Psychological Self-Help

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of self-improvement (via the development of star personalities), such
as by John Gray, Tony Robbins, the Oprah-Dr. Phil team, and many
others. Self-improvement has often been turned into entertainment
and infomercials. Billions have been made off of troubled, hurting
people hoping for help from “professionals” on TV and radio and in
The real questions are: Is this any way for a discipline, claiming to
be a science, to behave? Is deceptive marketing and over-selling of
products and services beneficial in the long run to the public or to the
helping professions? What happens when the promises are not
fulfilled? Some, no doubt, will seek self-improvement via the next
“hot” book or workshop by a big name. But, many others may give up
on even authentic professional help, science-based books, and other
established sources of help. Even the esteemed American
Psychological Association, once the bastion of science, has been deeply
involved in publishing and selling unproven tapes, videos, books and
training programs. Who warns or protects the needy-but-unaware-of-
the-facts public? 
I have to admit that my specialty (healing, growth and prevention
via psychosocial education), as a whole, often looks like it is expending
enormous efforts to “make big bucks” while almost totally neglecting
to do and advocate outcome research and avoiding informing the
consumer about the sometimes flimsy scientific basis for our products
and services. The two articles I just cited should be required reading
for every real or pretend professional…and for every user of self-help
books, seminars, videos, TV & radio talk shows, and other services. 
The above authors present persuasive data to make their points.
For instance, the research done in the heyday of self-help, the 1970’s,
was a commendable effort and yielded both positive and negative
findings. In the negative direction, it was reported that many self-help
books were hardly read (Tony Robbins says only 10% of self-help
readers get beyond the first chapter…I doubt if there is any hard data
supporting that.). Even those who read the self-help material often do
not get satisfactory results, certainly not the outcomes promised.
Some studies have reported that 50% of the subjects in a “self-
administered group” (they just read self-help material) didn’t
understand or follow the book’s recommendations. Some researchers
found that some popular books actually upset more readers than were
helped. Studies of other books showed that the written material was
fairly successful when monitored by a therapist or researcher, but
were not successful when self-applied. These authors concluded: all
self-help material, all kinds of readers, and the various conditions
under which the information is read (or heard) need to be researched.
One can’t just assume “Oh, it will help to read this.” [NB: In contrast
with these authors, I have found that books are rarely harmful, but
many books are abandoned early on or just not used much. Books are
usually inexpensive but still not a wise buy if bought because they
have a clever title or misleading ads or if they are not read.] 
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