They have collected 1,100 strategies! Thus far, there have been only
24 studies evaluating the effectiveness of any of those strategies (like
do something crude, such as vomit, or try to get him to see you as a
human). Only 1, 075 strategies to go! Of course, beyond strategy,
would be other considerations, such as rapist's strength, woman's self-
defense skills, presence of others nearby, etc. My points are: we are
incredibly ignorant about handling rape (there is almost no general
advice we can give at this time); we are not doing nearly as much
research as we should; the sexual assault situation is very complex;
watch out for over-confident, self-appointed "experts;" question
anyone giving the same advice to everyone; and listen to ordinary
people as well as "experts." These same points probably apply to 1000
other problem situations in which humans find themselves, including
the problems you face.
In short, I refuse to lie and over-simplify life, and I refuse to
pretend I know it all (or that science does). There is still some help
available, however. Indeed, one recent "self-improvement" book
(Seligman, 1994) emphasizes which problems can be treated
effectively and which can not. (Can be changed=panic disorders,
phobias, anxiety, depression, certain sexual problems, pessimism, etc.
Often can't change=over-weight, addictions, homosexuality, serious
personality problems, psychosis, post-traumatic stress disorders, etc.)
Keep in mind that Seligman is primarily talking about the effectiveness
of changing by going to see a therapist, which is being carefully
evaluated. Science has not evaluated the effectiveness of self-help
methods in many of these areas yet.
Understanding 4: Any therapist or self-help method may do harm. Reading
and self-help seem to rarely do damage. Note: pessimism and the fear of
trying to help yourself, resulting in your doing nothing, cause much more
harm than any self-help method.
Halliday (1991) asked persons on their first visit to a
psychotherapy clinic if they had tried psychological self-help books.
Forty-three out of 100 said "yes." Of these 43, 37 (86%) said they
benefited from their readings, 5 didn't get any benefit or harm, and 4
experienced some harm or distress. Of these 4, three got a mixture of
benefit and harm, but the remaining one became upset by descriptions
of child abuse and simply stopped reading. Two more people reported
being upset by reading--one by a medical book and one by religious
literature. It seems fairly certain that reading psychological self-help
does less harm than undertaking psychotherapy (although see the
caution below). But, keep in mind that the effectiveness of very few
self-help books has ever been assessed.
Of course, reading something which uncovers a problem you hadn't
realized before would be stressful. But, would you be better off not
knowing? Certainly, it can be scary to try out some self-help methods,
such as exposing yourself to a feared or a stressful situation. Talking
to another person or a group about a problem may be hard, although
the end results are usually beneficial. These uncomfortable situations