Help for Those Who Want to Help Themselves

The aisles of our brick-and-mortar and online bookstores are filled with self-help books. So how does one choose among the hundreds of titles on any given subject — anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, stress or the conduct disorders of childhood?

You seek the advice of experts.

Self-Help That Works, Fourth Edition by John C. Norcross, Ph.D., Linda F. Campbell, Ph.D., John M. Grohol, PsyD, John W. Santrock, Ph.D., Florin Selagea, M.S., and Robert Sommer, Ph.D is a reference book. Not only will it direct you to some of the best self-help books, autobiographies, films, support groups, online programs and websites on a huge range of topics in emotional health and relationships, it will help you avoid the duds.

You can probably find it in your local library, but if you tend to shop for the subjects Self-Help That Works, Fourth Edition covers, you may want to purchase it yourself. It will likely save you both money and missed opportunities.

The author team is a mix of psychologists working in clinical, counseling and online psychology. They rate the self-help offerings on a huge range of topics in emotional health, from abuse, autism, anger, stress and happiness, to eating disorders, divorce, gay, lesbian, and bisexual issues, chronic pain and self management, and clinical issues like ADHD, schizophrenia, OCD, bipolar, substance abuse and suicide. They cover self-help issues pertaining to women and men, families and stepfamilies, job-hunters and the aging, teens and children, parents and partners.

Each entry in a Self-Help That Works is rated based on national studies of mental health professionals from around the country over the past twenty years using a scale of one to five stars (the best) down to a dagger (at least 10 mental health professionals had given the book, film, site etc., a negative rating). In short, the ratings in Self-Help That Works go well beyond personal opinion and are considerably more valuable than scanning jacket copy online or in the bookstore.

Here's a sample of some of their recommendations from the chapter on Anger.

From Chapter 6 —

Anger is a powerful emotion. Everybody gets angry sometimes, but for most of us, it’s mild anger a couple of times a week. Mild anger or annoyance often emerges if a loved one or a friend performs what we perceive to be a misdeed, whether it is being late, promising one thing and doing another, or neglecting a duty, for example. It’s a part of life. Anger disorders, on the other hand, are characterized as enraged, uncontrollable, and frequent. In the past, we have described such folks as possessing "fiery tempers" — becoming furious when they are criticized, when they are slowed down, when they are frustrated. In the present, we view chronic anger as a disorder that hurts others as well as themselves. Whether anger is an isolated problem or a symptom of another disorder, mental health professionals are increasingly treating it. Popular anger management techniques include relaxation, meditation, cognitive restructuring, empathy, problem solving, mindfulness, and communication skills.

In this chapter, we present the ratings and descriptions of anger self-help books and Internet resources, respectively.

Self-Help Books

Strongly Recommended

***** The Anger Control Workbook (2000) by Matthew McKay and Peter Rogers. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

Psychologists McKay and Rogers provide a step-by-step, cognitive-behavioral approach for individuals seeking to control their anger. In 19 chapters, they describe how to identify, understand, respond to, and cope with hostile feelings. Especially recommended is learning how to relax in the face of physical tension in provocative situations; the authors state that it is almost impossible to get angry when you are able to relax your body. Numerous helpful exercises and worksheets are provided. This book is an excellent choice for those seeking to control their anger. Along with The Dance of Anger (reviewed below), The Anger Control Workbook was judged to be one of the best self-help books for anger.

***** The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships (reissue ed., 1997) by Harriet Lerner. New York: Harper Perennial.

This popular and prized book was written mainly for women about the anger in their lives, both their anger and that of the people they live with, especially men. It has sold more than a million copies and deservedly has been on the New York Times bestseller list. Lerner maintains that expressions of anger are not only encouraged more in boys and men than in girls and women but may be glorified to maladaptive extremes. By contrast, girls and women have been denied even a healthy and realistic expression of anger. Lerner argues that to express anger—especially openly, directly, or loudly—traditionally is considered to make a woman appear unladylike, unfeminine, and sexually unattractive. Lerner explains the difficulties women have in showing anger and describes how they can use their anger to gain a stronger, more independent sense of self. Rooted in both family systems and psychoanalytic theory, The Dance of Anger has nine chapters and an epilogue. Lerner describes the circular dances of couples, such as the all-too-familiar situation of the nagging wife and the withdrawing husband. The more she nags, the more he withdraws, and the more he withdraws, the more she nags. Lerner goes on to provide valuable advice about how to deal with anger when interacting with "impossible" mothers, with children, and in family triangles. This excellent guide is a compassionate exploration of women’s anger and an insightful guide for turning anger into a constructive force that can reshape women’s lives.

**** Letting Go of Anger: The Ten Most Common Anger Styles and What to Do about Them (1995) by Ron Potter-Efron and Pat Potter-Efron. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

The authors take a systematic approach to identifying and treating types of anger, often using cognitive-behavioral strategies. A questionnaire allows readers to categorize them- selves into anger styles: masked anger, explosive anger, or chronic anger. Each chapter fur- ther describes several ways of manifesting anger within each of the three primary styles. Clarity and conciseness are strengths of this self-help resource. Each chapter outlines the characteristics of the anger style, typical examples of how the anger plays out, and remedies for counteracting anger. The suggested treatments are understandable and easily conducted by nonprofessionals.

**** Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion (revised and updated, 1989) by Carol Tavris. New York: Touchstone.

This excellent self-help book covers the wider terrain of anger and its manifestations. Indeed, it is hard to come up with any facet of anger—from wrecked friendships to wars— that Tavris does not address. The revised and updated edition includes new coverage of highway anger, violence in sports, young women’s anger, and family anger, and it suggests strategies for getting through specific anger problems. The book consists of 10 entertain- ing chapters. In the first several chapters, Tavris debunks a number of myths about anger and highlights anger’s cultural rules. She persuasively argues that "letting it all out" is not the best solution for defusing anger and effectively coping with stress. She dislikes pop- psychology approaches that tell people that anger is buried within them, and she argues that such notions are dangerous to the mental health of participants and to the social health of the community. She also sharply criticizes psychotherapy approaches that are based on the belief that inside every tranquil soul is a furious person screaming to get out. Later chapters present helpful ideas about anger in marital relationships and situations involving justice. In the final two chapters, Tavris tells readers how to rethink anger and make more adaptive choices. The book is well researched, and Tavris’s delivery is witty and eloquent. People wanting to cope more effectively with the anger in their lives will find this book a welcome tonic.

Internet Resources

**** Anger

This psychology topic from the American Psychological Association (APA) offers sev- eral articles about anger, as well as related resources on violence and bullying.

***** How Can I Deal With My Anger? deal_with_anger.html

This well-designed site from the Nemours Foundation is targeted to teenagers and kids, to help them better understand and recognize their anger. It also provides tips and advice on how to express and cope with angry feelings more effectively.

**** How to Deal with Anger dealing_with_anger

A helpful single page from the U.K . charity Mind that helps people understand their anger, how to express it in a more healthy manner, and what to do with angry feelings.

*** Using Anger Management for Stress Relief anger_manage.htm

The Stress Management site offers some good, accessible articles about anger management.

Reprinted from Self-Help That Works: Resources to Improve Emotional Health and Strengthen Relationships by John C. Norcross, PhD, Linda F. Campbell, PhD, John M. Grobal, PsyD, John W. Santrock, PhD, Florin Selagea, MS and Robert Sommer, PhD with permission from Oxford University Press USA. Copyright © 2013 by John C. Norcross, John W. Santrock and Linda F. Campbell.