How to Choose Self-Help Books

Many people benefit from promoting self-help as a cure-all for physical and psychological problems. Millions of dollars are made by publishing companies and bookstores each year from the sale of self-help books. Only if earlier books are not successful in fulfilling goals will new books be purchased that promise greater success. The process whereby goals are achieved remains baffling as readers go yet again to self-help displays in search of the latest guide-this one is bound to work.

*From Today’s Cartoon by Randy Glasbergen, displayed with special permission. For many more cartoons, please visit Randy’s site @*

A Consumer’s Checklist
Questions to Ask about Self-Help Books

  • Are expected outcomes clearly described (what/when/how long will they last)?
  • What evidence is there that the book is helpful for people like me? How credible is the information? (Are the results of experimental studies reported?) What is the success rate? What is the failure rate? Are there any potential negative effects of the program? What are they? How long will gains be maintained?
  • Will this book help me develop accurate beliefs about outcomes or problems of interest?
  • Will this book help me accurately identify problems?
  • Will this book help me clarify my goals and identify changes needed to achieve these goals?
  • Are guidelines provided to help me assess my current knowledge and skills?
  • Will this book help me select effective self-change methods?
  • Are guidelines for evaluating progress provided?
  • Are the instruction formats used most likely to be effective?
  • Are effective methods described that will help me carry out needed tasks (that will motivate me)?
  • Does the book describe how I can generalize and maintain positive outcomes?
  • Are troubleshooting aids provided to help me if I get stuck?

One of the greatest deficiencies of self-help books is their ignoring environmental variables that influence behavior, and not giving guidelines about how to change these factors to achieve desired outcomes.

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*From “Today’s Cartoon by Randy Glasbergen”, displayed with special permission. For many more cartoons, please visit Randy’s site @


Navigating the Mindfield, A Guide to Separating Science from Pseudoscience in Mental Health. Edited by Scott O. Lilienfeld, John Ruscio, and Steven Jay Lynn. Pub. By Prometheus Books, 2008.