Popular Self-Help Books for Anxiety, Depression, and Trauma: How Scientifically Grounded and Useful are They?
Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol. 39, No. 5, pp. 537-545, 2008
9 Pages Posted: 12 Nov 2008 Last revised: 3 Jun 2014
Date Written: November 11, 2008
Self-help books for psychological disorders have become increasingly popular, yet there is surprisingly little research on their scientific status or overall utility. The authors identified 50 top-selling self-help books for anxiety, depressive, and trauma-related disorders. Using a scale derived from the literature on bibliotherapy, expert psychologists rated each book on overall usefulness, grounding in psychological science, the extent to which it offers reasonable expectations, the extent to which it offers specific guidance for implementing the self-help techniques and for monitoring treatment progress, and whether it offers potentially harmful advice. The results revealed strong intercorrelations among the scales, such that books scoring high along one dimension tended to score high along others. There was wide variability in the overall quality of the books, but several factors emerged as predictors of book quality. The most highly rated books tended to be those having a cognitive behavioral perspective, those written by mental health professionals, those written by authors holding a doctoral degree, and those focusing on specific problems. Implications of the findings, including specific recommendations for authors and consumers of self-help books, are discussed.
Keywords: bibliotherapy, self-help, best sellers, anxiety, depression, trauma, CBT, cognitive-behavioral
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