Ask a Therapist: How Helpful Are Self Help Books?

By Heidi Page, MSW

Do “self-help” books really help? In short, yes. The key is sorting through all the titles to find the book or books that will be relevant and meaningful to you. What is meaningful and helpful for one person may not be for another. Also, people have different learning styles, which is another reason why one size (book) doesn’t fit all.

What should you expect from a self-help book? What I advise people to expect is that as much as 75% of the book you pick may not feel “enlightening” or “relevant” to you. What will make it a book that resonates with you is the 25% that does change your perspective, provide inspiration, or influence your life. You may learn something or be entertained by 75% of the book, but it’s the 25% that feels like the author is talking directly to you that will make the entire book worth reading.

There are many styles to writing self-help books, so you want to look for the style that appeals to you. One style is akin to an auto biography, where the author is sharing their personal story and how they overcame adversity. Another style is to use examples to illustrate common themes about a subject by telling other peoples stories that are true, what I would call “case studies.” Another approach to writing is to give examples by fabricating a person and events to illustrate a point.

Some readers want a more “clinical,” research based book, with reference and statistics to guide them. Many self-help books offer a certain amount of steps to follow, a detailed plan for achieving a goal or success. Nearly everyone wants to know the way to stop doing what they are doing or start doing something else.

Other authors are more philosophical and abstract in their approach. These authors often ask more questions than they answer, offering their insight and leading you to challenge your own perspectives. Some philosophical self help books are also religious or have a spiritual undertone, an aspect that appeals to many readers who are themselves spiritual or coming from a dark place and seeking inspiration.

My advice is to take the topic you are focusing on and either go to a bookstore or go to an on-line book seller and read the description, table of contents and reviews. You can actually flip through some pages on-line, which will help you see which style the author is using and if it appeals to you. And remember, even if only 10 pages of a book resonated with you and helped you out, the investment was worth it.

To reach Heidi Page for an appointment, please call 603.296.0830 x1

By | 2016-12-05T15:14:14+00:00 February 28th, 2011|Health & Wellness, Mental Health|