Are self-help books really helpful?
You have a problem and feel completely stuck with it. You would like to sort it yourself without going to therapy.
You decide to find a self-help book to guide you on your way. Whether it is improving confidence, managing anxiety, finding the right partner, mindful eating or improving your mood - you have a wealth of choice available, as new titles are added to book shelves week by week.
Self-help books continue to be quite fashionable. Prescribed by the NHS now in some areas as an alternative to medication and also recommended often as a first course of action before someone accesses more intensive therapeutic support, they are clearly seen and valued as a useful tool in helping people tackle problems and bring about change in their lives.
How long lasting are the effects of self-help though? Maybe you have read self-help books yourself?
You might well feel familiar with the promise that the new book holds. You feel eager and anticipatory to read and absorb the golden nuggets of information which are going to be potentially life transforming. You read the book from cover to cover and hopefully, you do feel encouraged and motivated to address the problem.
Maybe a week later you are not so sure though. The book is now designated to a lesser priority place in your bedroom and sits under a pile of magazines, the corner peeping out at you hopefully. It is often difficult to harness and contain the possibility that the book seemed to promise last week. You may feel a bit deflated and wonder what to do next.
Five tips to gain value from self-help books
1. Self-help literature will vary significantly in its quality and in its potential for effectiveness. Before you spend your hard-earned cash, you might want to look at book reviews online or trust a friend’s personal recommendation when making your choice.
2. Be realistic about your expectations of the book. You might not find that you get the overnight transformation that is promised between the pages. Unfortunately, ‘the magic wand’ does not exist. For most of us, change is a process that takes time and investment. You are likely going to have to work at it. The book might not offer the absolute solution but rather be a companion in achieving this.
3. Some books are going to resonate with you more than others. On holiday in America in my early 20s, I stumbled across M Scott Peck’s ‘The Road Less Travelled’. At this time in my life, this book helped me significantly to make sense and understand several questions I had been struggling with. I then remember raving about the book to my sister and coming to appreciate that this book did not offer her the same powerful messages. Our tastes were simply different.
4. The few self-help books I have truly valued, I have re-visited again and again. The process of revisiting and re-reading allows helpful strategies to become memory and then internalised allowing them to gain strength and momentum within me.
5. Although having limitations, self-help literature can empower you to take responsibility and to effectively become your own therapist. I believe this is to be encouraged. This can help increase confidence, autonomy and independence in coping skills and problem solving; these being valuable skills on life’s journey.
About the author
Harriet Frew is a counsellor, blogger, writer and enthusiast in supporting people with eating disorders. She has worked in the NHS; private practice and in the voluntary sector; working in the field since 1999. Harriet now works privately in Cambridge and London.
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