This essay is going to critically evaluate the self-help excerpt posted on ‘psychologytoday.com’ about recovering from trauma (McGrath, 2001) by looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the self-help guidance provided and evaluating its effectiveness for helping individuals to recover from trauma. Overall, this is a useful piece of self-help advice with some support from psychological theories, however there are some issues raised by the excerpt including the lack of research evidence for the effectiveness of the self-help advice.
It will begin by providing examples which support the guidance given in the self-help excerpt. One such example is that many of the claims made in the excerpt are supported by psychological theories. For instance the claim that a person recovering from trauma cannot go through the process alone and needs to be connected to others by sharing their feelings (McGrath, 2001) is supported by the fact that many psychological perspectives on trauma suggest that individuals need to share their experiences with others in order to help them feel a sense of relief (The Open University, 2017a).
Following on from this, it has been suggested that trying to avoid pain caused by trauma can cause an increase in feelings of distress – people need to accept their thoughts and feelings in order to recover in the long term, as well as reconnecting with the people around them (The Open University, 2017b). This also supports the self-help guidance given in the excerpt as one of the stages of recovery suggested is for people to work through their feelings with those around them. Additionally the excerpt suggests that if painful emotions are not dealt with, it can cause the distressing feelings to resurface throughout an individual’s life which could result in the development of post-traumatic-stress-disorder (McGrath, 2001).
However, an issue with this is that putting a person’s responses to trauma down to a psychiatric issue such as PTSD has the potential to individualise something which should be regarded as a social problem – it may be more appropriate for self-help guidance to aim for social change rather than emphasising individual treatment and recovery (The Open University, 2017c). In line with this, critical psychologists argue that self-help guidance is individualistic and does not take into account the wider environment (The Open University, 2017d). However, this particular self-help excerpt does not ignore the influence of the wider environment and other people in assisting with recovery – it emphasises the belief that an individual needs to turn to the social group around them in order to help their recovery.
McGrath (2001) suggests in the excerpt that recovering from trauma involves working on the meaning behind the experience as this can help an individual to feel more at peace with the circumstances. Neimeyer (2000) cited in Wager (2015) supports this guidance by suggesting that grief counselling should involve helping clients to find meanings behind what happens in their lives. This, however, can be challenged using research by Davis et al. (2000) cited in Wager (2015) who found that parents who had lost a child to sudden infant death who were searching for meaning but could not find answers were worse off than those who did not try and find meaning behind what happened. This is critical of the guidance in the self-help excerpt as it suggests that not everyone needs to find meaning behind their experiences and telling them to do so could cause them further distress. Therefore, this particular part of guidance provided in the excerpt may not be fully effective in helping someone to recover from trauma.
In support of the self-help excerpt it could be argued that it may be helpful in cases where therapy is not appropriate to help someone recovering from trauma. For example, therapy may not be effective in cases where an individual has been forced to attend by parents as they may not be willing to fully engage in the therapy sessions (Rooney, 2013) cited in The Open University (2017e). Therefore, turning to self-help guidance such as this may prove to be more effective in helping an individual to recover only if they do not want to formally attend therapy.
Furthermore, some people may find self-help more empowering than therapy because it gives them a chance to help themselves deal with something rather than having to rely on another person to help them (The Open University, 2017f).Others may feel completely unable to share their feelings with others, in which case self-help advice may prove beneficial and give people suffering an idea of what they have to do to help themselves by guiding them through the process. This can be suitable for some people, however it raises the question of whether it is as effective as something like therapy.
Despite the support for the self-help excerpt, many psychologists are critical of self-help guidance because they claim that it is not reliant enough on psychological knowledge and is not always supported by psychological research and evidence. However, the self-help excerpt being evaluated seems to make claims which have been supported by psychological theories such as the claim that an individual cannot recover in isolation and that traumatic experiences are different for everyone (McGrath, 2001). The fact that the guidance seems to be based on real psychological claims and theories could be used to suggest that the excerpt is reliable, however, if this is the case, the claims made need to be backed up by research evidence in the excerpt to support them.
Furthermore, there are some claims made which could be used to argue that more psychological research and evidence is needed to support the ideas presented. For example the claim that “everyone who goes through this process ends up better, stronger, smarter, deeper, and more connected” (McGrath, 2001). This is a sweeping statement which is not backed up by psychological research and therefore cannot be assumed to be factual. Another ambiguous claim made by McGrath (2001) in the excerpt is that an individual needs to progress through all four stages of guidance in order to recover, however this again does not have any supportive evidence – maybe some people are capable of skipping a stage and still manage to reach the same level of recovery as those who completed all stages. This lack of research evidence could be used to suggest that the self-help excerpt is not reliable enough and cannot be trusted to help those recovering from trauma.
Additionally, as well as the self-help advice in the excerpt not being evidence-based, it also does not take account of sociocultural factors such as the diversity of attitudes across cultures. Although the excerpt states at the beginning that traumatic experiences are not the same for everyone, it does not allow for cultural differences in the different stages of recovery. For instance it assumes that everyone needs to share their feelings with others in order to progress through recovery, however it is not a social norm in some cultures to reveal your inner thoughts to other people and it may be frowned upon in such cultures to show any signs of feelings. Therefore, this stage would have to be skipped, however McGrath (2001) claims that individuals need to progress through all four stages before they reach full recovery. This raises questions about the helpfulness of the self-help guidance in relation to trauma across different cultures.
In general, self-help is cheaper and less invasive than other methods of treatment such as medication and one-on-one therapy. It can be argued to be very cost-effective and far more people can engage with self-help literature than therapy (The Open University, 2017g). However, this again raises the question of whether it can possibly be as effective as other psychological methods of treatment.
To further evaluate the self-help excerpt on recovering from trauma it is necessary to consider how to determine the effectiveness of the self-help guidance. Evidence-based practice can be used to determine the effectiveness of the self-help excerpt and practice-based evidence can be used to give feedback on how well the guidance is helping people (The Open University, 2017h). To evaluate the effectiveness of the advice in the excerpt, individuals could be asked to complete a questionnaire about their feelings before they begin their recovery, during recovery, and again when they have completed the four stages of recovery. They would then need to analyse their findings by comparing all three questionnaires and reviewing whether or not they improved after following the self-help advice. This would be a good measure of evaluation for the effectiveness of self-help, however it would be difficult to find out whether it is statistically significant or simply a one off chance.
It can be seen from this evaluation that the self-help advice on recovering from trauma (McGrath, 2001) has some positive values such as being easier to engage with than other recovery methods such as therapy, and it contains some advice in line with psychological theories, although this is not supported with research evidence. However, the main weakness is the question of whether self-help methods such as this can ever be as reliable and effective as other treatments such as therapy and this self-help excerpt does not answer that question with psychological evidence. The helpfulness and effectiveness of self-help such as this could heavily depend on the situation and the individual involved and the advice provided seems to neglect this possibility.