An important first step in overcoming a psychological problem is to learn more about it, otherwise known as “psychoeducation.”
Learning and understanding about the problem can give you the comfort of knowing that you’re not alone and that others have found helpful strategies to overcome it. Those strategies and plans might work for you, with smaller or bigger changes. You may even find it helpful for family members and friends to learn more about your problem as well. Some people find that just having a better understanding of their problems is a huge step towards recovery.
For example, an individual suffering from frequent panic attacks would begin by learning what a panic attack is. In learning about panic, one would discover that although a panic attack is a very traumatic and uncomfortable experience, it’s temporary and not dangerous.
A cognitive-behavioral therapist is able to provide helpful information on your particular problem, but you can also find information on your own through reputable sources at bookstores and on the Internet. Also, the therapist might indicate good and appropriate sources of information for you, alonside with the therapy.
Psychoeducation is a vital first step, but it’s important to remember that this is only one part of a complete treatment plan.
Self-help therapy has some advantages over professional direct, face-to-face counseling. It’s convenient, cheap and can be done when your schedule will allow it.
“Self-help options can be very valuable,” says Joyce Walter, a trained relationships counselor who practices in Wells, UK.
“Self-help books and computer-based counseling can expand your knowledge and understanding of yourself. And they can be helpful to use while you’re on the waiting list to see a therapist or during a course of talking therapy. But self-help therapy isn’t usually the complete answer.”
Self-help therapy is generally only suitable for people with mild to moderate mental health issues. The various methods involved include books and various brochures and booklets, videos and audio materials, computer-based programs, smart-phone based programs.
1. Self-help books
There are countless books in bookshops, libraries and also available online. Some are excellent but many are not. So how do you choose a good one? My personal advice is to check whether a book was written by an accredited counselor with lots of experience. Look for self-help books that have been endorsed by a professional organization or health professional. Health professionals and therapists can “prescribe” self-help books and other written materials. The books will usually be offered alongside other forms of treatment, adequate to your problems and stage of therapy.
Most of the materials available are focusing on anxiety, depression, stress coping strategies and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
2. Computer counseling
Computer counseling involves completing a series of exercises on your computer and learning self-help techniques to tackle the existing problems in your life.
There are many online therapy courses, but the professional recommendation is that you always use these under the supervision of a therapist.
- Beating the Blues is a computerized CBT course for mild depression.
- FearFighter is a computer-based CBT course specifically for panic and phobias.
- Living Life to the Full Interactive is a CBT-based course for overcoming mild to moderate depression and anxiety. You complete the six-session course under the supervision of your GP or a qualified therapist.
- MoodGYM is a free self-help computer program to teach CBT skills to anyone vulnerable to depression and anxiety. It was devised in Australia, and consists of five sections, an interactive game, anxiety and depression assessments, downloadable relaxation audio, a workbook and feedback assessment.
3. Smartphone tools
Many of today’s phones can become a perfect companion in learning relaxation techniques, if the access to a mental health professional is problematic.
Learning how to relax your body can be a helpful part of therapy. Muscle tension and rapid, shallow breathing are both linked to stress and anxiety (and sometimes depression). So, it’s important to become aware of these bodily sensations and to regularly practice exercises to help you learn to relax.
Two strategies often used in CBT are breathing-based techniques, which involves consciously slowing down the breath, and progressive muscular relaxation, which involves systematically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups. Both strategies may be used together with imagery techniques and mindfulness exercises. As with any other skill, the more these relaxation strategies are practiced, the more effectively and quickly they will work. Other helpful relaxation strategies include listening to calm music, meditation, yoga and massage.
It’s important to realize, however, that the goal of relaxation is not to avoid or eliminate anxiety (because anxiety is not dangerous), but to make it a little easier to ride out these feelings.
The various applications available on smart phones include music and nature sounds, carfeully chosen to improve relaxation, breathing exercises, worries trackers and agendas, etc.