Selecting the Best Self Help Book for You

David Yarian, Ph.D.

The Guide to Self Help Books was created to provide you carefully selected, recommended titles in over 45 different content areas. We've chosen the best Self Help books from the 160,000+ titles available on the database.

It may still seem daunting to select just the right book - so here are some questions to ask yourself:

Is the author qualified by training and experience to write about the topic?

I am suspicious of salesmen or attorneys or organic gardeners -- anyone not trained and practicing in the field of mental health -- who offers himself or herself as an authority on mental health topics. I am sure there are exceptions to this -- authors without professional training or experience who make a substantive contribution with their book. But I think that is unusual.

Does the self help book acknowledge the complexity of the real-life issues that you are facing?

If the life issue you are facing is simple, you would already have solved it. Books that promise simplistic answers are not fully addressing the complications of real life.

Is the self help book clearly focused on the issue you are addressing?

Does it offer a detailed description and explanation of all the facets of the topic? Beware of books that claim to help you solve everything. For a self help book to be most useful, it needs to clearly address the problem or issue you are facing.

Does the self help book offer a solidly researched program that is related to the work that has already been done in the field?

I don't think a self help book should be a research report from the National Institute of Mental Health, but it is reasonable to expect the author to relate his or her work and findings to that of other practitioners and to provide footnotes, bibliographies, and lists of resources for further study and comparison.

Is the self help book encouraging without promising magic cures?

Does it offer comfort and support as you grapple with a siginificant life issue? Does the book offer hope without guaranteeing an unrealistic outcome? None of us is going to live forever, nor will we ever achieve perfection in any endeavor. But it is reasonable to expect that a good self help book can be a reliable guide to a part of our journey.

Does the self help book provide solid grounding in the topic?

Does it offer adequate explanation, with step-by-step guidance on how to proceed? A good self help book will point out potential problems, with suggested solutions or responses. Self-assessment tools are highly useful to help you see your progress along the way.

Have other people found the self help book to be useful in their lives: has it "worked"?

Just as I prefer to find a doctor or plumber or mechanic via referral from someone who has used that person, I prefer books that come with recommendations from someone who has benefited from reading them.

Does the self help book speak to you?

Is there something about the title or the book's description that gives you the feeling that this author is trustworthy and is addressing your needs directly? A highly-ranked book that approaches an issue in a way that is not compatible with your sensibilities will be less than useful. Within the context of the other guidelines, I believe it is important to trust your intuitive sense about a book.

Self Help books are tools - and a tool is only useful when it is suited to the task at hand. We believe that the Self Help books we are recommending in The Guide to Self Help Books will be useful and helpful to you - providing you with information, guidance and encouragement as you work to solve problems, build better relationships and create the life you want to live.