What is Self-help? Can it help? What sort of problems does it help you solve?
The Self-help industry is enormous, which is a double-edged sword – there is a lot to choose from and too much to choose from. How do you know what works?
In this episode, your host Jim Lucas tells you four key yardsticks to help you select the best self-help books available.
Self-help Sat Nav was brought to you by Openforwards. Get the latest insights into stress, anxiety, depression, relationships, work timeout, and getting stuff done by swooping over to www.openforwards.com.
Hi, welcome to Self-help sat Nav, the show where you get simple and friendly rundowns on the self-help that can make a difference. We’ll be talking books, digital resources, films, and linking it all to the science of what works. Listen to interviews with some of the creators and tune in with me, your host, Jim Lucas.
We are plugged into what helps, so all you need to do is join us. Hi, and welcome to the first ever episode of Self-Help Satin Nav. This is super exciting for me. I’ve wanted to get this podcast up and running for several months now, and here we finally are. If you didn’t catch my name, I said, I’m Jim Lucas, and who I am is a behavioral therapist and chief over at Open Forwards, where a company based in Birmingham offering digital services and.
Effective therapy and clear guidance to really help you get the most out of life to help you flourish. So let me tell you a bit more about the show, just in case you didn’t get the title. It’s Self-Help Sat Nav, and it’s all about navigating your way through the ever-expanding world of self-help.
The History of Self Help
Now, many years ago now, it was much more common that you’d see different bookstores in every city. They were the big department stores on several floors with different sections. Um, but now you’re kind of lucky to find one or two book buying has become more of an internet shopping experience. Um, but back in the day you’d find self-help maybe next to psychology or around the back of the music session.
Often it might be right up on the top floor or stuck down in the basement, but it, it seemed as though shops didn’t quite know what to do with it. It was a bit like that forbidden area where you couldn’t go just in case someone saw you. How embarrassing that would’ve been. How shameful you might need to pick up a book just because you’re having thoughts and feelings that aren’t always easy to deal with.
Welcome to the human race. Hopefully though we’ve moved along a bit and I think people are less afraid of that than they used to be. I’ve often seen people reading a book on the train or sitting in a waiting area working their way through a mindfulness book or something about low mood or anxiety. And also it could be much more of a private experience now of people having Kindles and no one would need ever know.
So let’s get our heads around self-help a bit more. Today I’m gonna be taking a, talking a bit about what it is, how big it is. Why it’s a bit of a minefield and how you can delve into it without wasting hideous amounts of time and money. Self-help covers an array of supposed ills. You know, if you do your research, you’ll find books about social anxiety, confidence building relationships, becoming successful, freeing your mind and finding happiness.
Self Help Statistics
It can cover just about anything you’re struggling with. If you did a keyword search on a large online department bookstore, you’ll get close to 600,000 titles falling under the auspices of self-help. So I think it’s fair to say it ain’t just big, it’s massive. And whilst that gives you a lot of choice, choice isn’t also necessarily a good thing.
You need to know what the good quality stuff is. And given the size of it, there’s bound to be a lot of chaff to sift through. One way of making a choice, of course, is to read people’s reviews. This is a measure of success for any product or, and it undoubtedly affects sales, but high sales and five star reviews don’t necessarily mean that what you are getting is scientific, that it’s scientifically proven to make a difference, and that’s something that I want to aim to do from this show.
I want to highlight the stuff to you that is founded on some good science and some good evidence stuff that has come with some legs, that has some weight, that has meat to it. And I’m gonna use the word substance a lot throughout this show to describe a book’s depth of science, because as some investigations have shown much of what has been written and what you’ll come across, doesn’t have the data to back it up.
According to Huffington Post in 2011, it was revealed that the self-help industry was worth over 10 billion in the US alone. Whilst in the uk, it equates to about 6 million pounds. It’s supposedly one of the biggest selling industries outside of fiction when it comes to writing and. Two folk. Back in 2006, Dunbar and Abra carried out a study into self-help to look at the credentials of people who are actually writing things.
And here’s what they found. Although many authors had relevant qualifications like psychology, social work, medicine, and education, very few of them referred to scientifically tested approaches. The books were written from anecdotal evidence. Fewer than 20% had their findings on a sustained program of research.
So I think we can take from that, that whilst books may be well written and they can be very engaging, that the people that writing them aren’t necessarily always referring to things that have been shown to be effective for large groups of people. It may very well be effective for you and for some other people, but it’s difficult to rely on.
And when we think of anecdotal evidence, we’re not thinking of kind of solid, well-founded controlled studies that either look at the outcomes of things or that look at what it is that actually does make a difference within what you do. And if it’s fewer than 20% at their findings based on this, then there’s a lot that can be said there about what we need to do in order to change that.
Now, Dunbar and Abbra also drew some other thoughtful conclusions, and one of those was that despite the popularity, it’s massively tricky to measure the effectiveness of self-help books. You can’t easily account for how much a person reads or implements what’s contained within the book, and you can’t assume that just because methods are used well in therapy, that they’ll then work well when self-administered.
Does self-help work for everyone?
Another useful point they raised was that many self-help books purport to deliver an outcome, and they suggest that it’s available to everyone who reads this book, for example, that in seven steps you can find the secrets to curing your worry when in reality some people will achieve this more easily than others.
That’s the way people are, and that’s the way the world works. It’s certainly the case for therapy, so I can’t see why it would be any different for self-help. Other articles you’ll find on the internet suggest that people who buy self-help are usually the same people who bought that self-help book 18 months ago.
So if people were buying multiple books, it kind of suggests that they haven’t quite found what it is that they’re looking for already. So they’re looking for something else, looking for something else to kind of really hit home. That’s really gonna be that golden nugget that changes things for them. A lady called Jackie Holder wrote an open piece back in 2014 called Self-Help or Shelf Help, and she raises the point that many people don’t put into action what they read, and it just sits there in the bookcase.
She reflects on, despite her multiple pounds of investment, how much has she really changed? So she offers some guidance to people who are on the lookout for a solid self helper. And here’s what she says, number one.
Follow the research
Choose self-help books that include some research that can be evidenced and linked to data, which validate what the author is writing about.
So really kind of repeating what we’ve just talked about there, that good writing needs to be backed up by some kind of data.
Look for credible writers
Number two, choose a book that acknowledges that people experience pain. It’s all too easy to write about positive thinking and self-belief when in fact you and I both experience pain in our daily lives.
Trying to live with pain in workable ways is what life is really about. There are a lot of books that I’ve come across, and I’m sure you have too, that. Promise the world and promise happiness that it can be delivered, guaranteed taken. Um, with very little kind of referencing to acknowledging that things are a struggle and that human beings for life for us is difficult and there’s pain that’s inevitable, that goes with that stress, depression.
Implementation is vital
Anxiety, fear, guilt, shame, anger. All these are very real daily basic human emotions. They’re gonna be there and we need to find workable ways to kind of deal with them. Okay, so number three, be willing to put the work in. Our minds often tell us that stuff doesn’t work when in reality we didn’t actually do much about it.
Apart from read the book. Hmm. This ring true for you? I know it does. For me, when I hear about asking me to stop, to pause, to fill out a worksheet, to complete an exercise, it’s not uncommon that I might just skip past that to carry on reading, but. Uh, when I do that, I’m not actually implementing anything.
I’m just continuing to read to absorb, I guess in the inane hope that something will just kind of happen to me. But really you have to implement stuff in order for things to change. And she quotes Augustine Burrows is in real optimism, is not the pep talk you give yourself. It’s earned through the labor of emotional housekeeping.
Now this really rings true for me, both personally and professionally. When I look at my own successes, it’s when I’ve put in the implementation and you have to think of commitment as an action rather than intent. And equally, those that get more from therapy, the ones who regularly engage in the practice of new techniques and processes.
What do you do after a relapse?
Number four. Go with the books that talk about how to deal with getting stuck once you’ve started or dealing with relapses and setbacks. These relapses and setbacks is are to be expected. They’re part of change in moving forwards, so they’re inevitable. Books that include this will give you more value.
Just make sure that you take notes and use an additional support where you can. A big area in psychology that’s got legs is motivational interviewing, and they talk about something called the cycle of change, which talks about that in order for someone to change a habit, they go through a cycle, [00:12:00] which involves some kind of contemplation and then planning and then taking action.
And part of that cycle for most people in most contexts is that they will have a lapse. That they will have a setback, and it’s useful to know how to deal with those lapses so that they don’t become relapses, so you don’t just give up all together. So I mentioned all these points because I like them and I think.
She covers some important features here, and that’s going to be my aim going forward too. In fact, I’m gonna use this as a guide in my selection of books and resources that I feature in this show. I’ll refer to self-help that’s linked to science number one, and ones that acknowledge the reality of human pain rather than skipping over it.
Number two, and I’ll be focusing on books that use implementation and deal with Silk Setbacks, number three and number four. And so you can think of this as my four-pronged attack or your strategy or gatekeeping criteria. Your time and your money are obviously mean a great deal. And so I want to help you make the best decisions that you can.
And I’m not just gonna signpost you to good places or, uh, say, go here, or I’m gonna actually kind of bring the information to you much more. So that you don’t have to do all the searching. That’s what I want this show to be for you as well. Well, you may be wondering at this point, so who is this guy and, uh, what credentials does he have to do this?
Who is Jim Lucas?
Well, quite right to, and I think you’re right to be skeptical. Who am I to say what is quality and what isn’t? So this might be a good time to tell you a bit more about myself. As I said, I run a company called Open Forwards and we specialize in delivering effective, behaviorally focused therapy. And I trained in C B T or Cognitive Behavioral therapies back in 2003, and I’ve studied mindfulness and contextual behavioral science ever since.
And I practice in a busy therapy clinic as well. I teach at the University of Birmingham School Psychology. C B T diploma program, and I supervise trainees to help them develop their skills. Part of that is I act as a gatekeeper for trainees where I have to pass or fail students in the ways that I assess them, and I have to judge whether I feel that they’re competent enough to be let out into the world.
If delivering therapy, that’s an important responsibility because. The public need to be confident and sure that if they’re seeing a therapist, there’s someone who’s done a solid amount of training and that that’s been well supervised and passed. Fortunately, in my experience, most people who undertake that training do get through it, but occasionally there’ve been people that haven’t.
And in addition to those credentials, I like to read a lot too. But at the risk of appearing boring, in fact, I’m definitely gonna appear boring here. I rarely read fiction. Most of my reading time is spent delving into clinical books and papers so that I can keep up to date with the data and learn more about how to be a better therapist.
I just don’t wanna rest on the laurels of others. I believe it’s important that we in the psychotherapy world, keep getting better at doing what we’re doing. Outcomes are far from perfect. Many people do not respond anywhere near enough to the latest and best approaches in psychotherapy, and unfortunately, the mental health system can make people worse.
Now, you may get the impression here that I’m saying that it’s all doom and gloom, but I’m not. I’m putting that out there as part of reality. There are also some brilliant therapists and mental health professionals, which I’ve been fortunate enough to meet just a handful of them. They’re committed to supporting people and treating them with compassion.
They’re highly skilled individuals and they act with humility and with the utmost professionalism. The trouble is that I don’t think it exists across the board and not everyone can or is willing to learn and grow as a professional. I think it’s so important to keep up to date with the latest research, and we owe this to the people like you who need our own input.
I think it’s just a matter of humanity. So this is all values based for me. I wanna make a contribution to society and I wanna help you get hold of the latest skills and knowledge that’s been shown to work. And I wanna make that stuff that works more accessible. I wanna signpost you clearly and support you to move forwards.
That’s what my business is about. And this is what this show is about. It’s your self-help Sat Nav. Thanks for tuning in and listen out for episode number two, which is coming very soon. And if you go over to the website, you can find all the show notes on the podcast webpage by visiting www.openforwards.com
#anxiety #selfesteem #depression #stress