When people find out that I’m a psychologist, they often ask if I can recommend any good self-help books. In all honesty, I tend to steer clear of the self-help aisle at my local bookstore.
Sure, it’s hard not to get drawn in by the covers with their bright colors, pithy titles and “experts” smiling from ear to ear. But for the most part, I can generally resist the urge to learn how to fight stress in 10 easy steps or achieve happiness in seven days.
However, the success of these books tells me that many people are lured to the self-help stacks — strategically placed between the religion and science sections. These books are meant to appeal to those of us who struggle with relationship problems, encounter stress and anxiety in our daily lives, and have periods of feeling blue. In other words, at some point, they appeal to everybody.
It’s not that I’m anti-self-help books. In fact, I’ve written a few of them over the years. My concern is that many books within the self-help genre have a major flaw: They are strong on hype, but weak on substance.
For example, ridding one’s self of anxiety or panic isn’t as simple as learning to take deep breaths or going to a “calm place” in your head. And sometimes sadness can be a symptom of a psychiatric condition that no amount of “positive thinking” will correct.
My humble opinion is that as a service member, you are less likely to benefit from a self-help book than your civilian peers because you already know most of the information found within these books.
Early on, you are taught how to identify problems and generate solutions. You are taught methods in decision making, stress management, and conflict resolution. Heck, you probably hear “adapt and overcome” at least five times before lunch every day. The latter is the primary theme found within most self-help books.
What’s the answer to the occasional blues or the stress life throws at you ever day? It’s simple: Rely on your training. Draw upon the skills and talents you’ve developed as a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine.
Use your keen sense of awareness to identify the root cause of your distress. Deploy those resources that get you through harsh combat environments, challenging field exercises and extended separation from loved ones. You don’t need a book to remind you how to do these things.
If relying on your personal resources doesn’t do the trick, then consult a professional. Sadness or anxiety that lasts for more than a few weeks or causes significant disturbances at home or work may be a sign of something more serious.
Bret A. Moore, Psy.D., is a board-certified clinical psychologist who served two tours in Iraq. He is the co-author of “The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook.” This column is for informational purposes only and is not intended to convey specific psychological or medical guidance.