Sample Essay: “Utility of self-help books in psychology”

Many people develop themselves during their whole life. It is a necessity for them, a natural life process. For some, the incentive for self-improvement are ambitious goals, for others the motivating reason is the desire to penetrate the secrets of the subconscious and to learn about the hidden potential of their mind, the psyche, as well as the desire to overcome the limitations of the physical world. For yet others, the practice of self-improvement is the only way to heal themselves from severe illnesses and to cast away the bad habits, fears and complexes. Anyway, such self-improvement always requires the objective attitude towards oneself, one’s positive and negative traits. However, the most essential is the presence of the self-help books as a way to gather the missing information and as the guidelines for action. From the point of view of psychology, self-help books are the literature related to psychological phenomena and focused on finding and solving the problems by the person on one’s own. There are different methods of addressing this kind of treatment as it can be both guided by the psychology professional or not. However, in any case, the usefulness of such books is still in question since there is no precise evidence that they are either beneficial or, conversely, harmful.

In today’s health care system of the developed countries, it is quite common to use the method of bibliotherapy. If a psychologist or a general practitioner sees that the patient has some fairly common psychological problem, such as stress, he or she can recommend to a patient of a particular self-help book from the approved list. Public libraries are commonly provided with the appropriate books in sufficient quantity. These books usually contain a theory that explains how to construct a variety of symptoms, a history of the clients who have overcome the symptoms by the means described in the book, as well as the written assignment for the reader.
However, there are a number of advantages and disadvantages characteristic for this type of books. Like that, the most recent studies have shown that a fully independent work with self-help books can have virtually no effect in the cases of certain diseases, such as depression. Compared with the situation where a person works with a self-help book under the supervision of a specialist, whether the therapist or a group leader, reading such books in standalone mode practically does not give any positive results. One reason for this is probably that, while within the depression, it is difficult to do anything at all. This means that it is almost impossible to organize a strong-willed promise for independent work. Moreover, this conclusion is consistent with the idea that, in psychotherapy, therapeutic relationship not theoretical methods are predominantly the key to success. For this reason, it is highly believable that self-help books are not necessarily beneficial in any case, so reading them must be matching with the diagnose and the specific patient’s condition.
Still, it is necessary to recognize the fact that some of the disorders are better dealt with the help of the self-help books. Among them may be stress and general well-being or aggression. Also, there is a point of view that the efficacy of self-help books largely depends on the personal characteristics of a specific patient meaning one’s propensity to trust the opinions of others, exposure to the authoritative influence etc.

The next issue to be considered is the filling of the book. It is natural that a simple reading of the book does not change anything. The maximum positive effect of such simple reading is getting a certain emotional state, which though passes away rather quickly. In order to make changes, it is usually required to have a feedback that can only be given from the people around a person including a therapist, a coach, friends and relatives. The more professional and observant a person who gives such feedback is, the more useful the influence of self-help books will be. This way, it can not be said that reading such a book gives no benefits. On the contrary, it has several. First, it helps to determine the direction, in which a person wants to be changed. Second, it gives an opportunity to obtain the confirmation of thoughts and awareness of them, as well as, third, it involves a reader in a particular emotional state. For practice, however, the most useful are the books that are providing the illustrations of exercises. It provides the possibility to get a personal experience and to understand which method works for a particular individual. From this point of view, there is also a need in a person to observe carefully and communicate the results. This implies that, no matter how to look at the problem, there is most often a strong need of another person to give an impression from the outside.
This implies the question of what is more useful, reading self-help books or consulting with a psychologist. Scientists’ opinions on the subject are divided. The reasons for this can be very diverse. For example, Pantalon calls the discrepancy in the different therapists’ understanding of a particular method as one of the main reasons for the ineffectiveness of self-help books, which “can have a very different impact on a client as compared with the impact of seeing a therapist”. In addition, there is a substantial basis for recognizing a different approach to each individual patient from the therapists. From this, it can be concluded that each book also has its own approach, which can act on one reader negatively while conceiving a positive effect on the other or having no influence at all on yet another. For this reason, it is impossible to say that one of the methods of treatment or improvement is clearly more effective than another. Each case requires a more detailed consideration and deeping into a specific problem.

Marx, Gyorky, Royalty and Stern conducted a study in order to identify the current trends concerning the use of self-help books in the modern psychotherapy practice. As it turned out, there are general characteristics that can describe the tendency of therapists to advise their patients of such a way of working with their psychological problems. The two most significant features were the sex of a therapist and the employment setting. As the researchers have found out, women therapists were more likely to advise bibliotherapy than men. At the same time, private practitioners are noted to recommend such books more often than academicians. In addition, another significant trend stands out that is worth paying attention to. It concerns the issue of what literature can be considered as a self-help book. Marx and others have found out that therapists willingly advised the literature that was familiar to them. Such literature could include the well-known authors in psychological practice such as Karen Horney, Erik Erikson, Erich Fromm, and so on. However, they were quite negative about the popular books that had little practical experience and a lot of theorizing. The reason for this may be in the fact that such a literature, while being unreasonably popular among the population of the developed countries, became the motive for writing many of such books that do not carry any value by the authors in order to enrich themselves. Such books, of course do not benefit their readers. On the contrary, there is a possibility that they impose a risk of deepening the psychological problem.

On this basis, in conclusion, it is necessary to note that self-help books can take many forms. In some cases, they can help, but in others they may apply harm to the human psyche that will be rather difficult to remove. For this reason, according to the results of the presented studies, it seems the most appropriate to use such a literature solely on the advice of a psychologist or a therapist. Even more effective is an option of self-improvement through such books under the constant guide of a professional psychologist. Of course, there is a concept of a person being more susceptible to the influence of books rather than personal impact of a therapist. For this reason, one should always take into account the state and the type of nature of each individual, which means the need for flexibility within the approach of appointment of self-help books.