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Customer Review

272 of 316 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Misdirect: This is a book by a social psychologist about solving social problems and not really a book about personal change, September 25, 2011
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This review is from: Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change (Paperback)
This is a very challenging book to review: after all, it's written by a prominent university professor, endorsed by many other professors, and given superlative reviews here at, where (inexplicably) it is described as a extraordinary masterpiece capable of personal transformation of the reader. Moreover, one of the recurring messages of the book is that the author wields the power of scientific study, with the implication that the rest of us are unqualified to disagree since we're incapable of conducting randomized studies of our own from the comfort of our living rooms. Therefore, I go out on a limb a bit with this negative review, so I ask for some indulgence from the reader as I proceed.

Perhaps it is not entirely Timothy Wilson's fault that his book has been hideously misrepresented and grossly overhyped in the review,but the same unjustified and fulsome paean of praise appears on the back and inside covers of the book itself, and that's the reason I bought and read the book, but the bottom line is that this is an abysmal book for anyone looking for guidance as to personal change, although it serves well as a readable, though incomplete, social psychology textbook. In short, many readers such as myself have been "misdirected" into buying copies of "Redirect." Here's why.

Most psychotherapists practice the techniques of "cognitive therapy" (sometimes referred to as "cognitive-behavioral therapy"), a method of counseling intended to reduce or "reframe" the patient's negative, crippling, disempowering views of themselves and their worlds. You need to be a licensed mental health professional to practice cognitive therapy. Academics and social scientists who are not licensed cannot practice therapy, but the author here describes the same methods as cognitive therapy under the label "story editing" (alternatively at times "story prompting"). "Story editing" is not really very different from "cognitive therapy" as the author himself acknowledges on page 13 of the book; rather it is the non-clinical equivalent of cognitive therapy for those not licensed to practice therapy. Thus, the reader interested in personal change is better off 'redirected' to books about cognitive therapy. Read this book only if you want to read about how to address societal ills such as teen pregnancy, campus drinking, social prejudice, and how to deter at-risk youths from delinquency. Most of the book is about these social problems, and very little is about personal change and transformation. If you bought this book based on the lavish reviews looking for personal insight, you probably felt, as I did, ripped off once you got into the meat of it and realized you were reading hundreds of pages of studies of the efficacy of social intervention programs.

After an introductory chapter, there is a chapter describing the experimental method to lay persons. This chapter on scientific methodology will be irrelevant to individuals already trained in science, and rather tedious to untrained individuals. This chapter is also problematic in that it conveys the message that only those who conduct randomized scientific studies may judge which programs are worthwhile and which are not. I won't take a position arguing against scientific inquiry, but I do note that from this point on, Wilson has established himself as the authority on how to cure society's ills and anyone who dares to disagree is implicitly labeled as speaking from bias or ignorance. After this tedious chapter, there are the following chapters, with the author's primary recommendations, for anyone interested in pursing the details in the book itself:

Achieving personal happiness: Wilson recommends that you find personal meaning in your life (p.49) and that you make a lot of friends in order to build strong social connections (p.51). Of course, neither of these recommendations are original.

Raising healthy kids: the author recommends that you: don't label your kids, don't spoil them with material things, and be sure to praise them when they make an effort at things (p.102).

The problem of teen pregnancy: encourage community service work because girls who get involved in volunteer work feel better about themselves and don't need to get pregnant to feel that way (p.131).

Campus alcohol abuse: college kids drink primarily because they overestimate how much other kids drink, which gives them encouragement and permission to drink more themselves (p.168).

Juvenile delinquency: keep at-risk kids away from other at-risk kids (p.153).

Social and racial prejudice: treat all people as equals (p.199) and include minorities in photo shoots for company newsletters (p.233).

In sum, what is interesting in this book is not new, and re-labeling cognitive therapy as "story editing" does not in any sense make a unique or valuable contribution to the clinical psychology or self-help literature. The reviews and hype implying that this book is a valuable contribution toward achieving personal insight and growth are, in my opinion, misleading. Those looking for the latter might consider instead Martin Seligman's "Learned Optimism" or "Authentic Happiness", or Michigan State University's Gershen Kaufman's books on building self-esteem and 'personal power.' I am sure I will be unceremoniously castigated for disagreeing with academia but these are my views and I'm sticking with them!
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Showing 1-10 of 28 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 26, 2011 5:26:05 PM PDT
Thank you for your unabridged feedback. This was an excellent review, and I appreciated your recommendations for other literature. I also appreciated your depth of knowledge on the topic. Thanks for taking time to post!!

Posted on Oct 4, 2011 10:37:19 AM PDT
Adam Felton says:
I like that you compared the narrative work to cognitive therapy (and that you brought up cognitive therapy at all). CT doesn't get enough credit outside of counseling. A friend of mine once told me, "You bring social psych to counseling psych, not vice versa." This is a good instance of her being wrong. It's unfortunate that this book has misleadingly marketed itself to the self-help crowd because Tim Wilson is a great writer and a great psychologist. Unfortunately, if you want to sell books in psychology, a convenient method is to gear it towards self-help; I blame the publishers!

Posted on Oct 7, 2011 8:17:54 PM PDT
R. Blue says:
Like the other commentors I too liked and appreciate your review. I have not read this book and probably will not due to your review alone. I read the editorial on the Amazon page and it outlined almost word for word what you did. I don't believe he has the answers to solving those problems which are outlined. What I am curious about is his aproach to "story telling" or as you say Codnitive therapy. I was introduced to CBT by the man himself Albert E. Ellis a few years before his death. I don't think that only licensed therapist should be able to teach CBT and neither did he. I was taught by him to be a leader of the group therapy that was his answer to AA. Really CBT is very simple and when applied rigorously it can be of great help to look at decisions in a much more rational way. I would be interested in how the author of this book goes about suggesting this technique.

My question to you is. Do you think the book is worth the read for that one aspect. Not to be introduced to the subject rather evaluate his approach?

If you read this and have feedback I thank you in advance.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 18, 2011 6:54:09 AM PDT
Tom Terrific says:
I have read most of this book and in spite of the criticisms expressed above am enjoying the book. I did not take offense at his insistence on scientific testing of so called self-help or social interventions. I did not get the impression he was saying ONLY social scientist have or can divine the truth. Simply that all of these medicine sideshow "cures" need to be tested and subjected to rigorous scientific evaluation.

As an avid self-help reader, I have been mislead too many times by well-written, well-promoted techniques and programs and seminars that have no basis for their claims of efficacy except that they intuitively FEEL like they OUGHT to be TRUE (i.e. work). After 100 years, psychology is only now beginning to KNOW what psychological manipulations work with the structure of the brain-in-relationship-to-the-world and which ones don't.

I have not yet tried the "story editing" "story prompting" technique that is the basis for the book, but I am encouraged by the many examples he provides throughout the book. If all you are interested in is the techniques, he covers them in the first chapter and admits that's all there is to them and the rest of the book simply examines their use in real-world situations. If that's all you're interested in, read the first chapter while standing at the shelf at Barnes & Noble like I did. But if you want to learn about the real-world applications, buy the book and read the rest of it.

I think (hope) that when we finally learn/discover the psychological "Theory of Everything," it will be simple enough to print on the back of a T-shirt.

If it's not, most of us will never figure it out.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 30, 2011 1:15:53 PM PDT
Book Lover says:
Terrific, dead-on review that I would write myself. I borrowed this book from my local library and sat down with a cup of tea to have what I thought would be a fun journey on self-exploration.

Wrong! Completely disjointed chapters. Each of these chapters alone would have been nice in a peer-review journal. It should have been marketed as a collection of the author's unrelated articles, which is really what it is.

I unfairly didn't read the book. I skimmed through it because it was too boring (I'm a sociology major). Then I came here to see if others felt as I had in attempting to read the book.

Each idea or theory presented in the book has merit on its own. But the book as a compilation is flawed. Thank you for your book recommendations.

Thank you for your spot-on review!

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 30, 2011 5:23:05 PM PDT
GirlScoutDad says:
Thanks for your comments; I have to agree: while there is some merit to each chapter, the work as a whole does indeed present itself as a concatenation of "completely disjointed chapters". The book's foreword states that the author wrote a textbook of social psychology and it does lead to the speculation that this is the "for the lay public" re-write of that textbook.

Posted on Nov 10, 2011 5:06:17 PM PST
At the risk of being repetitive, nevertheless I want to offer my thanks for your courageous description of this book. Before I read this (and other) reviews by courageous commentators, I was poised to buy this book based on the representation given it in the "glowing Amazon reviews." I may yet purchase it, but if I do so now, it will be with full knowledge that it is a book of social psychology and not a book about personal transformation.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 11, 2011 11:05:10 AM PST
Tom Terrific says:
You're welcome. I appreciate the kind words.

And I did enjoy the book. I like to read about studies that support or refute self-help theories, be they T. Robbins or Napoleon Hill or Jim Rohn.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 11, 2011 11:05:44 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Nov 11, 2011 11:06:07 AM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 11, 2011 1:38:26 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 11, 2011 1:39:34 PM PST
GirlScoutDad says:
Thanks for your comments; that was exactly my intention, the problem being that - in my view - the marketing misrepresents what is otherwise a serviceable read in social psychology.
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