Stress, anxiety and depression

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Self-help therapies

Moodzone: Low confidence and assertiveness

Media last reviewed: 02/03/2015

Next review due: 02/03/2017

Why go for self-help?

Self-help therapy has some advantages over professional face-to-face counselling. It’s convenient, cheap and you can do it in your own time and when it suits you.

"Self-help options can be very valuable," says Joyce Walter, a Relate-trained relationships counsellor practising in Tunbridge Wells.

"Self-help books and computer counselling can expand your knowledge and understanding of yourself. And they can be helpful to use while you’re on the waiting list to see a counsellor or during a course of talking therapy. But self-help therapy isn’t usually the complete answer."

Self-help therapy is generally only suitable for people with mild to moderate mental health issues.

Self-help books

There are thousands of self-help books in bookshops, libraries and available online. Some are excellent but many are not. So how do you choose a good one?

Joyce's advice is to check whether a book was written by an accredited counsellor with lots of experience. Look for self-help books that have been endorsed by a professional organisation or health professional:

  • Relate, the biggest couples' counselling agency in the UK, recommends a range of books including After the Affair by Julia Cole and Better Relationships by Sarah Litvinoff (a Relate guide). All the books are available on the Relate website and from bookshops and libraries.
  • The Royal College of Psychiatrists endorses the Overcoming series of self-help books. The books and CDs are based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and cover more than 30 common mental health problems. Titles include Overcoming Anxiety, Overcoming Low Self-Esteem and Overcoming Grief. They are available from the Overcoming website and from bookshops and libraries. They are also available to download.

Health professionals can "prescribe" self-help books, including those recommended by Relate and the Overcoming series, which you borrow from your local library. It’s part of the NHS Books on Prescription scheme. The books will usually be offered alongside other treatment.

NICE (the independent body that produces national guidance on the effectiveness of medical treatments) recommends these books for anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and, sometimes, depression. For more information on Books on Prescription and to find out if it's available in your area, ask your GP or go to the Overcoming website.

Online mental health services

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and other forms of therapy are available on the NHS, but waiting lists to access them can vary quite a lot.

Some online mental health services have been approved for use by the NHS. Research shows that these can be just as effective as face-to-face therapy with a therapist for depression, anxiety and other mental health problems. You’re also likely to experience shorter waiting times to access them.

The kind of support offered by NHS-approved online mental health services varies. Some offer the chance to work through a self-help course with a mental health professional providing support online. Others offer live therapy with a therapist via instant messaging or a video link using webcams.

Or you can join an anonymous online community where you can meet and interact with other people who have similar mental health problems to you.

All of the online services approved for NHS use are backed by strong evidence and offer a flexibility and convenience that may not be possible with face-to-face therapy. You don’t need much experience with computers or technology to use them either.

See some examples of online mental health services available on the NHS.

Phone and email counselling

Phone and email counselling are alternatives to face-to-face therapy. They can be ideal if you’re shy or don't want to meet the therapist, or if you can’t find one in your area. They save travelling time, can avoid the problem of having to find childcare if you have children and are available at evenings and weekends. You can also have three-way conversations for couples therapy.

Phone counselling is just like having a face-to-face session except that you talk to a trained counsellor over the phone.

Phone and email counselling are increasingly being offered by private therapists and sometimes by employers and charities.

  • Relate offers relationship counselling by phone to individuals and couples. Phone the booking line on 0300 100 1234. You can also email a Relate counsellor and get a personal reply. Go to the Relate website for more information. Bear in mind that you will normally be expected to pay a fee. Your Relate Centre or counsellor will let you know the costs of these services.
  • If you’re in a crisis and want to speak to someone straight away, call Samaritans (for adults) on 08457 90 90 90 or ChildLine (for children and young people) on 0800 1111. Both are free, open 24 hours a day and take calls from people who are distressed or anxious for any reason. The call may be a one-off, but you may be able to speak to a particular counsellor regularly by phone.

Page last reviewed: 06/01/2014

Next review due: 06/01/2016


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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

busybody said on 11 August 2015

I've been doing some introspection lately about why I keep ending up depressed. I've found that by writing it out, it helps a bit. Maybe it's just the fact that writing forces you to slow down your thinking, but I found it helped me see what I needed to do to carry on.

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poppy222 said on 31 March 2013

Just listened to the Moodzone Practical Problem Solving - what do you do if you have numerous 'elephants to deal with at the same time and can't just deal with one thing at a time. I feel like I have a lot of things and can't priortise or make decisions very well. My to do lists are pages long,if I was to break them down in smaller steps, I could fill a notepad! Any ideas?

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Media last reviewed: 26/05/2015

Next review due: 26/05/2017