Dr. Tucker-Ladd tries to rescue self-help from excess commercialism present it anew as a practical strategy for navigating life. No one can lay claim to self-help — self-help is simply that which each of us must do if we are to guide ourselves wisely through life. It belongs not to the media or the celebrity authors, but to everyone who questions the wisdom of being pushed along by life and starts to try to exercise some control.
Dr. Tucker-Ladd simply seeks to provide us with a new perspective on the possibility of self-change and the best available knowledge while giving us the the choice to select and apply the ideas most relevant to our own situation. We come to develop a sense of self-confidence based simply on having sincerely committed ourselves to a process of positive change, with an open-minded attitude and a willingness to take advantage of the many ideas and methods made available.
Of course, there would be little reason for us to want to try to apply self-help ideas if we didn’t hope to get anything from them, but overly optimistic expectations can lead to big disappointments. Those disappointments may lead us to abandon our efforts altogether.
Narrowly prescriptive solutions to life’s problems place us in the position of trying something that either ‘works’ or ‘doesn’t work.’ If we find a particular method doesn’t work for us we may even conclude that the fault lies with us, particularly if the book or product in question enjoys widespread renown. Psychological Self-Help offers us an invitation to learn to view our behavior, thoughts, emotions, and skills as a dynamic process, arising from a huge variety of internal causes and external stimuli. Those may be beyond our understanding and control in many significant respects, but they are potentially understandable and controllable to at least a somewhat greater degree. We are asked to approach the task with an open mind, to evaluate our progress, and to learn from our own experiences. The contrast with the standard prescriptive and formulaic presentation that most of us associate with ‘self-help’ could barely be any greater.
This understanding of human behaviour, known as ‘determinism’, is explained most extensively in Chapter 14 but is introduced from the start of the book (see Chapter 1) and referred to throughout. It is a powerful and profound way of viewing human behavior that helps us increase our tolerance and understanding of both ourselves and others.
Dr. Tucker-Ladd tries to be as realistic as possible about the effectiveness of self-help methods; he also tries to be as realistic as possible about what we humans really are like. This perspective contrasts sharply with the many unwarranted assumptions we tend to make about ourselves and others; the many cultural myths we have about humans and human behaviour; and moralistic attitudes that emphasis how we ‘ought’ to be and view human error and weakness in a judgmental and presumptive manner.
His perspective is a secular and scientific one, but is combined with genuine warmth and a compassionate acceptance of human frailty. A principal goal of self-help, as he understands it, is to help people to become more responsible and considerate in the way that they lead their lives; progress in this area can be made only through an initial acceptance of ourselves and others as we currently are. Such acceptance and understanding will give us a solid foundation from which we can plan positive change – something that we will never achieve for as long as we are in constant denial of what we are really like (see Chapter 15, Becoming Open-Minded).
Of course there are big areas of similarity with other self-help books, especially with respect to topic areas covered. The book reviews many methods and offers further reading recommendations. It also categorizes the specific advice given within individual books by problem areas or methods of change.
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Waterhouse, A. (2009). Locating ‘Psychological-Self Help’ Within the World of Self-Help. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/locating-psychological-self-help-within-the-world-of-self-help/0001554
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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