Something not right, but unsure where to turn? Here we look at how self-help and professional help can support, and which may be right for you
Self-help is a booming business, with books, apps and even self-led courses all available to help you help yourself. These tools can go a long way in supporting your mental health and wellbeing, but how do you know when self-help is enough and when it may be time to see a professional?
I sat down with CBT therapist and mindfulness teacher Natalie Englander to learn more about self-help and professional help, and how to know which route to go down.
Understanding the differences between self-help and professional help
To start with, it can be helpful to get to grips with the key differences between self-help and professional help, so you can understand what you can get out of them.
With self-help, you will likely be working alone, usually through something like a book or a course. “So, you are relying on yourself to read the book, to understand it, and to try and then put it into practice,” explains Natalie.
As self-help is usually created for groups of people, Natalie highlights that they tend to be generic and, therefore, wouldn’t be tailored to you as an individual. “Sometimes people can actually find this really reassuring, picking up a self-help book, reading it and thinking ‘this sounds exactly like me’.”
In contrast, professional support (like seeing a therapist) is tailored to your needs. It will often involve a consultation so the professional can get to know you and understand what support would be right for you. You also have someone to help you through the process, perhaps providing some accountability on the way, Natalie notes.
“Professional help also allows you to share your thoughts and feelings with someone, which you might not necessarily be able to do reading a self-help book and that in itself can be so therapeutic, being heard.
“If your emotions become heightened during the process, you also have someone there to talk to, which you don’t have while reading a book.”
Natalie was also quick to point out that a book is cheaper than private therapy – which is certainly a key difference and a consideration many are factoring in right now. So a lot to consider and no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ approach; it’s all about considering where you’re at and what you think you would benefit from now.
Which is right for me – self-help or professional help?
We’re all different and taking these personal tendencies into account can help when thinking about this. Natalie mentions that if you are someone who can motivate yourself, self-help could suit you as you won’t have that external person providing accountability.
Another consideration is the severity of what you’re going through and how much it’s impacting your day-to-day life.
“If things are pretty good but someone’s got mild anxiety – but it’s not stopping them from living their life too much – then maybe self-help would be a good place to start. But, if someone’s really struggling with anxiety (they’ve stopped going to work, they’re not really going out anymore), then maybe professional help would be better,” Natalie says.
Thinking about the onset can also help. Natalie notes that if the problem is more recent, you may do well with self-help but, if it’s a longer-term issue, you may find professional help better suited.
Still not sure? Natalie recommends visiting your GP to discuss your options.
Self-help: where to start
If you’ve decided that self-help is right for you, where can you start? Here are some recommendations from Natalie.
- Self-help books from the Reading Well books on prescription list (particularly the ‘Overcoming…’ series).
- Apps, podcasts, blogs and even social media accounts from professionals.
- IAPT services (improving access to psychological therapies) via the NHS also offer self-help and guided self-help support.
If you’re keen to read self-help articles both by professionals and those with lived experience, do check out our Happiful app.
Professional help: where to start
If professional support feels like the better choice, there can be a lot to think about – where to find help, what type of therapy may be right for you, what qualifications therapists need to have… it can feel overwhelming. “Especially if you’re already struggling with your mental health,” Natalie says.
“Google is often the first place people go and you can search for therapists here or, of course, you can use directories, like the Counselling Directory. They’re brilliant because you can search by different therapy modalities or by particular problems which then filters down the results so you get a list of therapists that can help.”
Natalie says her main tip is to try and find someone who specialises in the problem you’re seeking help for, as you’ll likely get a better experience. “Don’t be afraid to be fussy about who you pick and ask before you start working with a therapist if you can have an intro call with them – most therapists offer this.”
Another pointer Natalie mentions is to ensure your therapist is accredited by a professional body, to add an extra layer of reassurance that they have adequate training.
Self-care whilst getting help
Whether you’re getting professional support or are trying self-help, looking after yourself along the way will help the process. Natalie’s top self-care tips include:
- Schedule self-care into your diary, as you would any other appointment.
- Try to get a balance of self-care activities, and get in both the ‘nice stuff’ (like having a bubble bath) and the ‘need to get done stuff' (like cleaning the house).
- Try and do one self-care activity each day, even if it’s just five minutes of reading.
- Tweak an activity you already do to make it more nourishing, for example, make your walk mindful, focusing on what you can see, hear, and smell.
For more from Natalie, you can follow her on Instagram.
If you think professional support will be right for you, visit Counselling Directory today to find a therapist.