Video: Dr. John Norcross on writing Changeology

Dr. John Norcross describes what motivated him to write Changeology

LF:      In your new self- help book, Changeology, which I really liked, you describe five steps to realizing your goals and resolutions.  What motivated you to make your research findings available to the general public in a reader friendly way?

JN:      Well, Lisa, as we know, people are desperate for behavior change and yet most self-help resources out there are pitiful.  Over 95% have no research attesting to their effectiveness as a stand-alone self-help resource.  So some self-help resources get people inspired for 7 or 10 days, but then just leave them discouraged, not certain what to do.  And yet, other self-help resources give maybe one, two methods that might be somewhat helpful.  So, after 30 years and millions of dollars of federal research grant, I decided to update our Stages of Change and make it available to people.  So I do want to yell it from the rooftops:  People can change.  Science can help you.  That’s the whole thrust of Changeology.  As the title says, it really is a science of behavior change.

LF:      So you’re taking the principles that you’ve learned from psychotherapy research and applying them to self-help.

JN:      In self-help, in self-change.  Going back 30 years ago, beginning with my research with Dr. Jim Petraska, we’d been investigating how people change on their own, without psychotherapy, with a little bit of psychotherapy, only in psychotherapy.  There’s this wonderful continua of change.  We need not think about self-help and psychotherapy as antagonistic.  They’re quite complementary.  In fact, Jim always likes to say, “Psychotherapy is professionally coached self-change.”  So, it’s all synergistic.  What we know about how people change on their own and what we know from how people change with the assistance of psychotherapy.  All of that converges.

LF:      You’ve published quite about on self-help that works, how do you integrate self-help into professional treatment?  What’s the integration of the two?

JN:      We’ve conducted 12 national studies to try to decipher what does and does not work.  Of course, there’s not lots of research out there, but we leverage what is there and then where there isn’t the research evidence, we’ve asked, almost, nearly 5,000 clinical and counseling psychologists for which books, autobiographies and films they use.  So, in the best tradition of evidence-based practice, we used the best available research.  We combined that with clinician expertise and we then applied that in the context of patient preferences, values and characteristics.  And that really comprises self-help that works.

I’ve also been writing about how to integrate self-help into psychotherapy.  Now at first blush, most people will say that’s kind of oxymoronic, right?  If it’s self-help and you’re seeing a professional … But again, that’s that antiquated, discarded notion that there’s psychotherapy here and self-help here, as though they’re discrete categories.  It’s how people change.  So psychotherapists increasingly integrate self-help into what they’re doing to give additional detail, to show the theory and rationale, to help with homework assignments.  Sometimes self-help is used when someone’s on a waiting list.  Or, it’s used on the other end to engender maintenance and generalization of change, secure the treatment.

Still, other people have access to only quite brief psychotherapy and they, of course, are living like the rest of us in all of life’s vicissitudes.  So, they can’t cover everything in, in an hour.  So, whether it’s assertion or parenting, dating, raising children, retirement, death anxiety — all those life challenges.  Self-help can be seamlessly integrated along with psychotherapy.

About the Author

John C. Norcross, PH.D. John C. Norcross, PhD, ABPP, is a clinical psychologist, a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Scranton, and Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at SUNY Upstate Medical University.  He specializes in the areas of  psychotherapy, clinical training, and self-change. Dr. Norcross is the acclaimed author of the self-help book Changeology, as well as hundreds of professional journal publications and books. He is past-president of the American Psychological Association's Division of Psychotherapy and the Division of Clinical Psychology. He has served as an APA council representative and as a director of the National Register of Health Service Psychologists. Learn more about Dr. John C. Norcross' work at the Changeology website.

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