Both counseling and self-help tools can be invaluable in living with mental illness. They can contribute to your recovery.
Over 15 years of illness, I have experienced both. Counseling has been demanding yet deeply rewarding. Self-help has taught me to be loving toward myself and my family.
But how do you know which will work best for you? Are years of trial and error inevitable?
I have had PTSD. Mainly that has meant anxiety and depression, peppered with other annoying and sometimes frightening symptoms. I know how it can feel to be so low you can’t get out of bed for weeks. At times like this, life can seem quite futile. We long for a solution to our problem, a cure for our ills.
How many times have you sought out a cure or at least some short-term relief from the endless pain you’re feeling? Have you, like me, thought: “This time I’m gonna get better. This one had better work.”
Counseling or psychotherapy can be a really effective way of dealing with chronic difficulties and issues. It can seem daunting at first — telling a stranger all your secrets. But, with the unconditional positive regard you are entitled to expect from your counselor, a relationship of trust soon develops.
You can’t expect your counselor to solve your problems for you — that’s your job. What you can expect is to develop a toolkit for managing difficulties and processing issues. I left counseling feeling equipped to deal with life and with my own experiences — a feeling I hadn’t ever really had before.
Self-help can take many forms. It can be books, therapies, exercise, careful diet, time-management, spiritual practice and more. Basically, the essence is that you are learning to nurture and care for yourself. This requires you putting your own needs at the top of your agenda. This can be difficult for many people. We are often taught to put others first. Or, you may have children or someone else to care for.
Central to this shift in attitude is the realization that you can only be yourself if you care for yourself, and that if you can’t care for yourself you can’t effectively care for others. I found this a profoundly liberating shift and it has helped me improve the quality, depth and richness of my experiences and relationships many times over.
So, which one is right for you? Do you want to become better equipped to cope with what life brings you? Or would you like to have a more healthy and loving relationship with yourself and those around you? The truth is, these are areas where counseling and self-help overlap.
The three essential things both can do are:
- Facilitate the acquisition of key skills for life and relationships.
- Encourage the growth of positive feelings such as empathy, compassion and joy.
- Support a program of recovery that encompasses the whole being, and that you manage.
I have reached a stage with my illness now that could be called “remission.” I am coping with life, I have a new husband, good friends, and a job that I’m crazy about. I am so grateful for having my life given back to me after years in the wilderness of mental ill health. Sure, I get difficult days like everyone, but the difference is — I can cope.
I hope you’ve seen from reading this article that your present and your future are in your hands. I also hope you’ve seen that the key to managing your own well-being is to take a holistic approach that encompasses counseling and self-help — they reinforce one another.