What is Self-Help?

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  • Written By: Allison Boelcke
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2019
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Self-help is a broad term that refers to improving mental health or personal wellness without extensive professional help. It can be used for a variety of issues from simple lifestyle tasks from overcoming procrastination to dealing with stress. People who engage in self-help may use minimal guidance from books, brochures, or seminars to help them asses their issues, discover solutions, and come up with action plans.

Although improvement methods can vary, they often begin with a person realizing that he or she has a problem. Once a problem is realized, it is important that the person take responsibility for the problem and not blame others in order to continue toward improvement. Most of these methods believe that many people are in denial which keeps them from being able to improve themselves.

The next step of most programs is for a person to pay attention to his or her problems and the nature behind those problems. He or she is generally instructed to not externalize issues or make automatic assumptions. Instead, most methods require a person to observe the motivating factors behind his or her actions for a period of time before coming up with improvement goals to work toward.


After deciding what behaviors need to be changed, a person will typically seek guidance from a self-help source, such as a book or seminar, particular to his or her problem. Self-help methods generally vary depending on the issue that a person wants to address. For instance, a student who has a problem with procrastinating may refer to a brochure from an academic counselor, while someone who has an stress management problem may choose a book written by a professional.

Many self-help materials offer customized tips from professionals to help guide a person. Although the approach can depend on an author or speaker’s approach, a person will generally be advised to follow guidelines and then measure his or her progress in a written manner in order to keep the original problem in mind and keep on task. Progress measurement is also often used as a way to observe how much change has been made and to manage the length of the improvement method.

Advocates believe the method is personally empowering because it helps a person feel in control of his or her own actions. It is also promoted as more emotionally satisfying than following a psychologist’s improvement plan. Supporters believe that it can work better than traditional psychotherapy in some cases because it is personally customized by a person to fit his or her individual strengths and weaknesses and that it helps a person make more objective lifestyle choices in the long run.

Self-help is not recommended for all mental health or wellness issues. It is generally intended for people who have enough objectivity and self-awareness to honestly assess their problems. If a person is in denial about a problem or doesn’t have the motivation to change, the method will not be effective.

Many mental health disorders must use psychotherapy and medication to be treated. Conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia must be treated with medication and professional guidance. Severe depression and eating disorders are also not recommended for self-help treatment.


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Post 3

@croydon - That's one of the reasons I think true self-care is so important. If you get to know yourself and get to know your own problems you might not know how to fix them, but you will know when they need to be fixed and whether or not a method is working.

It's very easy for emotionally vulnerable people to be taken in by frauds and unfortunately the only defense they have against this is to be vigilant.

Post 2

@Ana1234 - Unfortunately, I think that it's difficult for people to really figure out the best thing to do for themselves even with professional help. My sister has had to see quite a few mental health professionals over the years and every one of them seemed to have a different theory on how to help her and why she suffers from mania and depression in the first place.

And it's even worse if you look at all the self-help gurus and experts out there. It's impossible to know what's best for someone when everyone has a different opinion on where to start.

Post 1

I strongly believe in self-help and think that a lot of problems can be solved by people being willing to be honest with themselves and to put in hard work resolving their own issues.

But I also think there comes a point where an outside voice is needed as well. I had a very traumatic childhood and it took a lot of healing to become confident as an adult. But I didn't really relax and start to feel good about myself until I started seeing a counselor regularly and really got to dig into my problems.

It can also be good to talk to friends, but if you have a lot of deep problems that can put an awful burden on them if they are the only one you're talking to. A professional will be able to carry that burden without suffering because that's what they've trained to do.

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