Good self-help books have two important qualities. Firstly, they should explain things in a simple, clear and engaging way. They should help us to understand ourselves in a whole new light. This can be a very reassuring experience. Hopefully we will find out that we are not ‘crazy’ and that that other ‘normal’ people also experience these problems and also that they can get better. Secondly, the best self-help books provide a down-to-earth and practical plan of action; a route-map to pick our way out of the particular life difficulties we are facing.
However, the story doesn’t stop there. In the same way that reading a diet book won’t make the pounds fall off, reading a self-help book will not change anything without you actually ‘doing’ something different. This is why many people find self-help books so frustrating. Reading the book is rarely enough by itself; it has to be backed up by action.
So, self-help books don’t provide a magic wand but, nonetheless, they can give us tools and strategies that we can use well into the future. (This is particularly so for people who have mild to moderate problems – more severe mental health problems generally require more expert supervised guidance). My top three self-help books:1. David Burns – New Mood Therapy. Research clearly shows that reading this book reduces depression. 2. Russ Harris: The Happiness Trap. Fun and inspiring, this book teaches the skills of mindfulness and acceptance to help build a better, more meaningful life. 3. Richard Carlson: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Cut through the Americanisms and there are some real pearls of wisdom here. Bite sized nuggets to achieve a calmer way of thinking.