This book reviews all aspects of self-improvement. It provides you with a system for analyzing any problem into its manageable parts and for planning self-change. It invites you to first carefully consider what you value and want to accomplish in life. It summarizes science's best explanations of most human problems. It lists the most promising ways of treating a wide range of unwanted behaviors and emotions. It describes in detail how to use about 100 self-help methods. In short, this book gives you a sound, research-based fund of knowledge about behavior; add to this your own coping experiences and you accumulate a storehouse of general knowledge that will help you understand yourself and gain more control over your life. That is offered; absorbing and applying the knowledge is your job.
Just as experimental psychology has "Introductory Psychology" textbooks, the science of personally useful psychology needs an introductory text too, especially one that introduces you to other practical and highly readable self-help books. No one book could tell you all you need to know. In this book you will find summaries of almost all the major self-help books and articles by scholars in the field. In addition, about 1500 sources of information, mostly available and easy-to-read books, are cited. You are urged to expand your knowledge by reading more in areas that really concern you.
No learner knows his/her subject well enough. The best we can hope for is to know enough to know when we need more information and to know where and how to find the best available information. Think of reading as probing the best minds at their best.
This book was designed to help the ordinary person live his/her life better. But, more specifically, what should a reader expect from a thorough, comprehensive, effective self-help book? This is what I would expect, based on my experience with 3000 students. After carefully reading this book and getting some practice at developing and carrying out self-help plans (both in your own life and with others--friends, family, or a support group), you should be able to:
- quickly analyze any problem into meaningful parts for better understanding, and
- select, master, and carry out appropriate self-help treatment methods, and
- assess your progress and make modifications to your plan if it isn't working.
In fact, I believe a person of average intelligence, with this knowledge and practice, will be able to develop self-improvement plans that are as good (judged by experts as "probably effective") as treatment plans developed by professionals (psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, school psychologists, counselors, etc.). It is an empirical question. I won't guarantee these results, but if the average person believes he/she can do it (and does the work), I think they can. Many of us inflate the ability of others and sell ourselves short.
Lastly, a self-help introductory text should be updated every three to five years to include the latest research and techniques for self-improvement. It should contain a wide variety of self-help methods; one person's way of self-helping may be totally rejected by another person facing the same problem; we each find our own way. Such a book is a massive undertaking, but a wonderful extra bonus would befall us all if self-help books encouraged researchers to develop and publish more effective self-control or self-insight techniques.
Finding what you need in this book
I have done my best to make this big book user-friendly. I don't want you to get bogged down in the first chapter, in technical stuff, or in topics that don't interest you. Therefore, the book has been written so you can skip around, finding the parts that address your concerns and interests today. A search engine was added to help you. Of course, you can read the book straight through if you want to (or are assigned reading that way).
As you can tell by looking at the table of contents, the remainder of this chapter provides basic facts or things you need to know about self-helping in general. Chapter 2 gives you a system for understanding your problem situations better, then it guides you through explicit steps for devising self-change plans and trying them out. The system isn't amazing, fantastic, or ingenious; the system is just reasonable. The system isn't fast, simple, and easy; human problems aren't that way. But human problems and this self-help system aren't impossibly complicated, either.
Before deciding on major changes in your life, you need to decide on your life goals, i.e. what you want to become, what your ideals, values, and needs are, what major purposes you are going to serve in life. Chapter 3 provides some help with this. Your morals, values, and philosophy of life could influence every moment of your life, so they are of utmost importance.
Chapter 4 discusses how to stop unwanted behavior and how to increase your motivation to do what you think you should do. Chapters 5 to 8 explain the four major emotions of anxiety, depression, anger, and dependency, and suggest ways of reducing these unpleasant feelings. Chapter 9 gives us insight into our needs and the development of our personality as well as into our relationships. Chapter 10 deals with finding and keeping love: dating, sex, marriage, and divorce. Chapters 11 to 15 spell out the rationale and detailed steps involved in carrying out the major self-help methods to treat or solve problems. You would use only one or two methods from a "solving-the-problem" chapter on a particular problem. Thus, you usually need to read an "understanding-the-problem" chapter before skimming the "solving-the-problem" chapters.
Note: It would be a mistake to over-emphasize just finding information to help you with a current problem. Remember, there are at least three good reasons for reading about topics or problems that don't concern you at the moment: (1) it is possible that you have a problem but don't realize it, until you read about it. (2) It is highly advantageous if you have read in advance about and prepared for an upcoming, perhaps unseen, problem. For example, surely most of us will be dumped by a lover sometime in our lives. If you have given some forethought to coping with that situation--the irrational self-doubts (chapter 14), the dependency (chapter 8), the feelings of failure and self-doubt (chapter 6), the anger (chapter 7), etc.--surely you will be better prepared for the unavoidable pain and even for possible thoughts of suicide. (3) It is inevitable, if you have several close, intimate friends, that they will face problems different from yours. Your friends will be very lucky if you are well read and understand them when they are in trouble, perhaps you can offer them some helpful suggestions as well as steady support.
My plea is for you to accept the size of this book, the sometimes distracting referrals to other chapters, and the hundreds of useful references (where you can go for the best additional information, if you need it). It is a book of knowledge, not a book for pleasure. Let me give you an example of how you can quickly find your way around: I'd encourage you to read the rest of this chapter, but not necessarily now. If you are in a hurry to "get on with it," just look over the "understandings" in bold print below and go on to chapter 2. If the details for doing self-help in chapter 2 are also too tedious for you now, look over the steps in bold print (that will take you two minutes) and then go directly to the chapter(s) that interest you most. This book can't help you if you don't read it. Use the table of contents and the chapter indices or use the book's search engine on the title page to get around quickly.
Once you have found that this book truly deals with your basic concerns, you will be more likely to explore the whole volume for interesting ideas. The important thing is that you stay interested in improving yourself! The most I can do to help you with your motivation is to feed you useful information. But useful information must be used, and only you are in control of that. At least skim the following understandings, and then decide where you want to go in this book or in other recommended books.
Finding other self-help books and Internet sites
Useful self-help information exists primarily in two places--in books and on the Internet. Thus far, these two worlds don’t interact very much, i.e. books cite books and Internet sites link to other sites. Of course, the 50,000 self-help books published over the last 50+ years contain much more information than the current Internet, but the gap is narrowing. The Internet could grow rapidly with more and more people getting access to free advice within seconds or minutes. The Web is an ideal way to gain knowledge, but the Internet has a problem, namely, it doesn’t as yet make money, like books do, by selling information. Therefore, as long as publishers can buy and control the best self-help material for books, hard copy publications may, in general, be the better sources. Hopefully, Internet sites will find support allowing them to compete and buy excellent information and deliver it free via multi-media formats. In the meantime, the prudent self-helper will search both the Web and hard copy books. I’ll help you do that.
To find specialized self-help books, the best starting point is where you are, i.e. reading this book, Psychological Self-Help. Simply find the topic that concerns you in the chapter indices (or use the search engine on the title page). Then read the relevant material and look for references. Most self-help books are rather specific, dealing with a circumscribed problem area. Once you have the author and year, you can get the full reference in the bibliography.
In the same way, other comprehensive self-help books could be used to find specialized books (Weiten & Lloyd, 1997; Creer, 1996; Butler & Hope, 1997; Epstein, 1996; Lazarus & Lazarus, 1997). Specific guidebooks to self-help books are Norcross, J. C., et al (2003), Santrock, Minnett & Campbell (1994) and Giblin & Bales (1997). Norcross, etal and Santrock, etal. used ratings by professionals to evaluate self-help books (and I have frequently cited their findings). Unfortunately, a self-help book is four or five years old before the ratings can be published by Santrock, et al.
Another good approach to finding a self-help book on a particular topic is to browse the “Health, Mind & Body” section at Amazon Books or at Barnes and Noble. Book evaluations by experts and readers are often provided. Finally, a search for information about a particular problem on any of the major search engines, e.g. Alta Vista, will usually yield useful sites as well as books, tapes, and other services, often in the form of ads.
To find self-help assistance on the Internet, the best hard copy directory of diverse mental health resources is John Grohol’s (1997), The Insider’s Guide to Mental Health Resources Online. Morrison & Stamps (1998) have written a similar book. However, these books may not be obtained easily, unless you are on a college campus. And, since you are online now, the sites listed below are instantly available.
Below are good starting points for seeking specific how-to-cope information and support groups:
(1) To find explicit, detailed directions for coping with a variety of specific problems, just as if you were searching for a specialized book, go to the relevant chapter’s index in this online book (or use its search engine). Self-help instructions will be found in the discussion of your problem. In addition, I have cited the more helpful and science-based books and Internet sites in that area. Other Internet sites provide many self-help resources: Dr. Grohol’s Psych Central, Self-Improvement Online, Cyber Psychologist and Psych Web. Also, Psych Web lists numerous brochures and articles available on the Web.
Of course, you can simply do a search for your problem on a major search engine. This will give you some URL’s of sites offering help with your specific concern. But many useful sites will be missed and the useful sites that are found will be intermixed with unscientific, marginal sites and with ads.
(2) To find local self-help support groups, call your local Mental Health Center, a local psychiatric/psychological treatment center, or a local hospital. If this doesn’t work, try the Self-Help Sourcebook Online which locates groups all over the US and helps people start their own local support group if none is available. To find support groups on the Internet, called “newsgroups,” “mail lists,” “chat groups,” “forums,” etc., Psych Central-mail provides one list and Psych Central-news another. Self-Improvement Online also lists newsgroups. MentalEarth Community, originally associated with this Website, provides some of the better self-help and support Forums. There is a direct link from the above title page to the MentalEarth groups. Some Forums deal with several different diagnoses and behavioral or relationship problems; one is for self-help in general.
It appears that support and advice from people “who have been there” are often as helpful as self-help books, professional advice, and therapy. Certainly many people seek understanding, reassurance they are not alone, encouragement, and just someone to hear their story. Storm King has discussed in great detail the pros and cons of self-help groups.
(3) To find accurate information about psychiatric diagnoses, there are several outstanding sites: Mental Health Net, Psych Web, Internet Mental Health, and American Psychiatric Association. Search engines will also find information about diagnoses for you.
A surprising number of former, current, and prospective patients are on the Internet seeking to learn more about their diagnosis and possible treatment. They often identify themselves by some label: “I’m bipolar,” “I’m an adult child of alcoholism,” “I’m a child of divorce,” and “I’m PTSD... DID... BPD... ADD... OCD... “
(4) To find information about treatment methods as applied to a variety of disorders, good sources are Internet Mental Health, Psych Web, Mental Health Net, Knowledge Exchange Network, and this book, Psychological Self-Help. As mentioned before, the major search engines can locate information about how to treat a specific disorder and about specific treatment methods, such as Cognitive-Behavioral or Psychodynamic treatment.
To learn more about psychopharmacological medications, see PharmWeb, Dr. Bob’s Mental Tips, Mental Health Net Rx List, Internet Mental Health, or PsychNet.
For clients seeking “talking therapy,” it is to their advantage to be familiar with the rationale of several different psychotherapy techniques. I say that because I believe that the best therapy is a cooperative effort with the patient well informed enough to participate in planning the therapy. Moreover, the client should continuously apply self-help techniques to supplement the therapy methods. Thus, good psychotherapy patients are students of self-help.
(5) To find information on almost any psychological topic, go to Mental Health Net's search engine, Super Psych Net, or MentalHealth About or Internet Resources. All are collections of several mental health search engines. Other mega-search engines summarize the results of searching several major search engines: Verio Metasearch and Metacrawler. Three more sites simply supply a lot of useful information:
(a) Dr. Bob’s Mental Health Links mainly connects you with useful sites.
(b) Mental Health InfoSources provide numerous articles, especially from Psychiatric Times, and
(c) Mental Health Matters is a well organized source covering many disorders.
In most cases, the key to coping is knowledge. So, go get it!