The Worst Form of Therapy

Self-help books don’t work for most of the population. Why? Because a lot of these books are using common sense approaches that you and I could have, and probably did, come up with on our own. I remember reading He’s Just Not That Into You and feeling rather stupid after finishing it, thinking “Well, there we have it. If he doesn’t call you, he truly isn’t into you (which is what my gut already knew), and not in the hospital after some horrid accident (which is what I wanted to believe, because rejection just sucks).” Most of the time when reading a self-help book, I would think to myself that I (or anyone else for that matter) could have written the same thing. The problem is, common sense just doesn’t work for the vast majority of the population! If that were the case, they’d already have the friendships, jobs, relationships, bodies and lives they’re trying to get from said book.

The current popular self-help book is He’s Just Not Your Type (And That’s a Good Thing) by relationship expert Andrea Syrtash. First of all, there are sure as hell a lot of “experts” out there these days! It seems to be the easiest title to obtain, and requires absolutely no degree or certification at all. Here’s another expert with another book, and I have to say – Really? We didn’t know that being too picky and having unrealistic expectations won’t lead us to our soulmates? We didn’t know that limiting our “types” to less than 1% of the population will keep us single? Wow, who would have thought!?

The problem with these books is that they don’t work for the average Joe Schmoe. A person who keeps finding themselves on the same bad, self-deprecating, self-destructive path over and over will need a lot more than a book. No book in the world will help them get it, because they are lacking the tools and self-awareness to recognize their patterns, and realize that their suffering and misery is a mere result of their own hard-wiring, created by years and years of the same thoughts and actions. So telling them the obvious, no matter how well one sugar coats it, won’t do a damn thing. It will usually push them into an even more defensive stance on “why it isn’t their fault that there is no one out there who meets their standards and that settling is not an option.” Come on!

These books usually have the same effect that a diet book has on an obese person or cancer statistics have on a smoker: None.

We all know, to some degree, why and where we are failing in our own lives, but that doesn’t mean we are willing to change. Even the true experts, i.e. doctors, licensed therapists, etc., will have no effect on a person who isn’t willing to change. Even the most inspiring book cannot change the neural pathways and hard-wiring of an individual: that can only be achieved by actual work on oneself. And so I must sadly say that a book which tells people to date outside their comfort zone gets a “Fail” stamp from me.

What do you think? Can people change their behaviors by reading self-help books?

15 thoughts on “The Worst Form of Therapy

  1. jodiw

    I think Marc and Amelia expressed themselves very well (many of you did, in fact!) Carmen, I respectfully disagree with your post. I actually read Syrtash’s book in April (I’ve been following her advice on Oprah.com & Huffington Post) and it’s really affected my life in a positive way. What you say is obvious really wasn’t… as I read it I had numerous aha! moments. I’ve ear-marked pages and re-read sections. Granted, I had to be ready for the change (as we’re all agreeing) but to say that the idea is useless and obvious shows me you haven’t read the title. I found this blog because I was searching for new interviews with the author. Her writing really resonates with me. I wanted to share my perspective because you’re commenting/reviewing something that has a lot of meaning to me (most of my friends also found the book empowering). At the end of the day, I think whatever works for an individual is all that really counts. I don’t judge psychics, self-help authors, experts or anyone who can share advice that helps some of us. I don’t think you should either. Thanks. Jodi (California)

    Reply
  2. Marc

    I think this writer is generalizing. Of course one will not overcome obstacles without doing inner work, however, simply reading a book is an example of that kind of inner work. If one was not motivated to change, they wouldn’t be reading in the first place.

    There are, inevitably, good and not so good books on any subject. But, I have read a few genuinely inspirational, potentially life altering books that would be classified as self-help; “Psycho-Psybernetics”, by Maxwell Maltz, being one. Wayne Dyer, a truly enlightened man, writes what would also be called self-help. I can’t imagine any spiritually seeking person considering his work invalid.

    To say that a book written by a laymen is not valid, is the same as saying that a psychic/healer/etc., without degrees, is also not qualified. I doubt many people on CP have advanced degrees in a relevant subject. However, I consider them more than valuable and relevant teachers.

    To sat that common sense is not quality sense is simply untrue. Many people lack common sense, even some very educated people lack it. Common sense advice is always good advice, for anyone, especially ones without some degree of enlightenment. The masses fall into this category. Even to say that we would have a better world with love for our fellow man could be called common sense, yet it is a primary spiritual lesson.

    The writer, like all of us, has the ability to choose, to discern what lessons are relevant to oneself. There is no need to criticize books and authors who espouse a different approach, given that they too are seeking to help others.

    We are all on a journey unique to each of us. The masses do not have the ability to respond to highly spiritual messages, given that they are material world thinkers, exclusively. Therefore, these self helps books are not only valid, they are important. They may not meet the needs of spiritually enlightened people — the writer probably being one herself — but they actually serve a much, much larger segment of society than books of spiritual teachings. One could ask: which does the greater good?

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  3. Carmen Hexe

    Aw, I loved what you said, Duckie! I agree, loving oneself is the greatest love we can ever learn 🙂

    I think my point was more or less about people who use these books as an alibi, so they don’t have to do the “real work.” I just don’t care for the approach that one can learn everything there is to know from a book. There are a lot of us who DO learn a lot from books, but it requires the willingness and openness to listen to the messages that are given and decipher between taking things literal and discarding the pieces that don’t make sense or are totally unrealistic.

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  4. cheyennecheyenne ext. 5263

    Books are tools to be used along with other tools like intuition, common sense, past experience, etc. I am one who takes from a book the points that make sense for me and my lifestyle and don’t worry about the rest.

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  5. Gina Rose ext.9500Gina Rose ext.9500

    Hi ,

    I have to totally, 100% agree with the Lovely Duckling…….who put it very well…..

    Blessed Be )O(
    Gina Rose ext.9500

    Reply
  6. thelovelyducklingThe Lovely Duckling

    Hi, Carmen!

    Even though I don’t agree entirely with what you say, your article is wonderfully thought-provoking! There are some great books and some really awful books, and what works for one doesn’t necessarily work so well for another. It would be nice if there were some one-size-fits all, life-in-a-box to make things easier, but that might also make life less rich and meaningful.

    I agree completely that no book can teach someone how to live. We learn the most from our own life experiences, whether good or bad. It depends on each person how many times s/he has to experience it in order to get the lesson and then what they do with the knowledge gained. Fortunately for me, I’ve learned quite a few difficult lessons the first time. That leaves me more time to concentrate on the ones I haven’t picked up so quickly.

    The books I have read have at least given me another perspective from which I could examine my own life. The good ones have shown me things that I could do to make life better; the worst of them have shown me what not to do. But what has made my life better is figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t.

    The best form of therapy instead comes from within. As Buddha said, ‘Doubt everything. Find your own light.” We can be inspired by the words and actions of others, but it is up to us alone to decide what to do in our own lives–no book or person can do it for us. Making choices is what helps us live our lives to the fullest, even if it is the wrong choice at the time; not making them for fear of screwing up only postpones the life each of us is meant to have. We all make mistakes, but sometimes we don’t know how to forgive ourselves enough to learn from them. Buddha also said, ‘If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”

    Cheers,

    Duckie 🙂

    Reply
  7. misskrystalmisskrystal

    Thank you, Carmen.
    Only thing, is, in regards to, “He’s just not into you.”
    I have seen a lot of men return, later…I really have, honest to God.
    It’s hard if you still long for a man, and he comes back….You can read all of these books….yes…
    But I am into the heart-even though some ladies would not approve, it’s not THEIR heart…It belongs to the owner of that heart….Every situation is unique…

    And to all-When it comes to your own life, don’t worry about approval from others. this is how people get stuck a lot in terrible situations….seriously. We all have different karma. We all deserve to be happy.
    Miss Krystal
    God bless everyone

    Reply
  8. Carmen

    Oh and Ms. Krystal, actually, you got my point pretty well. I also have read “The Rules” and luckily had enough common sense to throw it in the garbage and not follow it. I overthrew the rules by following my gut and my gut said that a lot of these suggestions were garbage.

    I never wanted to learn how to be a gold digging opportunist. I didn’t want to learn how to take a guy for a ride. I did appreciate “He’s not that into you.” I appreciate a lot of the things that I read, but I read books for that purpose, to learn and to grow. I sometimes like to hear the obvious, I just don’t care when people who state the obvious claim to be experts, as if they know something we do not.

    I am also an expert, the Expert of Muppets 😛

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  9. Carmen

    I believe that self-help books work for those who are ready and able to receive the message! I have tons of books and I have learned a lot from them. However, I didn’t read them as an alibi so I could proudly proclaim “yes, I did read this one (I just didn’t learn a thing from it).”

    People will only change if and when they are ready or willing. And my point is that I have a hard time with books who claim that they have the answers or will help you. And no, I do not believe that any book will change a severely damaged person. The best one can hope for with such a person is that the book inspires them to seek out the help they truly need.

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  10. maryannex9146Maryanne Ext. 9146

    Hi, Carmen,

    As usual, fabulous article, so thank you again.

    I do agree with you that most self-help books are overly obvious. I also admit to having read some and, like Amelia, having some in my library. However, once again, most of them do reiterate the obvious. It is rarely that I have read a sentence that makes the light bulb go on in my head about a pattern of behavior or thought process of my own. I do, however, cherish those few sentences that help me grab hold of my own behavior.

    There are other factors that turn light bulbs on in my head that are very individual, as I am certain we each have individual activities that bring things to light for us. One of my personal ones is long beach walks when I start out not thinking of a thing except the sound of the waves and the look of the water. Seems like light bulbs occasionally turn on then. I feel both like a research scientist who finally has a break through of some magnitude and also like a complete dunce for not having seen the obvious before in a pattern of my behavior.

    All of the above to say that I do not think self-help books on their own can cause anyone to change their behavior. Like anything else, they may have some input for the individual or the occasional phrase or paragraph that contributes to a change as only one of many factors contributing to a change. It is also my opinion that most of us can only change when we truly want that change to occur-not when we are luke warm about it.

    Thanks again for another great article,

    Sincerely,

    Maryanne
    Ext. 9146

    Reply
  11. misskrystalmisskrystal

    Carmen-
    I hope I get to meet you someday.

    I can’t stand, “The Rules”-They should have just called it, “Gold Diggers manual to trick rich passive men.” Seriously ladies, I have seen women completely blow it with men, throwing chances in the garbage, because they were following some of these types of books. Truth is, if you use these tips on just a regular income, open minded man, you pretty much lost your chance…..They would never be able to keep up. For example, a great guy asked a pal of mine, the night before, if she wanted to go to a Laker game with him, because the guy he usually goes with had a family emergency. She followed the rules, and said, “She could not do it she had plans.” He called her a couple days later, on a Sunday morning, and wanted to know if she wanted to have an early dinner at the beach, she said she simply could not. Then, he called her, later that week, and left her a message. She never called him back. Guess what?
    Gone…..Met someone else, and was in relationship for two years….She was crushed (my friend). All because of the rules….And where are they now? Well, after suffering over him, for two years, she could not get over it. Luckily, he ended the relationship with the other girl, but this time, he did not have try hard at all, because she was at that point of, “desperation” -where she gave into everything now. Oh they are together lol but look what a number it did on her? Was it worth it? I don’t think so. They fight about that girl too….I think the rules is good for women who are more in love with money, than love itself, and want to be the MASCULINE energy of the relationship. Not feminine. Way off…Strong men will not play this game.

    Next, “Men love B——” Again ladies, nice, sweet men don’t want this. Not men who want truth, class and fairness. I don’t like this one, either. Too extreme….Too negative…A total detour…We always want to say, “No” in a very polite way. Always! Especially, if we like them, sheeesh louise lol

    On the flip side, I think books offering improvement, such as communication styles, breaking bad cycles, etc. Can lend a helping hand.

    I read the different points of view between the ex married couple, Barbara De Angelis and John Gray. Both psychologists. Wow…No wonder their marriage did not last. Both of their points of view on relationships are almost polar opposites. Again, each side, way too extreme….

    Great article.
    Thanks,
    Miss Krystal

    Reply
  12. Page

    I respectfully disagree. True, for a person to change they must be open to that change. But books plant the seeds that will germinate at the proper time-when a person has matured to the point where they can receive and integrate the information. And, just like people, you can’t lump all self-help books under one heading.
    As a believer in human evolution, I think people can and do change–albeit in a slow and sometimes halting manner.

    Reply
  13. Amelia

    One more comment, Carmen! I love your article. You are absolutely right about people being ‘hard-wired’ to not want to change. And, yes there are a lot of so-called ‘experts’ out there who think they have all the answers. Some do have good advice. But, the ultimate responsibility for the growth and happiness one will experience DOES come from within that person. No book, counselor, OR Psychic can make things happen differently in one’s life if that person isn’t wiling to take some action himself.

    Good Article!!

    Amelia

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  14. Amelia

    I began to read books to give me guidance over 30 years ago. Many of them I read two and three times. And, I still have them in my library of books today. My books ARE my treasure. The reminder of having them there reinforces the lesson and the growth hat the author tries to impart in his book. So, I have to say that yes, people can change their behaiours by reading self-help books – if you take the message to heart and incorporate new behaviors into your own life. They have helped me!
    Amelia

    Reply

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