Self-help Resources and Individual Therapy – When are They Beneficial?

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With so many resources available to help people heal and change, from self-help resources to individual therapy, it makes it difficult for many people to decide where to start. Often people start with self-help resources as a default, and if those don’t work, they move on to seeking therapy.  However, each type of resource has its benefits and limitations.  Let’s start with the benefits of self-help resources.

Self-help resources are portable, in the form of books, videos, and podcasts.  They can be carried anywhere and can be used whenever people have time available.  There are a wide variety of topics covered by self-help resources – from addiction recovery to coping with loss.  Self- help resources are ideal for educating yourself about the biological roots behind an issue or the best treatment for a diagnosis.  Self-help resources can also help us understand we are not alone in our experiences.  When we read a passage or hear someone else’s experience on a podcast that reflects our own, it can feel very validating.  With the breadth of self-help resources out there, it might take some time, but we can likely find a voice that reflects our own experiences.

Where self-help resources can be limited is that there are thousands of resources available. Finding one resource requires knowing what the cause of the problem is.  For example, we recognize when we’re lonely, but often don’t grasp why we aren’t connecting to others.  Or we fight with our significant other, but can’t see what role we play in that conflict.  This is where therapy can be beneficial.

Therapy can help us recognize the root causes of our issues. The therapist is an impartial resource who can help us see our problems in a new light. If we are in the middle of depressive episode or conflict at work, it can be difficult to look at the problem in an open and productive way. It’s hard to understand what caused our issues or how to move toward fixing things.  As we share our concerns and history, a therapist can provide a diagnosis and an explanation of the root causes of our difficulties.  Therapy can also be a place to develop solutions.

As we’re working on changing, therapy helps keep us accountable.  By meeting every week and focusing on issues, it keeps us focused on change, even when the change becomes difficult.  Similar to a physical trainer at the gym who can vary workouts to keep us motivated, meeting with a therapist keeps us challenged and moving toward our goals, even as our goals change and progress.

At its core, therapy is a relationship.  If our problems are relational in nature – for example feeling lonely or conflict in a family or marital problems – then being in a therapy relationship can be an ideal way to work on those problems.  Since we have similar patterns in multiple relationships, the therapy relationship can be a safe place to explore how we react to others and to practice new ways of relating to others.  In other words, trying to work on relationships on your own isn’t as effective as working on it with another person who can give you honest feedback.  Verbalizing our issues also helps make them more concrete, rather than just thinking about them.  Therapy also lets us know that we don’t have to face our issues alone, that there’s someone else on our side.  Just knowing that we’re not alone and that our problems are understood can go a long way towards change.

Self-help resources and therapy can be great tools.  Self-help resources can provide concrete data and capture others’ life experiences in ways we can’t get from individual therapy.  Individual therapy, however, offers what books and podcasts cannot – an authentic connection with another person who can give us an unbiased perspective on our lives in a safe environment. They each play beneficial roles in the treatment of mental illness and dealing with life’s challenges.  They can also work together to make treatment even more powerful.  Therapy often takes place once a week or once every two weeks.  Self-help resources can help us continue to move forward toward our goals while we are not with the therapist by helping us continue to work on issues on our own.  Therapy and self-help resources are both valuable tools in helping us overcome challenges we face.  Using them when and where they’re the most beneficial can help us progress more than either one alone.


Elil Yuvarajan, PsyD

Doctoral Degree in Clinical Psychology from Baylor UniversityCompleted internship in Clinical Psychology from University of Houston – Clear LakeProvisionally-licensed psychologist in private practice at Psychology Resources in League City, TX