Psychological Self-Help

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But the early data suggest that social support is not always helpful
(although usually it is), that the "supporter" can be drained and the
"supportee" pressured, that many poor people prefer isolation to
exposure to a middle class helper, that relatives (e.g. 20% of the
mothers of young mothers) may be intrusive and bossy, that the best
source of support depends on the problem, that it is not the amount of
support but the nature of the help that counts, and that it may not be
the actual support so much as believing that dependable support is
available if and when it is needed that does the most good. There are
even times that you shouldn't help a friend: when he/she doesn't want
help, when he/she has enough help already (you should especially
avoid interfering with therapy), when he/she is doing something you
consider morally wrong, when he/she asks for but never takes your
advice, and when he/she is using you. 
One study illustrates the complexity of deciding "when will support
help?" Veiel (1993) found that depressed women who had been
hospitalized but were now recovered were harmed by post-hospital
stays at home surrounded by close family support. The more relatives
and fewer friends they had and the more they stayed at home and
didn't work outside the home, the more likely these women were to
become depressed again. It is not clear what caused the detrimental
effects, but we shouldn't conclude that support is always helpful. Note
that similar depressed women discharged from the hospital before full
recovery benefited from family support (as did recovered women who
worked and both recovered and unrecovered men). The important
point is: some friendships and group interactions are harmful. For
instance, groups of depressed people who merely share the misery of
their lives and neglect self-help may prolong each other's depression.
Likewise, there is clear evidence (Dishion, McCord & Poulin, 1999) that
interactions between delinquent adolescents lead to more trouble with
the law, drug use, violence, and even maladjustment as an adult.
Science is slowly discovering when and what kind of "support" is
unhelpful. Just as all therapy may not be helpful, all socializing is not
helpful either. 
What does this mean for self-help? First, don't hesitate to seek
help if you need it. And, don't hesitate to offer help. If a friend of
yours is having a hard time, avoiding him/her is far more often a
mistake than a wise decision. So, reach out and show your friend your
concern, then observe to see if he/she wants your help and in what
ways. You don't think you can help others? There are organizations
that specialize in teaching practical ways of becoming a better helper,
( or Co-Counseling ( .
Both encourage a simple, believable way of helping and being helped,
based on the benefits of expressing strong feelings safely, called
discharging. Second, if the first group or source of help you reach out
to doesn't seem to be beneficial, quickly try another source of help.
Caution: going to a group with much more severe handicaps than you
have, can be traumatic. Another Caution: interacting at length with
people who have habits and attitudes you do not want to acquire is
probably unwise. Thirdly, one group, no matter how good, probably
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