Psychological Self-Help

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his/her real or potential problems and weaknesses and is able to
quickly formulate a plan to improve the situation. An ineffective self-
helper can't or doesn't do these things. 
Psychology's ambivalence about self-control
Humans want to control their lives and they fear a loss of control.
Yet, there is no strong belief that science offers much help with self-
control. As I mentioned, even the discipline of psychology left self-
control, will or volition, and cognitive control in the hands of
philosophers until the 1960's. Moreover, some experimental theorists
suggest that conscious thought or "will" has almost nothing to do with
our behavior (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999; Wegner & Wheatley, 1999). It
is true that much of human living is done automatically without being
guided by conscious thought. There is too much happening--
perception, behavior, emotions, memory, physiological processes--for
conscious decision-making and planning to handle it all moment by
moment. Automatic mechanisms have taken over. But when things go
wrong and/or we want to make changes, we sometimes have the
option of using our brain's limited conscious resources to plan new
Recently, Shapiro (1997) with two colleagues (Shapiro, Schwartz
and Astin, 1996) has summarized the theory and research about self-
control during the last 40 years. I'll summarize their summary. The
impressive and growing research showing that self-control (or the lack
of it) is important to our mental and physical health has awakened
research psychologists to the importance of self-change and volition.
Self-help attitudes and skills are becoming major factors in the
treatment of physical, mental, emotional and interpersonal problems. 
Normal healthy people tend to over-estimate their control and
under-estimate their vulnerabilities. That makes us feel better. If we
feel able to deal with an illness, it helps (we do more to help and our
immune system actually works better). Feeling helpless decreases our
treatment efforts and increases our anxiety and depression. Believing
you are powerless when you aren't is, of course, a problem. Likewise,
too much belief in one's control or an excessive need for control can
make things worse, health-wise and socially. If you assume you have
more control than you really have, you may also blame yourself
inappropriately for bad outcomes. 
Shapiro (1997) shows us that the concept of self-control is
complex. It includes your need to control, the confidence you have in
your control, as well as the actual control you have. This can be in
broad areas of life or in very specific areas, such as "getting this job
done on time" and "controlling my anger with this person." As the
Serenity Prayer tells us, control may mean coping with a situation by
yielding, patiently accepting, or accommodating the situation as well
as coping by assertively doing something to change things. Does
control include denial, such as the alcoholic saying "I can stop drinking
any time," which controls anxiety but worsens the addiction? Well, it's
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