In this age of experts people look to “specialists” for quick and easy answers.

For many years, magazine writers, newspaper columnists, sales managers, preachers, and others have tried to apply the conclusions of psychology to a variety of human problems.

Perhaps millions of people follow the teachings of these “popularizers” and uncritically accept their conclusions on how to rear children, have a better marriage, cope with depression, mature spiritually, get along with people, succeed at work, or have a more satisfying sex life. Many others attend self-help groups to help one another stop drinking, lose weight, adjust to widowhood, prepare for surgery, or cope with cancer. Most people fail to realize that the advice they receive often deviates considerably from the established findings of scientific psychology.

Professional counselors often marvel at these popular approaches to problem solving. Sometimes they criticize or dismiss them as simplistic, potentially harmful, and unimportant. Yet scientific evidence shows these movements, including Christian nonprofessional approaches, are exploding in number, variety, and acceptance. Popular psychologies can be divided into three categories: self-help groups, popular writings, and popular speakers. We will examine the common elements, appeal, and message of these systems.

The Popular Self-Help Groups

The term “self-help group” is widely used but somewhat misleading because these groups really consist of people who meet for “mutual aid.” Such groups are characterized by compassion, an attitude of acceptance, common needs and experiences, self-reliance, informality, similar beliefs, hope, and a desire to help others. Frequently, the participants resist what they view as the cold, ...

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