In 2010, James Arthur Ray, author of several self-help books, was charged with the deaths of three participants of his 2009 self-help retreat. Ray had participants of his retreat take part in a sweat lodge ritual, which he claimed would allow them to experience positive change and be “reborn.” After participating in this ritual, three participants died from the heat.

There are many self-help books and programs claiming to help individuals overcome a variety of problems. Some of these methods are helpful. Other methods are ineffective, and can even be harmful to a person’s mental or physical health.

When choosing a self-help book or program, consider the following:

  • Check the credentials of the expert. Was the book written by a psychologist or mental health counselor? Be cautious when considering a book or program developed by a person without formal training in the mental health field. Psychologists have extensive training treating individuals with various mental health and emotional problems, and their advice is based on sound clinical principles.
  • Beware of a one-size-fits-all approach. There are many books on treating anxiety disorders, but there is no single book that is effective for ALL individuals with anxiety. Differences in personality, background, and culture are always considered when a psychologist is treating a person. Self-help authors cannot consider all of these individual differences when offering advice. Although a particular book may have worked great for your friend, this book may not be the best fit for you.
  • Be cautious when considering books that promise a quick cure or guarantee success. Personal change takes time and effort. The most effective way to overcome personal obstacles and emotional problems is to seek counseling from a psychologist.
  • If you have doubts about the physical or mental safety of a self-help exercise, consult a physician or psychologist.