Self Help Sat Nav
Hi … and welcome to the first ever episode of Self-Help Sat Nav. This is super exciting…I’ve wanted to get this podcast up and running for several months now. And here we are…up and running. if you didn’t catch my name…I’m Jim Lucas….behavioural therapist and chief at Openforwards.
So let me tell you all about the show. Just in case you didn’t get the title its Self-Help Sat Nav. And this show is all about navigating your way through the ever expanding world of Self-Help.
Many years ago now it was much more common to see several book stores in every city. Now you are lucky to find one or two. Book buying has become an internet shopping experience. you’d find self-help next to psychology or round the back of the music section. Often right up on the top floor or stuck down in the basement, it seemed as though shops didn’t quite know what to do with it. It was like the forbidden area where you couldn’t go just in case someone saw you. How embarrassing, how shameful that you might need to pick up a book because you are having thoughts and feelings that aren’t always easy to deal with.
Hopefully, we’ve moved along a bit. 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 in a waiting area working their way through a mindfulness book or something about anxiety. And, what with kindles now, you can read self-help in secret. No one would ever know.
So, let’s get our heads around self-help. Today, I’m going to be taking a bit about what it is, how big it is, why it’s a bit of a minefield and how can you delve into it without wasting hideous amounts of time and money.
Self-help covers an array of supposed ills. You’ll see books about social anxiety, confidence building, relationships, becoming successful, freeing your mind and finding happiness. It can cover just about anything you are struggling with. Just do a keyword search on any large online department store and you’ll get close to 600,000 titles falling under the auspices of self-help.
It ain’t just big – its 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 is bound to be a lot of chaff to sift through.
One way of making a choice is to read people’s reviews. This is the measure of success for any purchasable product and undoubtedly effects sales. But high sales and 5 star reviews doesn’t necessarily mean that what you are getting is scientifically proven to make a difference. And that is what I am aiming to do here in this show.
I want to highlight the stuff that is founded on some good scientific evidence. Stuff that has some legs, some weight, some meat to it. I’m going to use the word substance a lot throughout 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. In the UK it equated to about £6 million.
In 2006 Dunbar & Abra carried out a study into self-help to look at the credentials of people who were writing. Here is 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 based their findings on a sustained programme of research
They also drew some thoughtful conclusions. One being that despite the popularity, it is massively tricky to measure the effectiveness of self-help books. You can’t account for much a person reads or implements what is contained within the book. And you can’t assume that just because methods are used well in therapy that they’ll then work when self-administered.
Another useful point they raised was that many self-help books purport to deliver an outcome. And they suggest that is available to all – in seven steps you can find the secrets to….when in reality, some people will achieve more than others. That is the way the world works. It is certainly the case for therapy, so I can’t see why it would be different for self-help.
Other articles you’ll find on the internet suggest that the people who buy self-help are the usually the same people who bought another self-help book 18 months ago. Jackie Holder wrote an open piece back in 2014 called Self-Help or Shelf-Help. 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. She offers some guidance to people who are on the look out for a solid self-helper. Here’s what she says:
1. Choose self-help books that include some research that can be evidenced and linked to data, which validates what he author is writing about.
2. Choose a book that acknowledges people experience pain. Its 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.
3. Be willing to put the work in. Our mind’s often tell us that stuff doesn’t work when in reality we didn’t actually do much about it apart from read the book. She quotes Augusten Burroughs “Real optimism is not the pep talk you give yourself. It is earned through the labour of emotional housekeeping.”
And this rings true for me personally and professionally. When I look at my own successes, it’s when I’ve put in the implementation. Commitment is an action not an intent. Equally, those that get more from therapy are the ones who regularly engage in the practice of new techniques and processes.
4. Go with books that talk about how to deal with getting stuck once you’ve started or dealing with relapses and setbacks. These are to be expected. They are part of change and moving forwards. So they are inevitable. Books that include this will give you more value. Just make sure you take notes and use additional support where you can.
So, I mention all these points because I like them. She covers some important features. And that is going to be my aim going forwards. In fact, I’m going to use this as a guide in my selection of books and resources. I’ll refer to self-help that is linked to science, that acknowledges the reality of human pain rather than skipping over it, that focuses on implementation and that deals with setbacks. It will be my four-pronged attack. You can think of it as your strategy or gatekeeping criteria.
You might be wondering what gives me the credentials to do this. And quite right too. You are right to be sceptical. Who am I to say what is quality and what isn’t?
I can only tell you a bit more about myself. I trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapies in 2003 and qualified 2 years later. I’ve studied mindfulness and contextual behavioural science and I practice in a busy therapy clinic. I teach on the University of Birmingham School of Psychology CBT Diploma Programme and I supervise trainees to help them develop their skills. I also act as a gatekeeper where it is my duty to pass or fail students. I have to judge whether I feel they are competent enough to be let out into the world of delivering therapy. And, well I like to read too.
At the risk of appearing boring. In fact, I’m definitely going to appear boring. 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 don’t want to rest on the laurels of others. I believe it is important that we in the psychotherapy world keep getting better at doing what we are 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.
It isn’t all doom and gloom. There are some brilliant therapists and mental health professionals. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet just a handful of them. They are committed to supporting people and treating them with compassion. They are 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. Not everyone can or is willing to better learn and grow.
As a professional, it is so important to keep up to date with the latest research. We owe this to the people that need our input. It’s a matter of humanity. This is all values-based for me. It is important that for me to make a contribution to society. I want to help you get hold of the latest skills and knowledge that has been shown to work. I want to make this stuff that works more accessible. I want to sign post you clearly and support you to move forwards. This is 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 soon.
You can find all the show notes on the podcast webpage by visiting www.openforwards.com/selfhelpsatnav.
http://brainblogger.com/2014/05/23/the-self-help-industry-helps-itself-to-billions-of-dollars/ Post about self-help including the findings by Dunbar & Abra.