Saw this interesting column by Oliver Burkeman in Saturday’s Guardian. It’s about whether the concept of “closure” is actually a positive thing for the person experiencing the difficulty/pain/loss. He argues that, rather than helping the victim, it is a tool to help the aggressor move on, and that it is often used for political ends (such as the disputed American presidential election in 2000).
Self-help books come in the firing line for their tendency to provide tidy solutions to problems with no room for ambivalence, messiness or continued suffering. As a long-term collector and reader of self-help tomes, I can see why they are written in this way. When I’m suffering from a problem, I turn to books for advice (as I already mentioned in my post on parenting manuals). Of course, they also need to be marketed and sold, so the publishers are much more keen to write “101 ways to save your marriage” on the cover, than “Well, it’s quite complicated because people are, but here are some tips that have helped some people over the years”.
Because everything is packaged as a “solution” these days, it can be tempting to see complex psychological processes such as grief neatly boxed into 250 slickly written pages, crammed with bullet points.
I may be guilty of hypocrisy here, as I co-authored a self-help book about infertility called Fertile Thinking. But we endeavored to write something that allowed for difficult feelings and didn’t provide guarantees or solutions, just some practical tips that could help people going through the same thing.
I am definitely not rubbishing all practical psychology books – just as you get bad and good novels, you will find the same in the self-help genre. I have also found good tips in bad books. I think it’s about sifting through the fillers and finding the gems that resonate with you. I have found lots of useful tips in self-help books over the years, just not found them all in one place. Maybe that’s for my next project…