Do you expect your physical health to remain perfect throughout life without taking care of your body?
Do you think that a broken leg will heal all by itself without proper medical care?
Do you believe that a hole in a tooth will magically disappear without seeing a dentist?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, I´m sure that you’re just kidding me or that you’re in denial or stupid! / Little-Bite was here!
Most of us understand and accept (to a varying degree) that we need to take care of our physical health in order to have a good life.
But how many think the same about psychological health and well-being? Do you have the same attitude towards that?
Many expect good mental health and well-being to remain the same throughout life without any special activities to maintain it.
Many expect psychological wounds to heal all by themselves with time.
Is that really the truth?
I think that we all can benefit tremendously from some kind of regular psychological healthcare.
And it does not have to be with an expensive professional (although that's sometimes needed).
I have practiced self-therapy on a regular basis for many years and find it totally invaluable.
- Yeah, so that´s what you call it when you sit in your library eating cookies all night, Leopold…
- And that’s your excuse for buying all those fancy notebooks…
- Oh, you shut up! I mean, can you be quiet please. This is important!
I have tried many different methods and techniques over the years but this is what I do most of the time.
Notes by Leopold the Leopard
2. Do it!
For me self-therapy is really simple: I write.
I sit down in a relatively quiet place for a while every day and write.
Sometimes I write to let off steam or get rid of my anger (some argue that physical activity is good for this too, but I find that hard to believe.).
Sometimes I write to find out what I really feel or what I really want.
Sometimes I write to figure out what I’m going to do about a problem.
But most of the time I do a more structured therapeutic exercise (described below).
Basically I FART.
So go out and buy yourself a notebook or use one that you already have. It doesn’t have to be fancy.
I don’t save my notebooks like diaries or journals. They are just tools for my self-therapy and I normally throw them away when they’re done.
2. Do it!
The most difficult part of self-therapy is to actually sit down (or lie down or stand or jump) and DO IT!
For many years I used to do therapy on occasion, but oddly enough that meant I seldom did it when I really needed it. It seemed like the more I needed therapy the bigger my resistance grew.
It all became better when I decided to do it for at least five minutes each day.
You need to make a habit out of it.
3. Focus on a situation
I start the sessiob by focusing on a certain situation.
A problematic situation, recent, in the past or in the future, that makes me experience negative feelings.
I think about what troubles me the most right now or what occupies my mind.
If I become aware of such situations during the day I sometimes make a note to myself to use it during therapy.
I start by jotting down a sentence to shortly describe the situation. Oh, and I always date my entries – don’t know why but it feels right.
Monday 24th of April - evening
Situation: (or just S:) Presentation of project for boss and colleagues tomorrow.
4. What am I feeling?
Sometimes I continue the session by trying to find out how the situation makes me feel.
I imagine and think about the situation, maybe while closing my eyes and trying to picture it.
As I experience feelings I jot them down.
Feelings: (or F:) Nervous, defensive, scared of being criticized…
The purpose of this step is not so much to find out what I am feeling (although that can be very enlightening at times) as it is to further get into the situation.
If thoughts start coming as soon as I imagine the situation I usually skip the feelings step.
Note: In Cognitive Therapy it is common to put a number on how strongly you experience each feeling – normally as a percentage (1-100%). Then after the session you go back and rate the feelings again – hopefully the numbers of the negative feelings have gone down. This has never really done anything for me so I don’t, but feel free to try it yourself!
5. What am I thinking?
The next step is to write down the thoughts that automatically run through my head when I think about the situation. This will take some training but you will get the hang of it.
I put a number in front of each thought so that it’s easier to process them later.
Thoughts: (or T:) 1. They are going to criticize me. 2. They are going to think that I have done a bad job. 3. They will think that I am a pompous ass. 4. …
Sometimes I write down everything that goes through my mind.
At other times I just write down what I believe are the problematic thoughts. I focus on negative and judgmental thoughts, thoughts that immediately make me feel bad and thoughts with cognitive distortions (irrational thinking) in them.
I seldom write down more than five to ten sentences – that is usually enough to proceed. I can always continue to add more thought later on.
When I´m finished I go through the list and continue to work with each thought.
6. Is the thought valid?
For each thought I try to determine whether it is accurate, positive, constructive and filled with love, care and respect for me or if it is negative and destructive.
If I have written down everything in my head some thoughts will be positive or neutral. Those I just cross over.
I ask myself if the thought is valid and write down arguments against it.
Process: (or P: ) 1. They might criticize parts of my work. That's kind of the point of the meeting and I should be thankful for any constructive criticism and feedback. But that's about my work. Not me.
I might look specifically for cognitive distortions. In the beginning I focused on just one irrational thinking pattern at a time – for instance during a week or a month – so that I would learn them by heart.
Process: (or P: ) 2. “Mindreading” – I don’t know what they will think.
I can also ask myself what evidence there is – if any – that the thought is true or accurate. I write down the result.
Process: (or P: ) 3. There is no evidence or support that anyone thinks that, except maybe for the bitter and aggressive “hedgehog”.
7. What can I think instead?
In the last step I write down new, alternative thoughts to each and every one of my negative and irrational ones.
The new thought should be realistic, balanced, optimistic and positive.
Alternative thoughts: (or AT:)
1. The presentation is just a matter of showing the others what I have done and get some input and feedback on it. I am pretty proud and glad of what I have done and that is the important part. Just be yourself!
2. None of the others could have done this so I should be damned proud of what I have done.
3. I cannot control what other people think and whatever my colleagues think will probably have more to do with them than me. I care about what my loved ones think and with them I can communicate.
Nowadays, I usually do this step in conjunction with step 6. Is the thought valid? I first argue against and question the thought and then replace it with a better alternative. Experiment with what fits you the best.
# 1. (number of the thought) Process: (or P: ) Here I write down agruments about the thought...
Alternative thoughts: (or AT:) Here I write down alternative thoughts...
TRY MY SELF-THERAPY MANUAL YOURSELF!
For the next week, find at least three times when you are going to try my self-therapy manual. Put them in your schedule right away, I guess they will take around 30 minutes each time.
Make sure to find a place to do it where you can be on your own without distractions. That is almost a requirement to begin with although you might be able to do this anywhere with practice.
If nothing else is available – use the bathroom.
Experiment and work out a method that fits you and your personality. Maybe a short session of free writing gives you the most or maybe it's a deeper digging into your feelings. There is no universal right or wrong here. Develop your own Self-Therapy Manual – or use mine.
But whatever you do, Just Do It!