Self-help industry: Intimacy mentors to career gurus, wellness spectrum is in exciting new phase

Once relegated to only books, the self-improvement market is now getting a human touch as people are increasingly turning to coaches for help and workplaces are putting more focus on employee wellness

In a career spanning over 15 years in India, the Finland native—now based in Mumbai—deals with even ‘misogynist’ clients and guide them on how to approach love, sex or dating in a consensual and respectful way.
In a career spanning over 15 years in India, the Finland native—now based in Mumbai—deals with even ‘misogynist’ clients and guide them on how to approach love, sex or dating in a consensual and respectful way.

For Aili Seghetti, 48, engaging in tongue-tied conversations and offering cheesy pick-up lines are all in a day’s work. As a consumer researcher and intimacy coach, her job is to help people with emotional and physical intimacy issues. Her clients include all kinds of people in the intimacy spectrum—from singles struggling with dating to couples who want to revive their physical intimacy and individuals with issues such as premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, inability to orgasm and kinky fantasies, among others.

In a career spanning over 15 years in India, the Finland native—now based in Mumbai—deals with even ‘misogynist’ clients and guide them on how to approach love, sex or dating in a consensual and respectful way. According to the founder of The Intimacy Curator, an organisation promoting self-discovery through emotional and sexual wellbeing, her line of work is still nascent in India. With sex therapists and sex educators and nothing in between, it is either pathologised or strictly pedantic—and that’s where coaches like Seghetti come into the picture.

“People are more open to a coach as they need help specific to their issue and don’t want to consult a doctor. People have started realising that intimate relations require more soft skills than toys. They are more open to learn skills and look out for services instead,” says Seghetti.

The culture of ‘coaching’ is picking up and it is either due to lack or excess of role models or the ignorance that many people face over their individual or unique problems. A few decades ago, people would consult religious gurus or elder people in the family about soft skills such as staying healthy or choosing a career or a partner, but this set-up is now breaking down, as there are more cultural differences between generations, or we are evolving faster in the digital space.

Mentors, who align people’s goals in life, are also needed for an overall wellness of an individual as the benefits of coaching interventions are huge. “When you neglect your personal needs, you may experience low self-esteem and lack of compassion which can lead to anxious states of anger, stress and exhaustion. It is a vicious circle and can give rise to health and mental problems like heart disease, gut issues, depression, etc,” says Mumbai-based occupational therapist and intervention coach Purvi Gandhi. The allied health professional helps individuals in therapeutic practices in day-to-day activities, and work towards physical, mental, developmental and emotional ailments. “A parallel process of participation helps in the growth process and can be highly satisfying for therapists as well as the family,” she adds.

YouTuber Shwetabh Gangwar, who is an author and a motivational speaker with over 2 million subscribers, gives perspectives on problems related to career, relationships, parents, existential, social, cultural and philosophical issues. “Re-evaluating your choices, decisions and patterns is important. We rarely think about the sources or origins of behaviour and decision making, and yet we proudly represent ourselves, ideologies and actions. Maybe in between those, there comes a curiosity to understand and gather knowledge about your own mind,” he says.

Journey of self-discovery
It all began in the late-19th and early-20th century with the establishment international mutual aid fellowships like Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 and literary works by authors who took the self-help approach to help readers.

Books like Samuel Smiles’ Self-Help: With Illustrations of Conduct and Perseverance on Self-Help, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking and the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin continued this momentum by exploring business, political, social, religious and sexual matters. In 2017, over 15 million self-help books were sold in the US alone.

In fact, books like How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, Who Moved My Cheese by Dr Spencer Johnson, The Power of the Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy, and other titles by Og Mandino, Napoleon Hill and Mitch Albom dominated the genre. Indian authors such as Jay Shetty, Robin Sharma and Gaur Gopal Das, too, have propelled the self-help book market to new heights.

Author Rhonda Byrne shot to fame with her 2006 documentary, The Secret. She inspired millions with her self-help book, The Secret, which has sold over 35 million copies to date and is believed to have blown up the self-help books market—worth over $14 billion by 2025. The book talks about ways to establish healthy relationships with better boundaries with others, emphasising upon the importance of practising gratitude in relationships, physical and mental well-being.

“In recent years, the genre has experienced remarkable development. India is a high-aspirational market, and readers expect more from self-help books they read than just entertainment. The availability of these books improved dramatically with the advent of online retail, and self-help authors discovered a massive market hungry for new concepts,” says Rahul Dixit, sales director, HarperCollins India, which has published books like The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, Girl Wash your Face and Think Like a Monk.

But why are self-help books so popular? While people look for inspiration to grow and excel, self-help books often come from successful role models and there is always scope to learn from their experiences and expertise. So, the demand has steadfastly grown over time. “Self-help is an ongoing trend with more people exploring self-discovery by way of books till today. Books assisting self-improvement, personality development, confidence building, and positive living have been continually popular. There are also self-help books on soft business topics such as time management, stress management, etc, which have drawn readers,” shares Nandan Jha, EVP- sales and product and business development, Penguin Random House India, which publishes about 15-20 such books under Penguin Ananda and Ebury Press imprint every year.

At the same time, the cost of good education is skyrocketing, and the future of learning is self-help. That’s one reason why self-help books are selling so well, feels Jyoti Guptara, author of Business Storytelling from Hype to Hack. He says, “Self-help books give you, in concentrated form, the wisdom of master practitioners, which beats textbook theory and can save you years of trial and error. It’s a life hack.”

Sound of wisdom
US market research publisher Marketdata, which specialises in analysing niche service sectors, estimates that the US self-improvement market was worth $11.6 billion in 2019, and that it contracted by 10% to $10.5 billion in 2020. There was a forecast of 7.7% rebound in 2021, to $11.3 billion, and 6.0% average annual growth to $14.0 billion by 2025.

Content consumption in the last few years has given rise to self-love and storytelling in the form of audio books, guides, and podcasts. Also, the popularity of smart gadgets like Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod, and Google Home has made it easier to find and listen to podcasts.

From topics on better day-to-day habits to motivational books to keep going during tough times, platforms like Kuku FM or Pocket FM have subscribers like students, shopkeepers and salaried individuals. Also, the massive adoption of audio listeners in India has made such platforms focus on regional languages through which young users listen to audiobooks and shows in their mother tongue.

The focus is exclusively on solving user’s problems from Tier II and Tier III cities in English, Gujarati, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi and Tamil, among other regional languages. “We have seen a month-on-month growth rate of over 80%. With 30,000 creators, 50% of the content on the platform is exclusive, covering a wide range of genres in fiction and non-fiction like self-help, education, entertainment, personal finance, spirituality, inspiration and history,” says Lal Chandu Bisu, CEO and co-founder of Kuku FM, a vernacular audio OTT platform that recently crossed 1 million active paid subscribers in India offering online subscription in small towns.

While audio storytelling is imbibed in Indian culture and listening to books is a frictionless medium to consume content, Ashu Behl, SVP-content of Pocket FM, an audio streaming platform, finds a large set of users preferring to listen to native language content. “As India is the fastest-growing market for the audiobook space, the size of the audiobooks market in India will soon be equivalent to or more than the physical or e-book market,” he says. The platform is building a repository of audiobooks and collaborating with Indian and global publishers and authors for exclusive audio content, also available in eight languages—Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil, English, Kannada, Bangla and Marathi.

“We have partnered with leading Indian publishers like Manjul Publishing, Prabhat Prakashan, etc. With over 15 million monthly active listeners (MAL) on the Pocket ecosystem, I think we have a highly aspirational demographic of young users who are seeking knowledge to upskill and improve in all aspects of life. Self-help content is immensely popular especially in wealth creation, health, personality development and career,” adds Behl, whose self-help audiobook category contributes to more than two-thirds of audiobook sales. Pocket FM also has Ankur Warikoo’s Do Epic Shit exclusively in audiobooks.

Similarly, mentoring platform MentorKart invites various industry experts to talk on career growth, entrepreneurship, jobs and more to motivate, and provide skills and emotional support to youth—be it students, young professionals, or startup entrepreneurs. “The idea is to unlock the potential of students, young professionals and early-stage entrepreneurs and help them achieve their professional goals, overall career development, and industry placements by providing them with tips, lessons, mentoring from mentors and coaches from India and around the world,” says Ashish Khare, founder of MentorKart, who has partnered with more than 50 universities across the country and intend to achieve the goal of reaching over 200 campuses in the next few quarters.

Workplace wellness
The dependence on health, wellness and lifestyle coaches has continued and has seen a boom as healthcare takes centre stage in the post-pandemic workspace. Many big names in the corporate sector have been inviting health and lifestyle coaches regularly to have sessions with their employees.

Luke Coutinho, holistic lifestyle coach – integrative medicine and founder of YouCare-All about YOU, a holistic health store, has in the past been to corporates like Uber India and Dr Reddy’s Laboratories for giving sessions to its employees. “In a fast-paced world where burnout, digital fatigue, job insecurity, financial crisis, personal loss, and the lack of social connection are challenges, investing in the health and well-being of employees is becoming necessary,” he says.

To ease the unpredictable working climate, Wipro, for instance, is one corporate that made plans in consultation with coaches throughout the pandemic to manage work from home and now a hybrid work culture. Sumit Taneja, vice president, global rewards and analytics, Wipro Limited, says they now plan to expand their wellness interventions and programmes globally. Some of their programmes are centred around managing change, coping with the fear of exposure to Covid-19 if back in office, adapting to change and coping with anxiety, and more.

As for Modicare Limited, The Art of Living is one of their key programmes as they work towards creating a culture driven by holistic wellness, shares its MD and CEO Samir Modi. “Workplace ergonomics, sleep hygiene to managing anxiety and effective financial planning—we have made employee well-being an integral part of our company culture,” he adds.

Coaches are also helping in bridging the social gap. Gut health coach and the founder of GutAvatar and INUEN Payal Kothari, says that life, well-being and health coaches are also being called by corporates and organisations to encourage employee engagement, interaction and stable work culture which has been lost due to the pandemic. “There is no way the online medium can take over what physical engagement programmes can do. We have received feedback from the employees and the senior management confessing how a better work environment is required for productivity and mental health,” she says.

Puneet Gupta, CEO and founder, Clensta International, agrees with Kothari that juggling work and personal life can sometimes get overwhelming when working remotely and so, they have set up an ‘Employee Wellness Committee’ that works towards ensuring organisational well-being and nurturing a culture where everyone feels comfortable in coming forth with their issues and concerns. The committee also regularly organises sessions with industry experts where they help employees with stress management and share tips and tricks for achieving work-life balance.

Another issue raised by employees when coached was the difficulty in maintaining a balance between home, personal and work life during the pandemic, according to Harshit Malik, enrichment guide, wisdom coach and an entrepreneur. He says that in his employee coaching sessions, he has seen a similar pattern in many. “Usually, our ego does not allow us to talk about our shortcomings or issues or failures with our friends and partners. A coach is unknown to an employee and has a neutral approach, so they can easily open up,” explains Malik.

Matters of motivation
Books

  • One of the original mediums intended to instruct people on solving personal problems
  • Self-help books take their name from Self-Help, an 1859 bestseller written by Samuel Smiles
  • In 2017, over 15 million self-help books were sold in the US alone

Personal coaching

  • The culture of ‘coaching’ is picking up either due to lack or excess of role models or the ignorance that many people face over their problems
  • The dependence on wellness and lifestyle coaches has seen a boom as healthcare takes centre stage in the post-pandemic world

Podcasts

  • Podcasts have picked up in India and already constitute 1% of the total time spent
  • As per a RedSeer report, India had 95 million monthly active users by the end of 2021, a 34% increase from 71 million active users in 2020

Radio

  • Radio platforms like Kuku FM and Pocket FM provide content to solve problems on a diverse range of topics
  • These platforms have subscribers ranging from students and shopkeepers to salaried individuals

Workshops & sessions

  • Many big names in the corporate sector have been inviting health and lifestyle coaches regularly to have sessions with their employees
  • For companies to prosper at times like these, employee wellness is critical, say experts

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