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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Internet review From: Health Education, Volume 111, Issue 3
This review is being written at the beginning of the New Year. The newspapers are full of articles on how to lose weight, give up smoking, destress yourself and generally help yourself to a better life. The self-help industry is worth something like $11bn per annum, and a significant portion of this is down to paper publications, magazines, books (2,000 self-help books published annually), and there are the numerous DVDs produced by Jane Fonda and all her emulators. Then there is the internet. A simple Google search for “self-help web sites” produces over 11 million hits, so there is obviously no shortage of sources. Of course this includes a whole host of websites that are not relevant in this review – legal self-help for example – but even when the search is restricted to health related self-help websites, there are still nearly eight million to choose from. In this review we will focus on self-help websites that, arguably, offer advice on the most important health topics currently.
Self-Help UK: www.self-help.org.uk/
Self-Help UK does not actually offer any self-help, but what it does have is a database of over 1,000 UK-based self-help organisations and their associated websites. The website is owned by Intuition Communication, which describes Self-Help UK as a “free and non profit making site which we have developed to provide a resource for patients, carers and their relatives”. It may be non profit making but the website is obviously funded in part by the many advertisements that adorn the it. Fortunately, with a few exceptions, most of the advertisements are health-related, so they are not too distracting.
The key to this website is the search facility, which allows users to search for self-help advice by organisation name, category, (of which there are 75 ranging from Addictions through to Women’s Health), or by keyword. Whatever search category is chosen by the user, the results are impressive, with dozens of links to relevant websites being returned. Obviously by refining the search the user can limit the number of returns making the choice of website to look at that much easier. Another feature that helps the user find the most relevant website is the brief review of each link that is returned. These may be only a few sentences long but they do provide that little bit more information that facilitates choice.
The main criticism that could be aimed at this website is that not all the links provided are actually for what we would recognise as a self-help website. For example, if a user searches for AIDS-related websites, the first one to be returned is AIDS Care Education and Training, but this website does not provide any self-help resources itself; rather, it acts as a gateway to search the intenet for AIDS-related resources. While this might be useful it probably is not what the user was expecting.
This is an attractive looking website that has been developed by a PR company, Think Inc., and has recently been redesigned and relaunched. This is a commercial website whose primary aim seems to be to sell books, remedies and other products that may or may not help with stress. A book on Restful Yoga might be helpful, but an expresso coffee machine and a cuddly pink pig are stretching things somewhat.
The content of this website is conventional, with a list of stress-related topics on the left of the screen. These include Workplace Stress, Homelife, Money and Debt, Sex and Relationships and there is even (a rather limited) section on Midlife stress. Clicking on these links presents the user with what can only be described as snippets of relevant information. These are very brief aricles apparently written by clinicians, “agony aunts”, or sometimes simply journalists. The articles are written in a way that makes the content easily accessible and user-friendly. Each article gives details of the author which is useful,and they also have a clever voting system based on five stars so that readers can let other readers know what they thought of the piece.
The website had a link to Stressbusting Videos but at the time of writing it appears there were not any available.
Finally, as with all stressbusting websites, there is of course a test you can take to assess your level of stress. This is a very simple quiz rather than a psychometric instrument, so the results produced should be taken with a very large pinch of salt! The results of the test can range rom “You are very laid back”, at one extreme, through to “Seek medical help urgently” at the other; neither of which are particularly useful. The test does not ask for any demographic information – i.e. age, gender, occupation, medical conditions, etc. – and so any conclusions reached must be very limited. It would be far better if the test could provide tailored advice to suit the individual, then the information would be useful for self-help guidance.
Counselling Directory: www.counselling-directory.org.uk/
For people who feel they may benefit from counselling then this website is an excellent resource. Although not strictly a self-help site it does provide a great deal of information on the types of problems that counselling can help. These include Abuse in all its forms, Relationship problems, Personality disorders, Anger Management, Trauma, and even Work Related issues. Each of the problems is described in some detail including symptoms and different treatment possibilities. Given the range of different therapies that are on offer, the website provides a useful guide to the different forms of therapy that are available. The section on psychological therapies explains the difference between the various forms of behavioural therapies as well as describing the fundamentals of psychodynamic and psychoanalytical therapies. Humanist approaches are not left out, and person-centred approaches, Gestalt therapy and transactional analysis all get a mention. There is not a terrific amount of detail given, but it is sufficient for the lay person to get a basic understanding of what the different therapies entail.
Although the website provides useful information on types of distress that can be helped, as well as the different types of counselling, what it does not do very well is put these two together. For a person who knows they have a problem but does not know which therapeutic approach would suit them best, this website will be something of a disappointment. It would be good if a person could identify the “best” therapy for their particular problem from the information provided. Unfortunately,and this is probably due to the inherent nature of counselling, it is not possible to do this. Occasionally, when describing a particular problem, the website does suggest a particular form of therapy that might be useful, but this seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
Probably the best feature of this website is the Directory itself. Here the user can search for a therapist near where they live. As a minimum users have to enter their postcode, but they can also enter details of their problem, their preferred form of therapy, and even whether they want face to face or online counselling. The search engine will then produce details of individual counsellors, with contact details, the range of problems they can deal with, the types of counselling offered and the fees that will be charged. If need be, users can also enter keywords to help with the search. For example if it was important that the therapist was a male, then this could be entered into the search and only male therapists will be returned. This Directory and search facility is a really excellent feature of this website; it is easy to use and never fails to return relevant findings.
This website has been produced by the National Health service in the UK and is a really good example of what the internet can offer in terms of self-help websites. It is packed with interactive content, quizzes, video clips and other resources to help smokers finally quit. Interestingly, although there is some information on the health benefits of quitting smoking, it does not dwell on this. The message the website tries to get over is aimed more at the positive benefits of quitting. How much better you will feel, how your life will improve, how much better your home will smell, and with the help of a cost calculator, how much money you will save.
For people who are addicted to nicotine, they probably need more help than can be provided by a website and therefore more tangible support is also provided. Users can find details of where they can pick up a free QuitKit, which is packed with practical tools and advice, including nicotine patches. Users can also download “stress-busting” MP3 tracks to help stay calm and focused when the cravings become too much. Users can even download a Quit App for their iPhone or a Widget for their personal computer, both of which will help quitting a little bit easier.
There is a great deal more to this website, and whether you are a smoker who wants to give up or a health education professional who wants to see a good example of a self-help website, it is well worth a few minutes of your time.