Does Self-Therapy Work? Effectiveness, What You Can Learn, Things To Consider

Updated October 3, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Some people excitedly enter therapy ready to gain inner wholeness, whereas others face reservations. Some people want a step-by-step guide to get them to “internal happiness,” where others may struggle to believe such a step-by-step guide exists. There are also times when barriers to care, like geographical location or low-income status, might make it difficult to access therapeutic resources. This can lead individuals to ask the question, “Does self-therapy work?”

We Often Need Help When It Comes To Tackling Life's Challenges

What Is This Type of Therapy (Self-Therapy)?

Self-therapy is essentially using different therapy techniques without the assistance of a professional. Improvement can often be achieved through using books, computer courses, a step-by-step guide, or free online tools that are available. Self-help methods can help us learn new skills and navigate relationships, life circumstances, and feelings more effectively. In this sense, self-therapy can be effective and helpful in many cases.

Self-therapy isn’t a replacement for sessions with a professional, as there are some pieces of therapy with a professional that can’t be replicated by self-therapy. However, even if you see a therapist, the work and reflection that exists outside of sessions are important to gaining inner wholeness. Self-reflection is something that we innately use with ourselves. That’s where we listen to our thoughts with an open heart, ask for clarity, or even ask questions to understand ourselves better.

Some people might feel they prefer this self-therapy approach to working with a counselor because they have a shortage of time; have difficulty leaving their homes, perhaps for physical or mental wellness reasons; want an approach that’s anonymous; or they have a financial situation that prevents them from having access to therapy. You don’t need to book self-therapy sessions or pay for them. Utilizing self-therapy due to a financial situation makes sense, but there are still options available. Consider looking through a step-by-step guide on how to attend therapy with financial issues.

Effectiveness Of Self-Therapy

The effectiveness of self-help therapy varies. A review of 33 different studies found that self-therapy and treatment do help with anxiety, and in another review of 34 different cases of depression, there were some benefits of this approach, mostly for those who learned cognitive-behavioral techniques.

One of the main goals of cutting-edge psychotherapy CBT treatment instead of self-therapy is for the person to learn skills that they can continue to learn and practice once treatment ends. Those who learn CBT skills on their own can use them on their own to keep feeling happy and healthy as well. Skill-building is typically one of the areas where self-help techniques thrive. You can learn many skills from CBT through a step-by-step guide from your therapist, or by finding a step-by-step guide online.

That said, it is limited. Ideally, self-therapy techniques are used alongside sessions with a therapist, even if you see a provider in the short-term. This is because a professional can give guidance, reassurance, new ideas, and support from an outside perspective. Your therapist can help you with a step-by-step guide to how to get better. They retain the information you tell them, build a sense of trust, and give you a place to sound off on how you feel honestly. You may make realizations in therapy that you wouldn’t make otherwise and access information and tools that you wouldn’t usually be able to.

Traditional Vs. Self-Therapy 

While self-therapy is great for a person to gain inner wholeness, CBT with a therapist can help you make more progress. Self-therapy is usually done with limited help from a professional in some cases, but the addition of the therapist gives that extra boost. The added benefit of working with a therapist offers accountability as well as consistent encouragement. They can simply respond in a way to break down negative thought patterns that a self-help book or computer program cannot. Your treatment will likely be more standardized, clear, and regulated if you are working with a therapist versus working on your own. In addition, if a certain technique is not working for you, a counselor would be able to recommend something that might be a better fit.

It’s much like general physical healthcare; there are some things you can do on your own at home, like brushing your teeth, sleeping, and moving your body. Some things are easily tackled through a step-by-step guide or self-learning. You can buy a book about self-therapy, or even download an app such as the Self Therapy Journey by Jay Earley. Jay Earley was a computer scientist and psychologist whose app is geared towards changing behavior and healing. Those things make an impact on your health and aren’t to be overlooked or downplayed! They can’t replace the role of a doctor or a dentist, however. Even if we need to see medical, dental, or mental health professionals to a varying degree, both professional help and self-help or introspection have a place in time. They both matter, and they very much so work together.

Examples Of Things You Can Learn On Your Own in Self-Therapy

  • Identifying the thought patterns you use
  • Utilizing a step-by-step guide for self-therapy
  • Determining if the thoughts you have are correct
  • Replacing the biased thoughts with realistic ones
  • Discover how your thoughts affect how you act and feel
  • Scheduling activities that allow you to feel accomplished
  • Recognizing that your actions influence your emotions and thoughts
  • Planning ways to make use of your time
  • Breaking down big tasks into smaller ones
  • Facing fears so they go away

Things To Consider With Self-Therapy– Step by Step Guide

Some people may be able to work out the details of self-therapy on their own and may use self-therapy as a way to help supplement their current sessions or support themselves if they're having a rough day. Other cases may need more personal care, which isn't a bad thing. Finding inner wholeness is hard for many people. But, if you're going to guide yourself, there are a few aspects from our self therapy a step-by-step guide that you should consider:

  • The scope of the problem: what you want to work on in self-therapy. Is it a major problem or a small problem? You should think about what you want to achieve and if you can do it on your own.
  • Study it: studying problems allows you to look at issues from a deeper level. You can split the problem into two aspects, the practical and the emotional part, and from there look at the feelings and actions you want to address.
  • Feelings: you should look at how your emotions are impacting your understanding of the problem that you have. If the problem is a behavioral one, you should explore your underlying feelings and how they may be impacting your behaviors.

These are all aspects of self-therapy. If you feel overwhelmed, stuck, or haven’t had professional help in the past that felt like it was of quality or a good fit for you, it may be advantageous to seek out the help of a counselor.

When To See A Therapist Instead Of Self-Therapy

Signs it may be time to see a therapist instead of self-therapy include:

  • Your self-help techniques in self-therapy do not seem to be working or you don’t know where you should be focusing on your own
  • You aren’t finding help from any step-by-step guide or manual
  • You find yourself making excuses rather than changes. Using ifs, ands, or buts often.
  • You have only used self-help or worked individually in the past
  • You feel overwhelmed by life or your emotions
  • You are unable to go to work or school, or your mental state is significantly impacting your performance at work or school
  • You use substances* to cope (such as alcohol or drugs)
  • You struggle with relationships or taking care of children
  • You have changes in sleep or appetite – meaning you sleep or eat too much or too little
  • Your physical wellness has been impacted by your mental wellness
  • Someone who knows you well and loves you has mentioned that they are worried about you or that they think you would benefit from working with a therapist
  • You’ve gone through trauma or a significant life event such as a divorce or a death
  • There is no step-by-step guide that seems to deal with your particular situation
  • You have been hospitalized while trying self-therapy
  • You have suicidal thoughts or ideations**

*Please call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) if you or someone you know is or may be living with a substance use disorder.

**If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideation, please contact the national suicide prevention lifeline at  1-800-273-8255 or go to their website to chat.

We Often Need Help When It Comes To Tackling Life's Challenges

Self-therapy can assist us and support our lives in many ways, but sometimes, having that second person there makes it easier. If you have not had a successful connection with a therapist in the past, another provider may be a better fit. Self-therapy doesn’t have to be the only option. Options like BetterHelp make it easier and faster to find a provider who specializes in the area that you need support in. Opting for help instead of self-therapy doesn’t mean that you’ve “failed" by any stretch. In fact, quite the opposite. The two can work together, and it’s a rewarding practice to engage in both. A therapist is a specialist in this field, after all – no different than if you went to a salon to get your hair done or a mechanic to fix your car. They can offer a step-by-step guide that you might not be able to find elsewhere.

Technology makes it possible to receive help from home. A recent publication looked at several different studies to examine whether CBT was comparable on a computer or smart device versus face to face. The authors found that online CBT was just as effective as in-person CBT and that an online option is likely more appealing for people located in rural communities.

Some of the same hallmarks may be appealing to everyone regardless of location and negate any of the practical drawbacks compared to talking with a counselor.

If you want to learn more about the professionals on the BetterHelp platform and how they can assist you, read the reviews below.

BetterHelp Therapy Reviews

“Sirena Blaesser is a genuinely kind and generous human being. To have her as my counselor has been wonderful so far. She listens carefully, helps you search in yourself with gentleness, encourages you to acknowledge yourself. The most important thing is that she sees you as a person integrally. She is very patient and well prepared to lead you and motivate you. Her expertise and experience are remarkable. If you want a kind voice to help you overcome hardships, I will recommend Sirena.”

Self-Driven Therapy Conclusion

In the end, therapy is always about finding what is right for you. If you’re at a place in your mental health journey where you’re ready for support from a counselor, BetterHelp is here for you.

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