their situatedness within intersecting social power dynamics, as well as to understand the self in more relational, contextual, multiple, and fluid ways. This project has been supported in part by funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, as part of the "Enduring Love" grant.

The focus of the project is on both content and process, with as much emphasis given to the forms that self-help takes as to what is covered within such materials. Specifically there is a focus on alternatives to conventional books and other written formats. This includes materials which might be more inclusive, and more able to engage audiences critically, by virtue of their use of visual elements such as comics and animations, and/or audio elements such as podcasts. Zines, websites, workshops, problem-page formats and more are explored to encourage a more peer-to-peer relationship between creator and audiences where people are invited to critically engage and find their own way rather than being told what to do by a perceived ‘expert’.

Four key aspects inform this creative project: 1. Critical analysis of existing self-help; 2. Engagement with gender, sexuality, and relationship diverse communities, and therapeutic, mental-health, and Buddhist/mindfulness communities for their expertise, experience, and feedback; 3. Engagement with the existing critical literatures around self-help, the therapy industry, and ‘McMindfulness’; and 4. Personal reflexivity and autoethographic exploration of using/creating these materials, and reflections on the usefulness of these materials within therapeutic practice.

Specific examples of linked collaborative projects under this overarching umbrella include the following:

Sex, Gender and Relationships

  • ‘Enjoy Sex’ book, website, animations, and workshops with Justin Hancock and ‘The Psychology of Sex’ book for Routledge, based on research conducted with Darren Langdridge and Helen Bowes-Catton
  • ‘Queer’ comic book with Julia Scheele, queer zines, and gender diversity projects with Christina Richards, Alex Iantaffi, Ben Vincent and others
  • ‘Rewriting the Rules’ second edition book and website, ‘The Secrets of Enduring Love’ book with Jacqui Gabb

Therapy, Mindfulness and Mental health

  • Therapy animations, videos, and other resources with Andreas Vossler and Naomi Moller, and with Dominic Davies and colleagues
  • Social mindfulness events and publications with Steven Stanley, and zines around social mindfulness approaches
  • Special issues of Asylum magazine on mental health and comics with Caroline Walters, Joseph de Lappe, and Helen Spandler

For more information visit the Rewriting the rules website.

Learn more about the research programme: Intimate Relationships