5 Ways Therapy is Different Than Self-Help - Unfolding Path Counseling

5 Ways Therapy is Different Than Self-Help

 In Self-Help, Therapy

I have always been really into personal growth and self-help. I have probably read 50 self-help books over the years and tried all kinds of practices. While I will probably always practice self-help in some form, it was not enough to get me what I most want from life on it’s own.

With the rise of social media, these ideas are everywhere. You could say we live in an age of self-help. Now all kinds of people are blogging and sharing ideas for personal growth all over the internet. What’s great about this is that it keeps the idea of bettering ourselves at the forefront. This really is a good thing, assuming you take advantage of these ideas and actually use them to make your life better… AND you are able to do this without feeling additional shame because you haven’t figured it all out and become the healthy, motivated, productive, appreciated and loving person you want to be.


Here’s why self-help didn’t get me what I wanted

When I was first considering therapy, I was going through a really tough transitional period in my life. I had done lots of self-help practices when I was younger and knew from experience that they could benefit me. The problem was, I could never really be consistent in practicing them. I would get derailed by negative self-talk and worry about my life and the future. When I wasn’t able to meet the goals I set for myself, I tended to feel even worse.
For me, a lot of what I was trying to figure out was how to be more present and engaged socially. But because I was somewhat uncomfortable around people, I was drawn to practices I could do by myself. I hoped that by meditating or doing yoga or practicing music I would become more comfortable in myself and that would translate into my interactions with others. Well I know now that it doesn’t work that way. If what you want to figure out is happening in relationships with other people, the only way you are going to sort that out is by doing work on yourself that happens with other people. Therapy is one of the best ways to do this and a great starting point.

So what is different about therapy?

Here are 5 things that make therapy different than self-help.
  1. Therapy is not just about getting advice. Advice is something you can get from a book or a blog. Many people think that therapists just listen to problems and give advice about how to solve those problems. In my counseling program I actually learned the opposite–to avoid giving advice. I would rather help you find your own solutions and learn to make your own decisions. After all, you know yourself and what is best for you better than anyone. What I actually do as a therapist is help you get clear about which way to go by connecting to yourself.
  2. Therapy is relational. This is a really big difference. If I believed you could get the same effect from disciplined study of self-help books I would certainly not have become a therapist. The truth is: therapy provides something that self-help can’t. It gives us the chance to transform from the inside out, through the process of being in relationship. It actually changes us through relationship and allows us to see the world (and ourselves) differently as a result. Which then gives us the chance to open up to better relationships in the rest of our lives.
  3. Working through childhood wounds. Therapy gives us a chance to find out where we got stuck in our developmental (growing-up) process and heal these wounds. As we were growing up, all of us learned certain ways of seeing (and often limiting) ourselves, relating to others, and ideas about how the world is. Because these patterns are about how we see things, it is very hard to observe these patterns in ourselves. These wounds from childhood and adolescence are actually also about relationships. They are about the relationships we had with our parents, peers and basically everyone who had a direct influence on our lives while we were growing up.
  4. Different perspectives. A good therapist can not only suggest new ways of looking at things, but can call you out when you are avoiding something important, give you honest feedback about the ways you are behaving and thinking, and be there with you as you process really painful feelings (which actually helps you to access the really difficult stuff that’s harder to get at on your own.)
  5. Therapy is not about analyzing your problems. Many people think that I will “analyze” or judge them because I am trained as a therapist. Not all therapy is analysis (although some is). The original form of talk therapy pioneered by Freud is called Psychoanalysis and, as the name suggests, is about analyzing people. The theory is that if you can figure out what the problem is, you can solve it. I am trained in a different school of thought, called Gestalt Therapy. In Gestalt we tend to lean in the opposite direction. We do our best not to analyze anything and instead allow our clients to be curious and discover their own meaning in what is happening.

This is not self-help. It’s help through connection…

The challenging part is finding the courage to ask for support and to try something different. It is a vulnerable and exposing process, but vulnerability is where the deepest healing happens.  If your process is like mine, you will end up feeling connected to other people and with a community you can reach out to for support. And even if you are doing therapy or end up doing it in the future, keep up the self-help practices! There is a lot to be gained from them and therapy will help you get the most out of the practices you do on your own.
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