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Description: The self-help book literature and on-line jungle is HUGE. The supply of and demand for “how to live better” advice seem insatiable, but you will not be at all surprised to hear that a lot of it does not actually work very well. You can find out about some of this by reading what I have to say below and by looking through some of the linked articles in the Further Reading section further below. That said, are there examples of self-help books that have had significant positive impacts on how people manage in the world in ways that have at least some endorsements from therapists who are in that very business (of helping people live better, more positive, less troubled, lives)? Well, here is one. Have you heard about Adult Attachment and if so, where from? Developmental accounts of the formation of attachment relationships between infants and their caregivers/parents have been around for a quite a while. More recently (late 1980’s and 1990’s see examples in Further Reading) researchers started to suggest that one could see relationships patterns in adult relationships that seemed to map back to the basic attachment types from the early developmental research. Do Secure, Avoidant and Insecure attachment types sound familiar? In 2010 research into this theory that early attachment relationships influence how later relationships are experienced were collected into a book called Attached (Levine and Heller, 2010). Rather than being a passing fad as have many self-help books, Attached did well and had legs with its sales growing though word of mouth and therapist recommendations and spiked significantly during the isolation phase of the Covid pandemic which amplified many peoples’ examination of their relationship processes and status. Think about why this might be and think about whether or not it is/was a good thing and then read the article linked below to se what a number of researchers, therapists and even one of the authors of the book itself have had to say on these questions recently.

Source: Are You Anxious, Avoidant or Secure? Foster Kamer, The New York Times.

Date: November 6, 2021

Image by jonathan_10_21_6 from Pixabay

Article Link:

Yes, reality and relationships are complicated and nuanced and not likely to be tidily boiled down to just three types or styles. However, research supported accounts of the possible ways in which early relationship experiences could set some basic parameters (think of the common self-help term, baggage) for how subsequent relationships might tend to go (note the tentative wording here) might be good food for reflective though and suggest possible routes to more positive life experiences. Such reflections need and should not involve simply accepting what type of person you are as far as relationships are concerned but, rather to experiencing a broadening of your reflective perspective such that you may start to see more ways forward. Sound like therapy? Well, yes because therapy and good/positive self-help involves insight and commitments to self-work, change and acceptance. So, by all means read the book and possibly find out some things about your past relationship experiences but then use that insight to think a bit about how you are going to move forward. This could lead you to seek psycho-therapeutic support, but it could also lead you to think a bit, to talk with friends and relations a bit and sort out some of your relationship complexity and nuance and THAT is positive self-help.

What should you look for in a self-help book? Here are some things to consider (from Weiten, Dunn & Hammer, 2018):

  1. Look for books or website that do not promise too much. It will take longer than a few minutes and a chapter-read to fix things that matter.
  2. Look to see if the person or person’s writing the book or constructing the site have good credentials as in have they done research, have they done therapy (that was successful), are they open to research by others that might be relevant?
  3. Is there some sort of research base to what is being claimed or promoted? They do not have to walk you through all of their research support, but it should be possible to see that they have some and that you could go and look at it is you are interested. In other words, they are not just making it up.
  4. Look for books and sites that provide you with clear instructions as exactly what you should do to effect change in the area of interest. If they, DO it is likely because they have done their research and are talking about things that have been shown to work consistently with real people. If they DON’T then you will not know exactly what to do and all that will move you forward is wishful thinking (which is only a tiny part of positive life growth or change).
  5. Look for books or sites that are not trying to over-reach. In other words, look for things that are rather specific in what they will help you with as opposed to approaches that claim they will change your entire life. Effective life changes and developments start of focused and are incremental from there, meaning that while they may become life changing over time they do NOT start that way.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Were you aware of the “adult attachment types” model before reading this article? If so, even if not by name, where did you find out about it?
  2. How important is the concern that the attachment type model does not incorporate the complexity or nuances of adult relationships?
  3. What advice would you offer to a friend who tells you they have just heard about the book (Attached) and say they hope that reading it will fix their relationships?

References (Read Further):

Levine, A., & Heller, R. (2010). Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and how it Can Help You Find–and Keep–love. Penguin.

Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of personality and social psychology, 52(3), 511. Link

Bergsma, A. (2008). Do self-help books help?. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9(3), 341-360. Link

Rosen, G. M. (1987). Self-help treatment books and the commercialization of psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 42(1), 46. Link

Anderson, L., Lewis, G., Araya, R., Elgie, R., Harrison, G., Proudfoot, J., … & Williams, C. (2005). Self-help books for depression: how can practitioners and patients make the right choice?. British Journal of General Practice, 55(514), 387-392. Link

Redding, R. E., Herbert, J. D., Forman, E. M., & Gaudiano, B. A. (2008). Popular self-help books for anxiety, depression, and trauma: How scientifically grounded and useful are they? Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 39(5), 537. Link

Mickelson, K. D., Kessler, R. C., & Shaver, P. R. (1997). Adult attachment in a nationally representative sample. Journal of personality and social psychology, 73(5), 1092. Link

Ravitz, P., Maunder, R., Hunter, J., Sthankiya, B., & Lancee, W. (2010). Adult attachment measures: A 25-year review. Journal of psychosomatic research, 69(4), 419-432. Link

Stein, H., Koontz, A. D., Fonagy, P., Allen, J. G., Fultz, J., Brethour Jr, J. R., … & Evans, R. B. (2002). Adult attachment: What are the underlying dimensions?. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 75(1), 77-91. Link

Coan, J. A. (2010). Adult attachment and the brain. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27(2), 210-217. Link

Weiten, D.S. Dunn, E. and Hammer, Y.  (2018) Psychology Applied to Modern Life, Cengage.