The self-help genre is alive and well. Visit any bookstore and you'll find shelves filled with books that counsel, advise, and direct life's course. As a psychologist, I'm interested in the guidance these books provide. Do they actually bring about personal change? Can they be used in a therapeutic context? What inspires people purchasing the books?
Pete Chapman, author of The Pocket Life Coach, is a former bodybuilding champion dedicated to physical fitness, athletic training, and wellness programs. At 137 pages, it is a slim book, comprised of 6 chapters, and many sections Chapman advertises "for guidance and instruction and some that are just intended to inspire and provoke reflection." Indeed, one can profitably read the entire book or consider individual chapters that have particular appeal.
The initial chapters set the tone that is repeated throughout the book: wellbeing requires dedicated purpose, patient contemplation, acknowledging sources of distress, and adopting a "can do" attitude. Chapman consistently weaves a theme of finding a balance life through mindful attention toward work, family, health, recreation, and nutrition. There's little to debate here.
Beyond general encouragement, Chapman details many specific strategies to deal with life challenges. Goal setting, for example, is recommended as a way to motivate change, create happiness through achievement, and harness creative potential. Similarly, he discusses time management, activity planning, and selecting priorities to cope better with our fast-paced lifestyles. There are forms in the book readers can use to document their progress when implementing these and other suggestions.
The book contains a strong dose of "holistic counseling." Nutrition is covered with an overview of food choices, meal plans, caloric regulation, and even tips for supermarket shopping! In the section, "Getting Fitter," Chapman spends considerable time advising about aerobic exercise and other stress-reducing physical activities. A proper diet and regular exercise will contribute to sound sleep, which he also endorses as an essential ingredient for a peaceful existence.
As might be expected, the book has a lot to say about "positive thinking." Much of the information is a watered-down version of cognitive therapy that deals with attitude adjustment, generating affirming thoughts, and countering negative (unrealistic) beliefs. Because cognitive control methods have a strong research base, it was good to see them represented accurately in the book.
Can The Pocket Life Coach serve as a self-help resource? Clearly, the book is not meant to be a self-directed procedural guide aimed at correcting a specific psychological problem. Rather, it may function best as a "check in" for people interested in improving facets of their life or simply searching for ideas to "pull things together." None of the information in the book is controversial or "new age," but seems born of the author's personal struggles and commitment to a life fully realized. On this note, I think the book could have benefited from examples of how the author employs some of the strategies he endorses so enthusiastically. This personal touch would resonate with readers when they entertain new ways of thinking and behaving they will find between the covers.
© 2008 James K. Luiselli
James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA is a psychologist affiliated with May Institute and a private-practice clinician. Among his publications are 6 books and over 200 journal articles. He reviews books for The New England Psychologist.