Book Review: Self-Help That Works

Book Review: Self-Help That Works

Even as a professional psychologist, I feel overwhelmed browsing  the self-help shelves of the average book store. There’s a glut of titles, many written by people with no relevant credentials. I sometimes wonder how people wade through them all!

In the past few years I have developed an interest in the effectiveness of self-help books. Even when self-help books are based on well-researched principles, it’s rare for researchers to study the effectiveness of specific books as a standalone treatment. Given this situation, I was pleased to come across the new edition of  Self-Help That Works (2013; 4th ed.). This book rates a staggering number of self-help books and client resources, including websites and movies about mental illness. The authors solicited the involvement of nearly 5,000 professionals across several research studies. These professionals rated resources on which they felt familiar, and these ratings were aggregated into averages.

The rating system features 5 stars and a “dagger” (†) symbol urging people to stay away from a particular resource.  Most—but not all—of the entries have some text describing it and why it received its rating. Chapters are divided across 41 different issues. Sometimes the chapter layout seemed a bit confusing in that particular books were not always listed where I expected to find them; overall, though,  the layout is pretty sensible, and the titles and authors are all listed in the index, so that you can look up any particular books or authors with ease.

Given the massive scope of this sort of project, there’s no sense quibbling over ratings with which I agreed or disagreed. I do wish the range of possible scores were more limited, though. Given the incredible number of choices, I think the authors could have championed the ones they liked, noted what they thought were okay, and warned people against the sketchy ones. However, a tremendous amount of work has gone into this, and there are probably good reasons for the system they used.

I think this book is worth having in any professional library. It’s a thorough book, with more than 2,000 entries according to the authors. With this book, you’ll always have a handy and thoughtful resource you can consult when a client or colleague asks for recommendations about a particular mental health topic. This alone makes it worth having it around

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