Mental health has taken a place alongside physical health as an important component of a happy and fulfilling life. Many individuals, however, may have reservations or other reasons that preclude professional help. Self-help therapy has emerged as a viable alternative, and it often includes components of actual professional therapy methods. Approaches include informal counseling and group counseling sessions, while educational materials present another pathway to self-improvement.
In general, self-help therapy is any type of counseling or mental health exercise that is not supervised directly by a trained professional. Before seeking help, an individual must recognize that the help is needed. This may arrive in a sudden epiphany, during a period of intense reflection, or with the assistance of others who recognize that a problem exists. While recognition may sometimes equip a person with the clarity and drive to make life changes, usually some sort of therapy — self-help or traditional — is needed.
The most basic kind of self-help therapy simply involves talking through a problem. Individuals may confide in a family member, a close friend, or a spiritual advisor. Telephone hotlines are also available in which trained volunteers advise and counsel individuals about general or specific problems.
While group counseling therapy is often overseen by a professional, seeking out and attending these meetings is the responsibility of the individual. In these informal settings, individuals who are experiencing similar challenges gather and discuss these issues. The atmosphere is one of empathy and support, and individuals can learn different coping strategies. Alcoholics Anonymous is one such example. Anonymity and organized self-improvement steps are often part of these processes.
A more individualized type of self-help therapy can be achieved with the aid of educational materials. Many mental health professionals write self-help books that target areas for self-improvement. This publicly-accessible advice can also come in the form of videos, audio tapes or files, or online materials. Often, these materials will contain exercises or techniques such as relaxation and imagery that have been used in professional settings.
Certain overall professional therapeutic approaches can also be used in self-help therapy. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common therapeutic model for the treatment of conditions like anxiety disorders. This therapy involves eliminating negative thought patterns, curbing undesirable behaviors, and facing fears through proactive steps.
CBT self-help might thus constitute keeping a journal where an individual lists any troubling thoughts. Then, the individual would challenge these negative ideas with positive ones, thereby fulfilling the cognitive aspect of the therapy. Behavioral approaches that an individual might try include forcibly depriving himself or herself of a negative object or action such as cigarettes. Another behavioral self-help approach could involve physically confronting a feared object or situation.