For Therapists


Using Self Help Books as an Adjunct to Psychotherapy

I have an ambivalent response to Self Help books. I've heard too many stories from my clients about their disappointment and self-blame after they failed to achieve a miracle response promised by a poor self help book. Yet I also know there are many useful books available which offer valuable information, guidance and support to the reader who is struggling with a particular issue.

Almost every week I'm asked by a client: "Isn't there something I can read on this?" Before I developed The Guide to Self Help Books, I would at least some of the time have a solid recommendation to make. But too often I found myself shrugging my shoulders, having nothing to offer besides suggesting they go to the nearest large bookstore and browse the Self Help section.

It is easier now to respond to that question. I can say, "Yes, there is. The Guide to Self Help Books . . . " I often jot down a title or two and give the client a bookmark, (see Section 3 below, to obtain bookmarks for your office or waiting room) with the Guide URL on it, and suggest they look at the particular section of the Guide which pertains to their question. I always add that the books may be available at bookstores and the public library, as well as on the website.

Generally people appreciate being pointed to resources which they can use to gain mastery over a life situation which is troubling to them. I've come to realize, however, that clients may be looking for a number of different things when they ask the question "Isn't there something I can read on this?"

They may be looking for information -- empirical data about their diagnosis; research on effective therapeutic approaches; information on medications and their side effects; or epidemiological data regarding the prevalence of their diagnosis.

They may be looking for step-by-step guidance, perhaps in workbook format, to help them deal with troubling symptoms, like phobias or panic attacks or OCD or anger management.

They may be looking for emotional support, some sense that they are not the only one struggling to find his or her way through this situation. They may want to read books with plenty of real-life examples, or memoirs by people who?ve dealt with similar issues -- or a good novel which captures the richness and nuance of their experience.

They may be looking for resources: leads on support groups or online communities, national foundations or patient advocacy groups, or perhaps a head-start for their own internet research on what is troubling them.

I think all of these are valid and healthy desires on the part of therapy clients -- and I want to give them as many tools as possible to help them increase their knowledge base and their sense of mastery over their situation.

It is important to clarify what the client is looking for before recommending a self help resource!

Colleagues Speak about How They Use Self Help Books in Their Clinical Practices

Chad Johnson, Ph.D., Iowa State University Counseling Center

I frequently recommend self help books in my practice. I work at a University Counseling Center and find that most of the students I work with are intelligent, eager to learn, highly motivated, and insightful. Thus, self-help material is something they are likely to read and utilize in their lives.

I find that self help books complement therapy nicely. When clients are reading books that really apply to their lives they tend to bring the material into therapy, which enriches the process and solidifies their learning/growth.

A good book serves as a kind of helpful companion for clients. It gives them something to continue thinking about throughout the time between sessions and keeps the wheels turning in their minds and hearts. They stay active in the process of growth and healing.

It's exciting to see a self help book I have recommended have a meaningful impact on a client. I feel affirmed in recommending it and often learn vicariously through the client and what they are experiencing.

I use The Guide to Self Help Books to explore self help titles for myself and for my clients. When I encounter clients with particular needs, I do not hesitate to recommend one or two self help books that apply. The Guide has been immensely valuable in decreasing the amount of time I spend searching. I have also shared the site with clients and other therapists.

The sections of the Guide that I find most helpful for my client population in Mental Health Concerns are Depression, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Eating Disorder.

Sections in Challenges in Living are Sexuality and Sex Education, Men's Sexual Health, and Gay and Lesbian Issues.

Sections in Personal Growth are Spirituality, Self Esteem and Self Confidence, and Meditation

The Guide to Self Help Books is much easier for clients to use than just browsing at a bookstore or It is helpful to have something that has already narrowed down the overwhelming number of books out there. The Guide is a nice resource for the client to have. They can browse the sections that particularly interest them and find books for themselves or others.

Philip Chanin, Ed.D, ABPP, CGP Psychologist in private practice in Nashville, Tennessee

As for how I use self help books, I probably have a half-dozen that I recommend a lot.

For patients with narcissistic parents and deep shame wounds, these include Drama of the Gifted Child and Trapped in the Mirror, and sometimes Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood, from a novel approach. And for those with profoundly narcissistic mothers, particularly women, I will lend my copy of The Words to Say It.

For men, especially those with harsh, demanding, or alcoholic fathers, I'll recommend I Don't Want to Talk About It. For men, and expecially for women who have not asserted themselves enough in their marriages, I'll recommend How Can I Get Through to You?, which is the most powerful book I know about what is happening in most marriages these days.

I find that when patients read self help books that are appropriate and timely, in terms of their treatment, that it moves the therapy forward, and gives the patient and myself some more common language and reference points. It helps to build the therapeutic alliance. It gives the patient even more of a feeling of "I am not alone" and "there's reason to be hopeful" and "my therapist really gets what I'm dealing with."

References on Self Help Resources and Bibliotherapy

Carlbring, P.,, (2000). A review of published self-help books for panic disorder. Scandinavian Journal of Behaviour Therapy, 29, 5-13.

Cuijpers, P. (1997). Bibliotherapy in unipolar depression: A meta-analysis. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 28, 139-147.

Gould, R.A., and Clum, G. A. (1993). A meta-analysis of self-help treatment approaches. Clinical Psychology Review, 13, 169-186.

Kurtzweil, P.L.,, (1996). A test of the fail-safe N for self-help programs. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 27, 629-630.

Marrs, R.W. (1995). A meta-analysis of bibliotherapy studies. American Journal of Community Psychology, 23, 843-870.

Norcross, John C.,, (2003). Authoritative Guide to Self-Help Resources in Mental Health, rev. ed. New York: Guilford Press.

Van Lankveld, J.J.D.M. (1998). Bibliotherapy in the treatment of sexual dysfunctions: A meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66, 702-708.

Weekes, C. (1996). Bibliotherapy. In C.G. Lindemann, ed., Handbook of the Treatment of the Anxiety Disorders, 2nd ed., 375-384. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.

Send Us Your Suggestions for Books to Include in the Guide

We invite you to let us know about solid self help books you have found to be useful. You may contact us through the contact form. Thanks for your input!

Many of the books in the Guide have been suggested by colleagues - and by clients.

Booksmarks: Publicize The Guide to Self Help Books in Your Office

We?ve designed attractive bookmarks which we use to inform clients about The Guide to Self Help Books. Our waiting room has a small acrylic rack with the bookmarks displayed; often I will find clients studying the bookmark when I come to meet them.

The bookmarks are 2? by 7?, printed in color on heavy card stock with glossy coating. On the front side is the window logo and the website URL. You can see an image of the front side of the bookmark below in the section on banners; it is the same image as on the vertical banner. On the back is a listing of most of the topics covered by the Guide.

These bookmarks are available to you for distribution to clients or students. Contact us to send you a starter pack of 15 for free.

Link to The Guide to Self Help Books - Banners

If you have a website, we invite you to provide a link to The Guide to Self Help Books as a service to your clients. We have possible banner designs for you to use, or you may want to use a simple text link.

If using a text link, please include the words: "The Guide to Self Help Books offers recommended Self Help titles with book reviews and annotations in 46 categories in Mental Health, Challenges in Living, and Personal Growth sections."

Here are two banners that we have available for your use. Feel free to have your webmaster use these images on your site with a link to The Guide to Self Help Books.

Advertising Banner for The Guide to Self Help Books

Advertising Banner for The Guide to Self Help Books