Psychological Self-Help

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Reality is that most self-help books are not published because they
have been objectively shown to be helpful. Instead, the publisher’s
editor believed it would sell well. Rosen, Glasgow & Moore (2003)
explicitly mention that certain well known writers have published a
new edition, using misleading claims, even after negative empirical
results from the first edition had been reported in the literature. They
conclude that money, in these cases, was clearly more important to
writers and publishers than professional standards. Even when a book
appears to produce desired changes for some readers, the percent of
successful readers was often 50% or much less. So, is this a waste of
time and money for over 50% of the readers? These kinds of data are
relevant to the purchaser but almost never included in the ads. Also,
I’ve never seen an ad for a book that says the content is essentially
the same as in 20 or 30 other books…any self-help reader can tell you
there is great redundancy in this literature. 
In a survey of all the bibliotherapy books published between 1990
and 1999, Rosen, Glasgow & Moore found only 15 well controlled
studies. The ratio of self-help evaluations to self-help books is tiny.
Again, stated in another way, the data suggest that the time and
professional investment in trying to help AND make money at the
same time is perhaps hundreds of times more than the energy put into
careful, honest research. 
The conclusions and recommendations of Rosen, Glasgow &
Moore are sobering: To the reader they say “don’t take the claims for
a book seriously,” unless there is independent empirical evidence.
(They also say “don’t blame yourself if a book doesn’t help you, it may
not be your fault.”) To the psychologist or any self-help writer in an
allied discipline, they say “the idea of individual professionals giving
psychology away was and is overly optimistic.” Thus, the idea that one
person could develop and adequately evaluate a self-help procedure
for a specific problem should be discarded. Instead, self-help should
adopt an objective, programmatic approach, more like “public health,”
involving (a) several professionals from different disciplines who (b)
undertake a coordinated effort to design science-based self-change
procedures for a specific problem, (c) select a large representative
sample of “clients” for a clinical trial, (d) carefully educate the users in
how to use the methods, (e) thoroughly evaluate the behavior-change
techniques using a variety of outcome measures, and (f) continuously
improve the self-change system over time before marketing their
product. I say, “Amen!” I’m ready to join a team. 
Is the “advice industry” personally beneficial to some
people? Are infomercials harmful to psychology as a
Many well trained professional therapists view the “advice
industry” as a regrettable but unavoidable annoyance. It is an
elephant in the house but most psychologists may try to ignore it.
Nona Wilson (2003) thinks that may be like ignoring a cancer that
could “displace” the professionals and science. Her argument is that
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