STEP THREE: Reading psychology books and articles; watching TV
talk shows and videos.
Naturally, being a professor and a writer, I value books. I have
read thousands of self-help books and my students have read and
evaluated thousands more. Many students have told me that certain
books (including mine) helped them and I believed it most of the time,
particularly if they actually used the information within a day or two.
But that is not a reliable evaluation (at least, not of my book since
some students say what they think the teacher wants to hear). The
truth is as many as 1/3 of my students were not motivated to read
self-help material, suggesting it doesn't do them much good (or they
don't have any improvements they hope to make at the moment).
Reportedly, only 10% of self-help book buyers read beyond the first
chapter. If that is true, a lot of money is wasted.
Unfortunately, as mentioned in chapter 1, relatively little hard core
research has evaluated the helpfulness of textbooks, popular
psychology books, self-help books or articles, support or helping
groups, workshops, credit classes, great literature, TV talk shows,
psychological films, audio or video tapes or any other form of
psychological education. Yet, some surveys and interviews tell us
something about self-help literature (Simonds, 1992). For example,
women buy slightly more self-help books than men; women choose
more books dealing with love and stress; men pick up more books
about motivation and self-improvement. About 2/3rds of us say we
know at least one "really good self-help book." Almost no one feels
they have been harmed by a self-help book; they just stop reading if
they don't like it. Almost 85% of readers and 93% of psychologists
(therapists) consider self-help books helpful (Starker, 1989). That is
rather impressive. You also need to remember that assigning readings
to clients (bibliotherapy) has been found to be almost as effective as
psychotherapy, but neither are nearly as effective as one would hope.
Honest scientific evaluation of self-help material is certainly needed
but it is an enormous task with little monetary payoff. Making money
almost always takes priority over discovering the truth. Researchers
are just starting to seriously compare psychotherapy with a self-help
or educational approach. Although this is a threat to my profession and
its high paid psychotherapists (me too), it is important and reasonable
to do. Fuhriman, Barlow, and Wanlass (1989) have reviewed the
research evaluating bibliotherapy (in this case great literature was
often the readings, not self-help material). The findings were mixed--
some successes, some "no significant results." Yet, without research,
people buy millions of self-help psychology books in hopes of getting
help, largely on the basis of glitzy advertising, exaggerated claims
("phenomenal breakthroughs," "a best seller"), and catchy titles on
glossy book covers. Selling books is big business. Publishers aren't
scientists, they have no data indicating which manuscripts are helpful.
Selecting a book for publication is an intuitive judgment by a person
untrained in psychology. Thus, another truth is that an ineffective book
is just as likely to have a huge advertising campaign as a helpful book.