You’re busy, you find therapy expensive, and you’d much rather just figure it out yourself. Is that a good idea?
From reading self-help books to using online forums, there is a lot of great information available these days if you want to gain control over your emotions and feel better. The NHS even now offers patients with mild depression a self-guided online program instead of face-to-face therapy.
But if it was that easy to feel better, then how come you don’t? And why would so many people still suffer from anxiety, depression, and mental health disorders?
You bought a stack of self-help books, joined a membership site for people with anxiety, you’ve got this!
Except you don’t. The books are partially read then abandoned, and even if you read what people suggest in the online group, your best intentions to take the advice don’t happen.
Why is this?
Anxiety, depression, and stress affect our capacity to think clearly and stay organised. If we weren't 'the organised type' to begin with, then we just can't keep on top of things.
This is why so many people choose therapy. It's a commitment that means each week you really do work on yourself. Better yet, it means someone is holding you accountable.
We live in a modern world full of amazing scientific advancements. Sadly, one thing has not advanced quite so fast - the human brain.
Our brains are still encoded with caveman-like survival responses, such as the ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response, and coping mechanisms.
If you experienced childhood trauma, you might have taught yourself to float away (dissociate) or just not think about what you were experiencing (denial). As a child this helped you cope.
But the trouble is that as an adult, your brain is still using these coping mechanisms.
A self-help book bringing up past experiences might seem a positive to you consciously, but your unconscious sees it as a threat. Next thing you know, you deny you need to change and go zone out in front of the television. Nothing changes.
A therapist can help you understand these coping mechanisms, and help you work around them. And again, he or she keeps you accountable.
Ever found yourself saying, “It’s like my life is stuck on repeat!”, or “It was the same thing all over again?!”.
The problem with many mental health issues is that they are not as related to current situations as they seem.
If your issue really is connected to the present, such as the stress of losing your job, then self- help often works just fine. A book on getting over redundancy will do the trick.
But if your life has been a series of losses- say, for example, you lost a parent or sibling at a young age - losing your job might knock you sideways. No matter what self-help you try, you can't stop yourself from pushing people away and refusing other job offers.
Your pattern of sabotaging behaviour, which you have been acting out since young, is more powerful than any conscious decision to do things differently.
When we are in our pattern we can't, as they say, see the wood for the trees. A therapist gives you that much needed bigger picture and throw you a rope. You can finally recognise the roots of your issues and change the pattern.
This can be the dark side of self-help. We blame ourselves if it doesn't work out, then end up feeling worse than when we started out.
It's not your fault if you are struggling in life. You just happened to have had difficult experiences. You are probably doing your best, given the circumstances.
Does it feel good to read that, to know that someone understands and doesn't judge you? That is what a good therapist offers - the empathy and support to help you gain back your self-esteem.
If you really were stable and happy before a recent life change or challenge, self-help might be all you need.
But for most of us, life is a bit more complicated. Going it alone can be a long, lonely road. We might see progress, but it takes ten years to achieve what we could do in two, with the right support.
Why make this an either-or situation? The best scenario is actually both. You can see a therapist and do self-help. You can even share what self-help books or programs you are doing with your therapist, who can work it into your process forward.