I review some older work on the effective potentials of quantum field theories, in particular the use of anomalous symmetries to constrain the form of the effective potential, and the background field method for evaluating it perturbatively. Similar techniques have recently been used to great success in studying the effective superpotentials of supersymmetric gauge theories, and one of my motivations is to present some of the older work on non-supersymmetric theories to a new audience. The Gross-Neveu model exhibits the essential features of the techniques. In particular, we see how rewriting the Lagrangian in terms of an appropriate composite background field and performing a perturbative loop expansion gives non-perturbative information about the vacuum of the theory (the fermion condensate). The effective potential for QED in a constant electromagnetic background field strength is derived, and compared to the analogous calculation in non-Abelian Yang-Mills theory. The Yang-Mills effective potential shows that the ``perturbative'' vacuum of Yang-Mills theory is unstable, and the true vacuum has a non-trivial gauge field background. Finally, I describe how some of the limitations seen in the non-supersymmetric theories are removed by supersymmetry, which allows for exact computation of the effective superpotential in many cases.