Psychological Self-Help

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advice giver will say the solution must involve five specific steps, then
the steps are left vague.) Dr. Wilson gives several examples of Dr.
Phil’s advice: “have the courage to change your life,” “realize you don’t
have to get mad,” ”if something is wrong with your relationship it’s
because you set it up that way,” “you have to teach people how to
treat you,” “take personal responsibility,” “you either get it or you
don’t,” “life is managed, not cured,” etc. There is no empirically based
professional knowledge and little clinical acumen in these comments
but Dr. Phil calls his own advice “transformative.” I’d call his advice
mostly showmanship or platitudes (a common comment) or truisms
(so self-evident it doesn’t need to be said). Most of these statements
sound a lot like the ordinary Introduction to Psychology student who
thinks she/he has come up with a solution to some psychological
problem simply by stating what the outcome should be (example: “I’ll
stop procrastinating by studying every night”), without any description
whatsoever of exactly how one might actually get from no studying to
studying every night. 
This commercialization of psychology causes harm, says Dr.
Wilson. It pretends to offer wisdom but instead offers unoriginal ideas
expressed in an authoritative, pretentious manner. That may sell
books the next day but she thinks it probably lowers interest in
established psychology in the long run. It would be quite possible
and interesting to investigate the consequences of a person becoming
deeply immersed in the advice industry (books, talk shows,
workshops…) in terms of seeking more or less psychological help via
therapy or in terms of respect one has for Clinical Psychologists and
other therapists. Actually, some of the star media advisors, such as
Tony Robbins, are quite hostile towards psychotherapy. 
Advertising is critiqued by Dr. Wilson because of its powerful role in
defining “the good life.” The strategy of advertising is to arouse new
wants and feelings of insecurity and then offer solutions (for a price).
Psychological needs fit well into that scheme (some would call it a
scam), it is pretty easy to make someone want better relationships,
more power, or to feel inadequate or insecure or unsure of how others
feel about them. Advice, like advertising, usually involves selling
something. In talk shows, the entire program is the commercial. Tony
Robbins sold 25 million copies of his book, Personal Power, mostly
through late night infomercials—do you suppose that was the best
book available between 1990 and 1997? No. Dr. Wilson describes in
detail how Oprah and Dr. Phil teamed up to produce a series of self-
promotional shows to sell his books. Dr. Phil interviews people briefly,
and then just as briefly tells them what to do. His advice is not
profound, it is not based on research, and it is similar to what an
overly confident neighbor might tell you. But in the right
circumstances, it can seem impressive. Most practicing psychologists
think giving quick, blunt, over-simplified advice is a poor therapeutic
Psychologists invited to talk shows have been encouraged to be
interesting, clever, and describe brief cases…but to avoid “reciting
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