Self-help books have been a boom in psychology publications . We just have to go to any bookstore and see that they cover 80% of the shelves dedicated to behavioral sciences. Even many popular books, where different aspects of human psychology and behavior are explained to us, have the title and appearance of self-help books, which makes them more attractive to buyers.

And why are we so attracted to self-help books? In reality, psychology is our own life, many of the aspects that concern us in our day-to-day life have to do with it: our family relationships, as a couple, the upbringing of children, skills and competences for study and job performance, understand our fears, overcome our obstacles , understand the behavior of society, violence, love, motivation, our emotions …

On the other hand, the most common is that any person, at some point in their life, feels that they are not well, they do not understand what is happening to them, they want to change some aspect of their behavior or to get out of a hole of different depth: anxiety, depression , grief, anger attacks, phobias, low self-esteem … Self-help seems a solution very adapted to our needs: to begin with, we do not know if what happens to us requires professional psychological help. On the other hand, it is possible that we do appreciate that we need this help but we cannot afford it financially., or for time, go to a psychologist. Sometimes what we want is to help another person who is having a bad time, and another reason could be that the therapy has not worked for us and we try an alternative solution. However, what is the effectiveness of these types of resources?

The effectiveness of self-help books

A large number of psychology professionals are totally against self-help books. And it is that, truly, they do not suppose a therapy , there is no follow-up of the psychologist or psychologist to really help the person, and they are also a great business (remember the shelves of the bookstores).

The big problem with self-help books is that they are not really healing therapies or manuals. As the psychologist Eparquio Delgado comments, who has written on this topic, there is no scientific research that supports their proper functioning . Just as to create a measurement or diagnostic test you need to do many tests and have scientific evidence that it is effective, any material intended for psychological intervention should also have that basis.

On the other hand, self-help books tend to feed a very harmful idea: blaming people . It will not explicitly tell you that you have done something wrong to feel that way, but its approaches are usually focused on the line of positive psychology, where you are supposed to learn to be in a “perfect” way. If you go to the self-help section, you will find many manuals to be happier, achieve success, do your best, be more competent in the company, how to change your life, how to influence others, how to bring out your “inner power”, how to make good decisions, how you control your emotions, how to acquire new values, etc. In short, they are indicating that you must be different, that you must do it yourself and that if you do not achieve success (but what kind of success? That is subjective), it is because you have not known how to do it.

Self-help and therapy

It is clear that there are many people who would like to change some aspect of their life because it causes them problems. For example, having aggressive outbursts of anger, establishing relationships that are too dependent, being too insecure to deal with certain life habits, having self-esteem problems that lead them to carry out behaviors that are harmful to oneself, having very emotional episodes. bass, etc. However, human behavior is too complex to be solved with some kind of instruction manual .

If we have a problem in our behavior, emotions or personal and / or professional relationships, the help of a psychologist or psychologist will be more effective. The main reason is that each disorder, each behavior, each maladjustment, occurs differently in each person. Both the causes and the situations in which certain behaviors are triggered, as well as the way to overcome them, is different in each biography, and therefore the intervention must be personalized . In the psychological consultation (or psycho-pedagogical, psychiatric, etc.), nothing is going to be done at a different pace than the one that the patient needs: you are the one who sets the pace, and between the two of you you move forward.

In addition, many times it can happen that we read the book, we are clear about the way forward to overcome a situation, but still we cannot do it. That’s because there are no magic recipes or “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

So are self-help books bad?

There are books that may work for some people, but not for most. Nor can we claim that they help us overcome disorders such as dysthymia, depression , anxiety , eating disorders, addictions or phobias. In addition, many of the aspects that affect us in life have an origin or dimension that we cannot control : socioeconomic, political, cultural, family, etc.

Many self-help books consist of stories, real or fiction, that make you think about something. They would rather be philosophical tales, like the classic proverbs. But they are not going to make us change for that, unless we personally have a very great interest in learning more about an aspect and carrying it out. For example, if I say that I want to learn to enjoy the small details and not what I consume. That is not “self-help”, but rather making a decision in life , but if you do not have strong convictions on which to base it (for example, for being more humble, as opposed to large multinational corporations, or for setting an example for your children ), it is easy that you end up giving up. 

Elle Mcdonald

I am Elle Mcdonald Specializations in Psychology . Graduated in psychology from the University of Tennessee in 2000. Diploma of Advanced Studies in the Department of Personality, Evaluation and psychological treatments with excellent results.

First Level of Master in Clinical Psychology at the Center for Behavioral Therapists (recognized with a scientific-professional nature by the College of Psychologists)

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