Self-help software has existed in some form since the earliest days of computer production. The goals of self-help software vary, but the general focus of most is to support change. The best self-help software is generally evidence-based, specific, and can accommodate a variety of different learning styles.
One of the first uses of a home computer was to help with recipe selection to create varied meals. This type of program never really caught on with the general public, probably because the computer needed to perform this function would have taken up the entire kitchen and shuffling recipe cards undoubtedly seemed less complicated. As computers got smaller and the internet became a part of daily life, more practical self-help software began to be developed.
In order for change to be effective, it is important to choose software that is evidence based — that is, software that has been developed using data from relevant research. For example, there are many types of self-help software designed to support weight loss. If the software incorporates diet principles from a commercial dieting site that promotes a fundamentally unhealthy food plan, however, using the software could do more harm than good. A better choice might be to look at software developed through a university-based research program, especially software that focuses on overall healthy choices rather than rapid weight loss.
The same is true for a consumer seeking self-help software as part of a disease management program. A person with arthritis looking for software to help with assessing pain triggers might want to first look at software developed by a national non-profit association specializing in providing arthritis information. This is likely to be more helpful and less biased than software available from a commercial site that is selling a specific arthritis-related product.
In addition to being evidence based, the best self-help software is also specific to the type of help being sought. General goal management software, for example, might be somewhat useful to a person trying to maintain focus on his or her achievements. Software that specifically targets behaviors that keep a person from reaching goals, like procrastination, would likely be even more helpful.
The best self-help software is able to accommodate a variety of learning styles. Early in the change process, a person might need to see progress visually, but might prefer a narrative description later on. Software that provides feedback in multiple ways is more likely to continue to be useful over time.