A question I receive almost daily is whether or not a self-help program can really be of benefit.  Emotional problems, family dysfunction, depression, anxiety and anger problems can feel so overwhelming it is hard to believe you can really experience relief from reading about solutions and then applying them to your daily life. It feels like you must surely need a therapist to do that or to guide you on that path.

My answer is that self help programs and books are wonderful tools and can indeed help you in many areas of your life. They can guide you through the identification of problems or show you how to get the help you need. You can build a skill base, understand an issue, eliminate something negative from your life or add something of value.

Self-help comes in many forms, from paperback books to CD’s and podcasts or webinars to live seminars or retreats. It can run the gamut in price from ten dollars to thousands of dollars.

How to Choose Your Self-Help Tools

  1. Determine what it is you are seeking to eliminate, understand or add to your life. Pick one symptom or problem. For example, if you are feeling depressed start looking for self help items under that category. Things like sleeplessness, fatigue, anxiety and sadness will all be covered under that umbrella term. If you Google them all separately you will be inundated with information. Make sure you Google it under “self-help for depression” to limit the responses.
  2. Understand that sometimes self-help items serve only as a starting point. You may continue on a path to find your answers or solve problems but your initial self-help item points you in the correct direction. It’s Ok and even beneficial to then use other tools, programs or books based on what you have initially learned. You have to start somewhere. No college or educational curriculum is based on one book, why should we expect to fix our whole life with one?
  3. Choose your self-help tool from those based in legitimate research and science. Don’t fall into the trap of the next new thing, especially if your well-being is at stake. For example, there is no scientific research that shows that heating your body up to 100 degrees or more can improve your well-being. On the flip side there is plenty of research that describes the dangers of heat exhaustion, stroke and dehydration. Yet there are those in the self-help world who would have you baking in a mud hut or room and exercising at the same time. Not for me, thank you very much.
  4. Choose your self-help materials from credentialed resources. Life experience stories that are motivational can be great for lifting your mood but understand the difference between those and sel -help programs written or designed by professionals in their field. I like a good mixture of both. We like to hear of others successfully overcoming problems and it motivates us by providing hope.
  5. Depending on your resources and time I believe it also can be beneficial to use self-help materials from professionals who also offer coaching or other methods of direct contact. Individualized or small group programs designed to enhance what you are already reading and learning increase the likelihood of you being able to apply the material to your own needs.
  6. If contact information or emails are given to interact with the creators of your purchase then do so. Don’t be shy to contact them to ask questions or clarify ideas. They are invested in your success. Customer feedback should always be welcomed. I personally will only do business with a company on the internet if phone numbers, contact information and some sort of return policy is in place.
  7. If there are tasks, exercises or questions involved in the program or book that you purchased, do them! The people creating the programs know how to best get you thinking and applying that knowledge to yourself, they are not creating these items to fill space or to be a pest.
  8. Don’t be discouraged or give up if you buy a book or listen to a webinar and feel like you didn’t get much from it or that your problem seems hopeless and there is no one to address it. Take whatever morsel of information you can and continue on your quest. You don’t stop eating because you get a bad meal. If you are suffering from depression this is extremely important as you may be more likely than others to lose hope. You may be tired of trying to help yourself or get help.

In conclusion, I really do believe that self-help can work and is worth the investment. I continue to buy self-help materials in many areas myself and I use them with clients. As a client there is much you can do at home outside of therapy appointments that can move you along toward feeling better faster.


This article by Dr. Sherman originally appeared on PsychCentral.com

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