Thursday, September 27, 2007

Self-Help: Shattering the Myths

Psychology Today has an interesting article on self-help myths. I'm not sure I agree with everything the article says, but I certainly agree with their recommendation to be critical of anything that sounds too easy, or that comes from non-experts. Witness The Secret for some real bad "self-help" advice.

Here is the introduction:

It's no surprise that America, land of second chances, fabled site of self-invention, also harbors an endless appetite for self-help. From Poor Richard to Dale Carnegie to Tony Robbins, we love the idea that we can fix what's broken by ourselves, without the expensive ministrations of doctor or shrink. The limits of HMOs, and the limitlessness of the Internet, have lately made self-help even more appealing: Americans spent $563 million on self-help books last year, and surfed more than 12,000 Web sites devoted to mental health. An estimated 40% of all health-related Internet inquiries are on mental health topics, and depression is the number one most researched illness on the Web.

In the spirit of pioneers, we're concocting our own remedies and salving our own wounds. But is it good medicine? Once the preserve of charlatans and psychobabblers, self-help has undergone its own reinvention, emerging as a source of useful information presented by acknowledged authorities. That's not to say snake oil isn't still for sale. Often, the messages of self-help books tend to be vast oversimplifications, misrepresenting a part of the truth for the whole, as the following list of popular misconceptions and distortions demonstrates.

The antidote -- the "good" kind of self-help, grounded in research -- is also available to those who help themselves. Just keep in mind that even the best self-help may be too simplistic to manage complex problems, and that research, with its emphasis on straight science, may not always offer a clear course of action.

And here are the five distortions they attack.

1) Vent your anger, and it'll go away.
2) When you're down in the dumps, think yourself happy by focusing on the positive.
3) Visualize your goal, and you'll help make it come true.
4) Self-affirmations will help you rinse low self-esteem.
5) "Active listening" can help you communicate better with your partner.

You'll have to go to the article to see why these are distortions, what the research says, and what they recommend.

They conclude the article with a list of resources:



The Authoritative Guide to Self-Help Resources in Mental Health By John C. Norcross, Linda Frye Campbell and Thomas P. Smith (Guilford, 2000)


A Topic-by-Topic Guide to Quality Information By Stephen B. Fried and G. Ann Schultis (American Library Association, 1995)

Caring for the Mind: The Comprehensive Guide to Mental Health By Dianne and Robert Hales (Bantam, 1995)


An End to Panic: Breakthrough Techniques for Overcoming Panic Disorder By Elke Zuercher-White (New Harbinger Publications, 1998)

Anxiety & Depression: The Best Resources to Help You Cope Edited By Rich Wemhoff (Resource Pathways, 1998)


Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy By David D. Burns (Avon, 1992)

Understanding Depression: A Complete Guide to Its Diagnosis and Treatment By Donald F. Klein, M.D., and Paul H.Wender, M.D. (Oxford University Press, 1993)


Getting Control: Overcoming Your Obsessions and Compulsions By Lee Baler (Plume, 1992)

The OCD Workbook: Your Guide to Breaking Free from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder By Bruce M. Hyman and Cherry Pedrick (New Harbinger Publications, 1999)


Coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder By Carolyn Simpson and Dwain Simpson (Rosen Publishing Group, 1997)

Coping with Trauma: A Guide to Self-Understanding By Jon G. Allen (American Psychiatric Press, 1995)

* * * *



Knowledge Exchange Network (operated by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Center for Mental Health Services)

eNational Center for PTSD (operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) www.dartmouth. edu/dms/ptsd

eNational Institute of Mental Health


eAmerican Psychiatric Association

Anxiety Disorders Association of America

The Help Center of the American Psychological Association

The International Society for Mental Health Online

eNational Alliance for the Mentally III

National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association


Online Psych

eBasic Information

eSelf-Help and Psychology Magazine

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'm a little out of touch with Psychology Today magazine, but I tend to be a little wary of their recommendations. There are ideas dear to them, that fit in with the readership they've galvinized, they can barely help to wish to promote.

Many times their self-help articles are simplifications that make for attention-getting front-cover blurbs.

Also, I find it curious that the self-help books that are recommended are all from the 20th Century when so very much has been learned about anxiety and depression, etc., in the last five and a half years.

Nonetheless, the advice sounds good. But I expect that most people pretty much know how much credence to give to any self-help book they buy. The buck-you-up books, filled with friendly aphorisms, aren't taken too seriously.