From May this year doctors in England will prescribe self-help books for patients. To help them cope with mild panic attacks, anxiety or depression. Who can then borrow these books from the local public library. As part of their treatment.
This is a ground breaking initiative. That shows how doctors who care deeply for their patients value the use of self-help. And it answers many of the questions raised by those who are critical of self-help.
Criticism of self-help
Some critics like Steve Salemo, the author of “SHAM”: How the self-help movement made America helpless”. Believe it does real damage. Not just to those who use it but to all of society. The Wall Street Journal even suggests “there should be a self-help book for people too easily seduced by self-help”. And the New York Sun has a go at “the self-aggrandizing rhetoric and foggy logic”.
How the book prescriptions will work
Libraries across England will have a list of 30 self-help books. Doctors can prescribe books from this list for their patients. The list of books include: “The Feeling Good Handbook”. “How to Stop Worrying”. “Overcoming Anger and Irritability”.
Having doctors select self-help books to solve medical problems is a new trend. That could also be used in other fields. Where experts would select books that will help users of their service to solve certain problems. This is a more reliable guide to how useful a book is than the best seller rating of sites like Amazon. For it helps people to find books. That will work for them.
The thinking behind the self-help book scheme
“There is growing evidence that shows self-help reading can help people with certain mental health conditions to get better”, claims Miranda McKearney. She is the chief executive of the Reading Agency Charity that developed the project.
It is not the first project of this kind. One already exists in Denmark. Another in New Zealand. And one has also successfully run in Wales since 2003.
Wales leads the way
Book Prescription Wales is a scheme that makes their GPs and health workers aware of effective self-help books. They can then prescribe them for those people who are most likely to benefit from them.
The scheme used clinical trials to find how effective the self-help books are. Over a dozen of these trials found that self-help books are highly beneficial. They were as good as live, face-to-face treatment.
While the books are likely to be effective only for those who are able to read them. And are motivated to work through the self-help text. They have proved to be suitable for most of those who consult the GP with a mental health problem.
Advantages of using self-help books
The use of self-help books has a number of possible advantages over the use of medication. Which make them an attractive option.
Those found in these trials include:
- Higher patient acceptance
- Greater sense of self-management, self-control and personal achievement.
- Higher adherence rates
- More immediate effects than some medication.
- No rebound effect when treatment comes to an end.
- Tendency to continued improvement over time.
- Lower relapse rates.
- Long-term additional benefits as a result of the skills and insights gained.
- No appreciable adverse side effects.
- No adverse reaction with medication or other forms of treatment.
- No significant contra indications.
- No danger of an overdose.
- Safe in pregnancy.