Note: The following excerpt has been used with the permission of a former client and/or the publisher. Please note that I can adjust my prose style for a particular genre, and the following is not intended to represent my full range of styles or the number of genres I consider. For nonfiction, the level of complexity can be adjusted depending on client preference. .
As a clinical psychologist, I'm quite skeptical about the entire self-help movement. There are self-help sections in every bookstore, and the books on these shelves purport to tell readers how to do everything, from becoming an entrepreneur to overcoming loneliness to getting laid in three easy steps. But do any of these books really work, and >assuming that at least a few of them have some salient points that might be implemented in someone's life, do the philosophies pedaled by these gurus of a better life ever really stick with the reader? The answer is no.
Let me give you an example from my private practice. A recent patient of mine was a thirty-eight-year-old woman, who I'll call Jane Doe. After only one session of therapy with Jane, I diagnosed her problem quite easily, and I didn't need the DSM-IV to do it. The woman was a self-help junkie. She had lost a few pounds after reading a self-help book on weight loss, but her doctor told her that the methods recommended in her slim paperback were dangerous, so she gained the weight back, after which she started to develop self-esteem issues. So it was back to the bookstore to look for books on how to raise one's self-esteem. Jane picked one at random, a book that advised her to engage in numerous steps, none of which were original. She therefore embraced her inner child, learned how to speak absolute truth to everyone even if doing so risked doling out insults, quit her job to follow her bliss, and "put herself out there" by dating men from bars and online matchmaking sites. She lost her friends and job but did gain several STDs while becoming paranoid and neurotic.
Jane then sought solace in Eastern meditative techniques, which led her to join various Hindu and Buddhist temples over the course of a year. When she failed to find any inner peace or understand the tenets of complicated schools of Buddhism, she turned to New Age philosophy and began trying to have out-of-body experiences, the techniques for which were easily found in dozens of how-to books. By the time she stumbled into my waiting room, she was addicted to benzodiazepines and was mired in despair and depression. She had placed her entire sense of well-being in the hands of authors who may or may not have had any competence or credentials to dispense the advice they sold for $10.99 a copy.
The two best self-help books I've ever read state that people need to be careful about what kind of advice they take – or whether to take any advice at all. One is When You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! This informative book states that one needs to know when to cease therapy and start making his or her own decisions. This is perhaps an oversimplification, but the basic premise is valid: people can become overly dependent on therapy, the goal of which is to teach people how to make their own decisions. The other is a classic. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. This is a gem of a book that says we simply need to learn how to become decent, kind, and loving, virtues that are usually taught in the lower grades of grammar school or on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood or Sesame Street.
Are there other exceptions to the glut of bad self-help books out there? Of course, and one that comes to mind is Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix. The author of this title doesn't pull any punches when he explains that almost everyone is ignorant as to how to choose a suitable husband or wife (or partner). Good for you, Harville. Tell people what >dumb-asses they are as they engage in endless repetition compulsions stemming from profound dysfunctional behavior learned in childhood.
It goes without saying that everyone has problems, and most of us need some help from time to time in solving them. And yes, sometimes the problems can be serious and overwhelming. For the most part, however, we don't need to consult with an endless number of therapists and self-help books to find happiness. The one thing I've learned in my twenty-years as a therapist is that everyone already has the >answers they're looking for embedded in their personalities and life experiences. As a psychologist, I'm just a facilitator in helping people discover where those answers are hiding. Furthermore, most of those answers are usually self-evident if one engages in any degree of introspection by sitting on a park bench and tuning off the cell phone. Kindergarten is underrated as the key to solving life's serious dilemmas. If you want to be happy, learn to forgive, love, dance, eat right, exercise, and believe in yourself. Everything beyond these commonsense measures will cost you $10.99.
Find William on social media by clicking the icons below. Click here to read more about William Hammett.