70689_3772In Promise Land: My Journey Through America’s Self-Help Culture, author Jessica Lamb-Shapiro explains that the world of self-help is a mix of helpful and decidedly unhelpful. Without writing an expose, she reveals the, well, let’s face it, tacky world of those self-help gurus who are in it for the bucks alone, and whose promises of salvation, or even maturation or actualization, are as thin as the dollar bills shelled out for them.

She also identifies some possibly helpful self-help programs and because Lamb-Shapiro’s book is also about herself, her father, and her mother’s death, one can see that at the very least, the journey through the world of self-help really did, well, help.

What gives a poignant tang to the book is that the author is the daughter of a widowed child psychologist and parenting author so she herself grew up in the world of self-help. Yet, she found herself in her thirties wondering why she wasn’t better adjusted. She had a flying phobia, was uncomfortable talking about her feelings and emotions, and was unable to make a relationship work. How could someone immersed in self-help for most of her life, not be helped?

Help! I’m Vulnerable

When feeling lost or frightened we seek relief. We are vulnerable—open to embracing any chance of assistance, and therefore, might skimp on our critical thinking skills. Probably, in one way or another, at one time or another, we’ve all sought relief from “experts.” And sometimes those experts come through for us.

But, we should be wary. Though experts are entitled to be paid (after all, giving expert advice and guidance is how they earn their living), it is a good idea to ask for references, and some evidence that the expert knows what he or she is talking about. The self-help jungle is filled with dangers. Sure, the rare orchid may be found, but caution is necessary.

Always Measure

Though there is positive change that is qualitative rather than quantitative, you can use some kind of measurement system to help you retain a measure of objectivity.

With therapists, those that monitor their outcome rates over time and who help you set treatment goals, help you measure success. With self-help gurus, depending on the kind of self-help you seek, you may have to set your own quantitative and qualitative measurements. You can create a simple chart, set goals, and plot your progress.

Test Out

Many self-help pushers offer what seem like opportunities to learn more about and even try out their programs. In many cases, these test-programs are really nothing more than “blarney sessions.”  Them may be sophisticated, but they aren’t really giving you anything for free and are just trying to “hook” you in.

On the other hand, not everyone operates this way and you may very well come across programs that you can test.

Read Up

The age of Google (and Mozilla Firefox, etc.) means that you can really check up on the self-help service being offered. Expect testimonials. And expect some negatives. No genuine reviews of any product or service will be 100 percent positive. (Be suspicious if they are.) Do your research.

Also, instead of buying the book (there is usually a book involved) how about getting it out of the public library first? As authors, we encourage you to purchase books—a lot of work goes into writing one, and authors usually don’t make much on what may be years of work.

However, there is nothing wrong with skimming through a book at the library or on Google books in order to decide if you want to invest your money in a copy. And, there is nothing wrong with borrowing a book that will help you if you can’t afford to access it otherwise. (We always encourage people to take Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On out of the library if they are unable to buy it. Authors who believe in their work want people to read their book—no matter what.)

Am I Saved, Yet?

Finally, don’t expect complete salvation. Even if a program works for you (such as a phobia program) you still have to live with YOU. Your talents and weaknesses. Your good points and flaws.

We believe that it is the therapist’s job (99.9999 percent of the time) to find a way to motivate the client. While self-help doesn’t have an ethical responsibility to find the key to unlock your motivation, that’s okay because you are usually trying it because you are already motivated to change. Within the program, there should be motivators, not manipulators, built in.

But if it doesn’t work for you, don’t let the self-help guru shame or blame on you. The most unscrupulous of them will indeed do this, we’ve heard horror tales.

If It Sounds To Good

Positive thinking is an important skill. Magical thinking is bunk. Phobias aren’t usually cured overnight. You have a greater chance of being struck by lightning than winning a state lottery. You will not become a millionaire in 7 week, even if you turn over your entire savings account and all your free time to your self-help guru.

Be careful. It’s a self-help jungle out there.