Are self-help books a magic cure?

Kate Giles
We all have problems in life. Some are small and some are big. When people have a problem they may enjoy reading a self-help book. These books give advice on how to live a healthy and happy life. But do they help? Psychologists say they can help. They have great information. But they are not a magic cure. Often a person must change things in their life. That can take hard work. If a person has a serious problem they may need to see a counsellor or psychologist. I enjoy reading self-help books. They give me good ideas.
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Kate Giles on 08/02/2012
A stack of self-help books.
self-help books

Can books offer a magic cure?

We all have problems in life. Some are small, some are large and some are life-changing. When people are confronted with issues, some go to pieces and some seek counselling. And some seem to manage without too much effort. Then there are those who reach for the nearest self-help book.

But while the world markets are flooded with about 2000 new titles a year, do self help- books actually help?

Do self-help books help?

Late American psychologist and author of Dreams that Can Change your Life Alan B. Siegel believed they can help.

Self-help books that guide you through a life transition, such as pregnancy or divorce, may be particularly helpful. Transition books provide a kind of map of developmental transition, he wrote.

Associate Professor of Psychology at Victoria University Dr Gerard Kennedy agrees self-help books can be helpful. He admits to reading them himself. I know that one person cannot have all the answers.


Changing behaviour to suit our current situation is not always easy. Doing so can go against what we believe and think. And this can take a lot of courage.

Dr Kennedy says, Any information allowing us to be aware of life's challenges and desirable behavioural changes can be extremely beneficial.

Dr Kennedy believes we can all be guided by the success of others.

We can all learn from others who have had similar experiences. Storytelling, metaphors and even confrontation can be very powerful in helping others make the changes they need to make.

The Road Less Traveled

Living effectively is about constant life changes. But that's not always easy to do as M. Scott Peck outlines in his book The Road Less Traveled.

First published in 1978, it is said to have led the way to the self-help trend of today. Beginning with the sentence Life is difficult Peck holds up old-fashioned values. Principled values such as taking responsibility for decisions and being dedicated to truth and reality. The book not only gives standards for a happier existence, but also the tools to balance life in general. Peck also unites wisdom and courage as the way forward.

Problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure. Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and our wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually.

The Road Less Traveled stayed on the best-seller list for 10 years and is still going strong.

Ideas and actions

Nowadays, there are many types of self-help books available. Some give us ideas to ponder. Others are based on specific action. Then, there are the ones that are a combination of both ideas and action.

Some psychologists believe that if easily understood, many self-help books may in fact be helpful. However, the magic doesn't come from reading the book. It comes from taking on board the recommendations.

Dr Kennedy says, The thing about self-help books, CDs and DVDs is that we all think they give great information, but very few of us actually follow up and do the things suggested by self-help gurus.

Magic cure?

To get the most out of a self-help book, one suggestion is to combine the book with counselling or therapy. Think of this reading as homework. Then it can be discussed with your counsellor or therapist.

Dr Kennedy agrees. It's like having a coach, someone to reinforce the new behaviour. And because you don't want to disappoint the coach, it helps keeps you on track.

But he also warns. There are the people who are just not ready to make the necessary changes. There are also those who have underlying and obstructive emotional issues, and there are those who will find the changes just too hard.

Some people will never be ready and some people will never change. In these cases, it is doubtful that either therapy or self-help books will be beneficial.

On a personal level, I get a lot out of reading self-help books. They allow me to consider a different viewpoint. Many are also quite helpful with strategies in overcoming difficulties. But then again living with a disability, I am committed to overcoming many barriers. And I just happen to have a self-help book for each and every one.

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