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What Are the Different Types of Self-Help Systems?

By D. Nelson
Updated Jan 28, 2024
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Self-help systems are methods that individuals can use to improve mental health or to develop confidence and improve their lives. Some of the most common types of self-help systems are the Abraham Low self-help system for individuals who suffer from mental illness and tools and resources that people can use to lead healthier and happier lives. These systems can be conducted in supervised mental health facilities, though they also can be used by individuals in their own homes and on schedules that work well for them.

According to many experts, Abraham Low was one of the first proponents of self-help systems and an originator in the self-help movement. His ideas were based on the concept that mental health patients might benefit more from acting as participants in their treatments as opposed to being subjects of psychoanalysis. He proposed that individuals join groups with other individuals who have similar problems, where members of a group help others to realize their moments of weakness and to develop strategies for success. While a goal of Abraham Low's self-help systems was to make patients more self-reliant, he also believed that health professionals should communicate with group members and at times even supervise meetings.

It is not true, however, that self-help systems are used only by individuals who have mental health issues. People who are quite functional also can benefit from using self-help tools. Individuals who deal with losses in their families, for example, can join support groups. This allows them to discuss feelings with others who may be having similar experiences.

Books, audio recordings, and videos also can serve as self-help systems. For example, a person who fears that he or she is falling behind in his or her career might purchase a book about discovering hidden or repressed talents. Another person might benefit from audio recordings that help him or her to become more assertive in the workplace.

Individuals interested in finding the most effective self-help systems might determine where they are in their lives and what kind of assistance they need. An individual who has been under the care and supervision of health professionals for many years, for instance, should consult a trained professional who can recommend groups or other resources. A person who lives independently, on the other hand, and who simply wants some pointers to improve his or her life might read book reviews and ask friends for recommendations. Regardless of which self-help systems you choose to use, it is important to remember that progress often isn't immediate.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By JaneAir — On Nov 25, 2011

I think if you're going to try self-help for any issues, you should try a few different kinds of systems. For example, some people might be perfectly happy just reading a book or listening to self help tapes and implementing the strategies on their own. However, other people might do better in a group setting.

There's only one way to find out which system will work better for you: try them!

By Azuza — On Nov 25, 2011

@strawCake - I think it depends on how bad your mental health problem is. If it's adversely affecting your daily life, I would say seek professional help. But if you only have a minor problem, I don't see the harm in trying a self-help method first!

Anyway, I think twelve step programs are one of the best examples of free self help programs. There are twelve step programs for a lot of different issues, like substance abuse or gambling addiction. You can find these meeting in pretty much every area, too! I've had some friends that have had some success with addiction with the help of these meetings.

By strawCake — On Nov 24, 2011

I've actually benefits from anxiety self help in the past. However, I used it in conjunction with therapy. I think something like this is the best approach for mental health issues: therapy and self help. I think it could be dangerous to simply try and treat a mental health issue on your own.

Anyway, I went to therapy once a week for awhile. While I was in therapy, my therapist suggested a few self help books for me to read. She had suggested the same books to some of her other patients with good success in the past.

The books had self help tactics, like breathing exercises and other way to cope with panic attacks. I felt a lot more empowered by trying to help myself instead of just unloading everything on my therapist!

By lighth0se33 — On Nov 24, 2011

Does anyone know if treating yourself for depression could be dangerous? I have had many of the symptoms of clinical depression for three months now, and I would like to try self help before investing in pricey psychiatric treatment.

However, I have heard that depression can be physically dangerous to a person’s health. I haven’t been contemplating suicide or anything, but I have been feeling very sluggish, weak, and deeply sad.

I want to start by buying a self help book and seeing if I can read my way out of this slump. I just don’t know whether I should see a doctor first, because I’m afraid that my physical health could be affected.

By Oceana — On Nov 23, 2011

Self help books can help you out a lot once you have targeted your problem. I had been depressed for quite some time, and I figured out that my social anxiety was causing me loneliness. I got a self help book on how to cope with anxiety and shyness, and it did wonders for me.

I knew what my problem was, but I had no idea how to conquer it. By doing some of the things that the book suggested, I made strides toward a happier life.

In addition to recommendations for correcting my problem, the book provided new ways of thinking. I got a new outlook on life, and if I had never read this book, I probably would have remained stuck in my old mindset.

By shell4life — On Nov 22, 2011

@seag47 - I’m sure this is true for some people, but I have known a few people who tended to wander aimlessly through life that benefited a great deal from self help groups. Being surrounded by others in the same boat gave them the strength to carry on and prosper.

My brother joined a support group to help him deal with his divorce. He said that the group leader offered really great advice, and those who followed it saw a lot of personal improvement.

He told me that without the group, he would have been stuck inside a dark place with no hope. They gave him the motivation to start his life fresh.

By seag47 — On Nov 21, 2011

It takes a really motivated person to benefit from self-help systems. If a person finds it hard to stick to projects, they might benefit more from one-on-one visits to a therapist.

After my neighbor died, her daughter tried going to self help meetings. Though she said being around other people who were experiencing grief made her feel not so alone, she just could not find it within herself to do the things that the group leader suggested. She ended up dropping out of the group because she felt like life had lost its purpose.

She started seeing a psychiatrist, and he was able to get through to her. I think that because the focus of the sessions was fully on her and her specific situation, she got a lot more out of it.

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