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 therapy can also be a useful first step if you are unsure whether or not to seek further help. It can be convenient if you don’t want to have face-to-face therapy for cultural or family reasons, or because you can’t get out easily due to health or mobility problems.
If you don’t feel better after trying self-help therapy, or you feel worse, it’s a good idea to talk to your GP.
There are thousands of self-help books in bookshops, libraries and available online. Some are excellent, but many are not.
Check whether a book was written by an accredited counsellor or therapist with lots of experience. Or look for self-help books that have been endorsed by a professional organisation or health professional.
'Overcoming' self-help books
The Royal College of Psychiatrists endorses the Overcoming self-help series. These 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 bookshops and libraries. You can also download them from the Overcoming website.
Online mental health services
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.
The kind of support offered by NHS online mental health services varies. Some allow you to work through a self-help course online with support from a health professional. Others offer live therapy with a therapist via instant messaging or a webcam.
You can also join an anonymous online community where you can meet and interact with other people who have similar mental health problems to you.
You don’t need much experience with computers or technology to use them.
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 finding childcare, and are available during 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 workplaces and charities.
For support over the phone you can phone Breathing Space on 0800 83 85 87 (Monday-Thursday 6pm to 2am, Friday 6pm-Monday 6am).
If you feel you can't go on
If you’re in a crisis and want to speak to someone straight away, call Samaritans (for adults) on 116 123 or ChildLine (for children and young people) on 0800 1111, or the NHS 24 111 service. These are free and available 24 hours a day. You can also call Breathing Space on 0800 83 85 87 (Monday-Thursday 6pm to 2am, Friday 6pm-Monday 6am).