If you’ve ever perused the self-help section of your local bookstore, then you know that psychological wellness is big business. In fact, many of today’s best-selling authors are writing about happiness. Broadly speaking, this is good news for our high-stress, constantly busy culture; a lot of people are unhappy with their jobs or stuck in behavioral ruts. For those with mental health issues, though, self-help may not always be enough.
Before diving into a pile of self-help books, it’s important to take some time to evaluate your needs and learn more about the different types of mental health treatment available. Almost everyone can benefit from counseling, even if only in the short-term, but getting what you need starts with knowing your options.
The Science Of Self-Help
One reason there are so many self-help books on the market is that they don’t require a lot of scientific backing. Anyone can write them and many of these programs lack evidence that they work. Some are remarkably useful, though, and you can’t write them all off without doing your homework.
If you’re perusing a self-help book and the claims sounds interesting to you, look into it. Find out who wrote the book, what their background is, and if there has been independent research done comparing their approach to other types of therapy. Dr. Srini Pillay recommends using the REST (Research, Expertise, Self-applicable, Trustworthy) framework to guide your evaluation. This approach asks if the claim is based on quality research, what expertise the writer or adviser has, how applicable the advice is to you and your circumstances, and how trustworthy the advice is. Often the self-help programs that get the most hype are the least trustworthy under this model.
Generally speaking, self-help is only appropriate for people dealing with mild life challenges. While great self-help books can supplement traditional therapy for those with significant mental illness, such approaches are rarely enough on their own.
Thinking Through Therapy
If you thought there were a lot of self-help books on the market, you may be overwhelmed to discover that the therapy world is similarly crowded. That’s because, while most therapists can handle general problems like anxiety or depression, there’s also a lot of specialization, as well as many different therapeutic approaches. If you’re considering therapy, then, one of the first things you should do is evaluate your own needs – what problems do you want to address? Most practices describe their specialty areas on their websites. Individual therapists will also describe the scope of their practice.
Once you know what types of problems you hope to address by going to therapy, then it’s time to decide what style of therapy you’re interested in pursuing. Most therapists are trained in a few different modalities, and they will also outline these on their profile. Popular approaches include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on changing harmful thought patterns; dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which combines CBTs emphasis on thought patterns with mindfulness practices designed to increase distress tolerance; EMDR, which is primarily used in trauma counseling; and family therapy, which focuses on interpersonal issues within the family unit.
Finding A Balance
Clearly there are a lot of options when it comes to addressing your mental health needs, and so far we’ve just scratched the surface. In fact, many people now rely on middle-ground modalities, such as digital mental health programs that are based on CBT or other proven therapeutic modalities. Some are also “seeing” therapists via video or text chat through a variety of apps, though most find that this isn’t as helpful as seeing a therapist in-person over the long-term. You also don’t typically get to choose your therapist when you use these programs, though you can switch if you find the one you’ve been assigned isn’t helpful.
Self-help and digital therapy modalities may be able to help you with your time management or mild anxiety, but for those with more complex needs, it’s worth heading in to see an actual counselor. If a less-intensive process is right for you, they can point you in the direction of books or other materials that will meet your needs.