Self-therapy could offer accessible and effective ways to develop tools for healing. It isn’t a replacement for formal psychotherapy, though.
Self-directed mental health interventions are more common than you might think. Many people use apps, books, and other self-help strategies to find their way to better mental health. This is sometimes referred to as self-therapy.
But is being your own therapist effective? And most importantly, is it safe and recommended?
Self-therapy isn’t a formal type of psychotherapy. Instead, it may be better thought of as the use of self-help strategies for mental well-being purposes.
Being your own therapist is about taking command to develop and implement the skills necessary to better anticipate and manage mental health challenges.
In other words, self-therapy is an informal psychological intervention delivered by yourself to yourself, without the input of a trained psychotherapist.
Even though the term “self-therapy” is used in many spaces, it might be misleading for some.
Formal mental health therapy, or psychotherapy, is based on the professional-client relationship. This relationship is essential to the therapeutic process, and it’s of course lacking in self-directed interventions.
In this sense, what we call self-therapy isn’t equal to or a replacement for psychotherapy. However, it could be a great complement to professional support.
Self-help, self-therapy, or self-directed therapy can include the use of different tools and strategies. These resources may help you explore thoughts and emotions, develop coping skills, and boost your emotional health.
Writing about your thoughts, emotions, and experiences can help you identify thinking and behavioral patterns and challenges. This awareness is an essential step to working on your mental health on your own.
If pouring your thoughts and feelings onto a blank page feels challenging, consider using journal prompts.
2. Self-help books
Learning from other people’s experiences and expertise can support your self-help journey.
Depending on the challenges you’d like to focus on, you can find many print and digital books and handbooks that can offer you actionable tips or food for thought.
You can find self-help books on topics such as motivation and inspiration. You could also read books on specific therapeutic techniques associated with psychotherapy approaches, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy.
These two psychotherapy approaches are often effective for:
The World Health Organization (WHO) also offers a
3. Guided courses
Self-help doesn’t mean you have to do it all by yourself. You could learn more about therapeutic techniques and mental health tools by signing up for an in-person or online course.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness also offers a resource directory for mental health education.
4. Phone apps
If you’ve ever downloaded a habit tracker, a meditation program, or even a relaxation game on your phone, then you’ve already used a self-help digital tool.
Self-help apps can include general resources like self-assessments, worksheets, or courses.
You can also find mental health apps for specific challenges like:
Ultimately, whether self-directed therapy is effective or not likely depends on your unique challenges and symptoms, as well as other resources at hand and the tools you’re using.
Research on the topic of self-therapy has shown that it can be beneficial for managing some mental health symptoms and challenges.
After reviewing the data from 13 studies and more than 3,800 participants, the researchers found that roughly 5 to 11 sessions of iCBT were indeed enough for participants to report a significant reduction in their depression symptoms.
These studies may indicate that using self-therapy can be beneficial for certain mental health conditions.
However, general research on the topic is lacking, which makes it difficult to determine how effective it is, according to a
Maybe you’ve been in therapy for years and are considering continuing the healing process on your own. Perhaps you feel ready to move forward but would like to keep yourself on track.
Whatever the case may be, it’s a good idea to consider these questions before saying goodbye to your therapist:
- Maybe you haven’t been making the progress you’ve hoped for. Would switching therapists be beneficial before you go off on your own?
- How do you feel about gradually reducing how often you go to your therapy sessions before going with self-therapy only?
- Can your therapist recommend some self-help tools that can make self-therapy easier for you?
- Are you aware of the skills you’ve developed in therapy and know how to use them on your own?
- Do you have a mental health condition that may require or benefit from ongoing professional guidance?
Only you can make the decision whether to stay in therapy. These types of questions are a great place to start if you’re considering leaving the guidance of a professional to become your own therapist.
It may also help to learn more about your condition if you’re living with one. For example, untreated depression can lead to significant side effects. Having the ongoing support of a professional is essential in cases like this.
Self-help can be an incredibly positive experience for some people. If you’ve been considering it, here are three reasons why it might work for you.
1. It’s accessible and affordable
Despite the many advances that we’ve made when it comes to mental health care, a handful of barriers may still prevent some people from accessing needed services, according to a
Self-therapy tools can provide access to therapy when you might not otherwise be able to. You can also have more control over how much and how often you spend on these resources, particularly if you can’t afford traditional therapy at the moment.
2. You don’t have to work around anyone else’s availability
Availability is one of the most common barriers to accessing mental health services, especially for people with busy schedules.
Self-therapy depends entirely on your schedule and availability. You can decide whether you spend a few hours or a few days every week on your therapeutic process.
You can also split up your “sessions” to better suit your schedule. For example, you can spend some time in the morning working on yourself, then go back to it before bedtime.
3. You have more flexibility
Most mental health professionals and programs use specific techniques based on one approach. This is a great resource because you’re working with someone who specializes in their craft.
Self-therapy, on the other hand, may allow you to use a wider range of tools and techniques from different psychotherapy approaches and theories. You can also change gears if you feel some of your efforts aren’t providing you with the insight or motivation you need.
In other words, with self-therapy, you’re not bound to one approach or technique.
Self-therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Self-help tools can be a great resource, but sometimes they may not be enough to support your healing process.
1. You may benefit more from professional support
Although research suggests self-therapy may be effective in some cases, you may still need an expert to walk you through specific challenges.
For example, you may be able to develop coping skills for anxiety on your own, but if you live with panic attacks, you may still need professional support.
Besides symptom management, you may also need a therapist to help you explore the causes of your symptoms. This could lead to long-term benefits.
2. You may not be the right person to diagnose your condition
Mental health management often starts with the right diagnosis. If you’re living with a mental health condition, only a trained professional can provide an accurate diagnosis.
Working on your own without a formal mental health education may lead you to oversee or misunderstand important aspects of your current challenges. As a result, it could limit or stop your progress in addressing those challenges.
3. You might make more progress with more accountability
Having a partner in health may also help with accountability and catharsis (emotional release). Having someone you can openly talk with and who can help you track your progress may be beneficial.
If you’re experiencing intense symptoms that are making it difficult for you to relate to yourself and others, consider seeking the help of a trained mental health professional.
Some research suggests self-therapy can be a valuable tool for people with mild to moderate symptoms of stress, depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges.
But being your own therapist isn’t the first choice of intervention for all cases. It could certainly be a complementary effort.
At the end of the day, self-help interventions are a highly personal choice. It’s important to remember that while self-help may not hurt you, it could fall short when providing you with all the tools and resources you may need to heal.