Self-help programs can range from intense (and dangerous) experiences like a sweat lodge to more conventional talk therapy. If you've ever been curious about checking one out, Scientific American breaks down what to look for to make sure a program isn't completely bogus.
Photo by Richard Gillin
Self-help programs and books rarely have any type of scientific verification, often prey on people susceptible to peer pressure, and rarely stand up to much scrutiny, but they're still incredibly popular. Scientific American suggests you look for a couple of simple features to find ones worth explorng:
What, then, are the critical elements of good self-help programs? First, overcoming depression, anxiety, addictions or other disorders typically requires learning new coping skills over many months or years, not in a matter of days or weeks. This is why successful forms of self-help prepare one for a long period of self-improvement and why groups like AA suggest long-term attendance. Intense, one-time experiences typically do not provide the ongoing support needed for lasting change.
Second, good programs have independent data showing their effectiveness, not just anecdotes, and they are generally adapted from techniques shown to work in more conventional therapy administered by professionals. If there is no published literature supporting a program -- no matter how popular it may be -- that is a red flag...
Ultimately, of course, looking for a signature on a safety pledge is no substitute for doing your homework, checking out scientific claims and maintaining a healthy dose of scepticism. Realising that anyone's instinct for self-preservation can, under the right conditions, simply be erased should go a long way toward keeping you from harm.
It seems straightforward enough, but we're all susceptible to a little manipulation if we're not careful.
How to Protect Yourself against Bad Self-Help [Scientific American]