Offices in Garden City and Rockville Centre
(516) 732-0273
Offices in Garden City and Rockville Centre

Is Self-Help Actually Helpful?

by Jan 4, 2019Long Island Therapy

Is Self-Help Actually Helpful?

Tens of thousands of men and women across Long Island have some form of anxiety or depression. Yet the number of people that have received what’s known as “minimally effective treatment” – treatments that research considers to be effective in some form – stands at less than 14% for anxiety and 20% for depression. That number shrinks even lower when we consider just the more effective treatments.

Those may seem like astoundingly low numbers, but part of the problem is that many of those that struggle with mental health conditions rely on quick fixes, scams, placebos, and strategies that have limited success in the research. Most people seek some treatment. But they’re not necessarily seeking the right ones.

What About Self-Help?

Before seeking a Long Island psychologist, most people look for some type of self-help strategy. But is self-help really effective?

“Self-Help” is a fairly broad term. Any strategy that doesn’t require a doctor, therapist, or other third party could be deemed a self-help technique. But self-help can usually be broken down into three groups:

  • Pure Fiction – These are the self-help techniques that are based on no science and have no likelihood of success. Many strategies, like homeopathic medicine, fall under this category.
  • Independent Self-Help – These are strategies that could, in theory, be effective that a person does solely on their own, such as meditation or a self-help book.
  • Guided Self-Help – Self-help techniques that have some or minimal contact with a third party, or use a computer with pre-programmed assistance to act like a third party.

For the purposes of this examination, we’ll ignore the clearly fictional self-help techniques. But there is some potential in the idea of independent or guided self-help.

Can Self-Help Be Effective?

Research into self-help shows promise, but brings up mixed results. Complicating the analysis is that there are different self-help techniques. But what the research found is interesting:

  • Independent self-help success rates is almost entirely reliant on the motivation of the person and their ability to maintain that motivation.
  • Guided self-help can be more effective, especially in the short term. In the long term, it’s not clear if the guided techniques can maintain their value.
  • Success in all types benefits less severe forms of the condition. For more serious clinical depression and anxiety, self-help techniques may be less effective.

The results of the research make some cognitive sense. It’s possible for a highly motivated and energized person to overcome anxiety and depression with self-help, however:

  • Therapy offers more opportunity to learn, grow, and be guided towards recovery.
  • Therapy offers accountability, which increases success rates.
  • Therapy is able to identify those that may have setbacks before and while they occur.

Self-help is thus a useful tool, but it depends largely on a person’s long term ability to keep up what they’ve learned. For more long lasting changes, it may help to see a trained psychologist on Long Island that can be there more during the recovery stages.

Research References

Newman, Michelle G., et al. “A review of technology-assisted self-help and minimal contact therapies for anxiety and depression: is human contact necessary for therapeutic efficacy?.” Clinical psychology review 31.1 (2011): 89-103.

Furmark, Tomas, et al. “Guided and unguided self-help for social anxiety disorder: randomised controlled trial.” The British Journal of Psychiatry 195.5 (2009): 440-447.

Contact Long Island Psychology Today

If you have any questions about individual, group, or couples therapy (marriage counseling) or about working with a psychologist/therapist please do not hesitate to call.

With offices in Garden City and Rockville Centre, NY, we’re available for anyone that needs help on Long Island and in Nassau County.


(516) 732-0273

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