Psychology self -help books: A comprehensive analysis and content evaluation

Netta Shaked, Fordham University


The aim of this research was to comprehensively study best-selling psychology self-help books and to analyze their implications for the mental health field and the public, while proposing research for an area that has been lacking in empirical psychological investigations. In this study, an analysis of 10 contemporary best-selling personal growth self-help books (published between 1997–2002) was performed to assess the degree to which they meet both scientific and ethical standards, and a new and untested instrument used was examined for its utility in evaluation of self-help books by both mental health professionals and lay readers. A qualitative method, informed by grounded theory, was used to explore and to assess the books. Open coding yielded 33 concepts and 3 categories, namely scientific rigor, ethical adherences, and book contents. The books were rated on a 5-point Likert scale, using a new model for content evaluation. The findings show that the self-help books lacked empirical support and only integrated ethics to a moderate extent. The contents of these books indicated that most are written by authors with doctorates in psychology, who are likely to produce another best-seller, and did not delineate their theoretical orientation. Religion/spirituality was salient, along with some mention of psychological theories and emphasis on advice-giving. Anecdotes and case studies were not used consistently, nor were questionnaires, other self-assessment exercises, proverbial sayings, or highlighted text. These books were well-organized, although bibliographies and appendixes varied in quality. This study encourages rigorous evaluation of self-help books by professionals and the lay public alike. A model developed for such evaluation is proposed.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|Psychotherapy

Recommended Citation

Shaked, Netta, "Psychology self -help books: A comprehensive analysis and content evaluation" (2005). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3166580.