Why Self-Help Books May Do More Harm Than Good

Still want to read them? Here are 3 tips to help you get the most out of your self-help reading experience.

Every year, more than 2,000 new self-help books are put on bookstore shelves in the hopes that they will give guidance to those who are struggling with all sorts of things, from dating to finding positivity. New research suggests that unfortunately, these self-help books may only trigger more stress related thoughts and in turn, leave you less content than you were before.

Researchers tested a small sample of 30 people on a variety of different mental health traits (like stress reactivity, openness, self-discipline and more) and then split them into two categories, those who turn to self-help books and those who don’t. The group who did read the books were also looked at separately, depending on what type of self-help books they sought out, either growth oriented self-help or problem focused self-help.

The study showed that across the board, those who read self-help books were worse off in the tested mental health traits than those who did read self-help books. Those who read books that are problem focused (like divorce or coping with the loss of a loved one) had higher levels of depressive symptoms. And those who read books about self-growth, (like how to be a kinder person or more organized) seemed to have higher levels of stress.

In many ways, these results seems obvious because people who are going through a difficult transition in their lives are sure to be more depressed and those who have higher stress levels would absolutely want to seek out ways to be less stressed, happier and more organized. However, these findings are still interesting because even after reading these books, they did not begin to feel better.

You still want to read self-help books? That’s okay, you do you! Here are 3 tips to help you get the most out of your self-help reading experience:

Seek Out Therapy

As the research suggests, many who are seeking self-help may not have high self-discipline, and in turn, it is harder for them to follow self-help guidelines for self-improvement. If you choose to read a self-help book, seek out a therapist who would be able to advise you more appropriately and help you along your process to self improvement.

Check the Author’s Credentials

Catherine Raymond, a PhD student at the University of Montreal and the study’s lead author, advises readers to “…inform themselves about the authors of the self-help books that they wish to read. For instance, some self-help books that we call ‘bibliotherapy’ are written by health professionals, clinicians and scientific researchers and contain scientifically-proven information’s about many subjects. We would suggest readers to go for these books instead.” Check out what the author has published prior and look into what qualifications they may have to help guide you.

Think How This Book Will Help You

Recommended from Psychology Today, think about what type of format will work best for your self-improvement. How do you learn best? Is a 300-page self-help book something that you think you will accomplish and take to heart or would you rather watch a video or read quick helpful tips that are free to you on sites like American Psychological Association or U.S. Centers Disease Control and Prevention. Everyone learns differently, think about how you learn best, and seek help in that form.

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