Self-Help Snake Oil and Self-Improvement Urban Legends

Self-Help Snake Oil and Self-Improvement Urban Legends

by Steven Kraus

A psychologist's skeptical look at the science (or lack thereof) behind much of the self-help industry,
People seeking the help of a psychotherapist almost always do so after trying—and failing—to help themselves. Many have self-medicated, using everything from herbal remedies (e.g., St. John's Wort for depression) to alcohol or other drugs. Still others have tried to enact the psychological advice they sought from friends or family. But many turn to the products and services put forth by what we might call the self-help or self-improvement "industry." It is a large industry indeed. A 2004 study by Marketdata estimated that Americans spend $8.5 billion on self-improvement products and services annually, including over $600 million on self-help books alone.
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Steven KrausStephen Kraus, PhD is author of many articles and the scientific self-help book, "Psychological Foundations of Success: A Harvard-Trained Scientist Separates the Science of Success from Self-Help Snake Oil." He has a PhD in psychology from Harvard University, and has twice won Harvard's award for excellence in teaching. His insights are regularly quoted in the media, and his research is cited in major psychology textbooks.
Regarding Norman Vincent Peal's 'Power of Positive Thinking' and what Zig Ziglar had to say about it: "Positive thinking may not change your life, but it's a whole lot better for you than negative thinking". Just sayin'.
Lawrence Taylor
When is affirmation belief on a faith/hope level? Is it affirmation as repetition or inculcation to affirm a self becoming that you refer to? Seeks to be a slight or sight of mind. The mind knows on the subconscious oceans of things knowable. Carl Jung comes to mind. In silence, a breath of humility serve us well in gaining more perspective.
Lisa Laverdure, MA
It's a lot easier to say what doesn't work than what does. If Dr. Kraus' thesis is correct - that psychotherapy trumps self help - than why are so many patients I refer to (competent) psychotherapists not living more successful, fulfilling lives? Or better yet, if it works do darn well, why don't all psychotherapists seek therapy themselves?
David Zahaluk, MD
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CE credits: 1
Learning objectives:

  • Understand the validity, and lack thereof, of various self-help strategies.
  • Consider psychotherapists? roles and responsibilities regarding clients? efforts to employ self-help methods in their lives.
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