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Self Therapy: What It Is and How to Do It

Whether it’s minor changes to your mindset or major improvements in how you handle problems, self-therapy can be an effective way to improve your mental health.

Self-therapy is the practice of using rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) in order to look at your reaction to adversity with an unbiased eye. Many of the hurdles we face come from negative reactions to adversity due to irrational beliefs. An adverse situation can lead to self-criticism and fear for many, but by understanding these emotions and reactions you can instead change the negative irrational thoughts and reactions with rational emotive behavior.

It’s important to remember that REBT is not about fixing yourself, it’s about improving yourself! Self-therapy is not meant to be used for major issues and these should be left to the professionals. That being said, no one is perfect and everyone has adverse reactions. Self-therapy is meant to give you a critical eye to these reactions and allow you to change them in the future so you can face adversity with positive emotions like excitement and achievement.

So how do you begin?

Pen and Paper
Journal Your Therapy

Keep a Therapy Diary

Track results

It’s important to track your results from day to day. There are many good resources for how to go about keeping such a diary. Record your reactions to adversity throughout your day and consider if there could have been a more helpful response. If there is, note what it could have been. At night, record how you thought your day went and if you felt any improvement. This can be a good resource to track your results over time.

Pencil and Calendar
Be Consistent

Keep Practice Consistent

Self help is a daily practice

Therapy does not help if you only go to one session sporadically, therapy is a long-term process for long-term improvement. Start by thinking of a problem you’d like to improve upon (whether it be trivial or challenging) and focus on this as your main task. Don’t try to fix everything at once! It’s much more effective to choose a problem and focus on fixing it before moving on to the next one.

Scattered puzzle pieces
Address the Issue


Address the Problem

How Should You Fix It?

Start by splitting your problem into two categories: the practical, purely logical side, and the emotional, behavioral side. Consider what you would like to change about it. From a practical standpoint, how could you achieve the best possible outcome?


Solving Rubix Cube
Figure Yourself Out

Study Your Emotions and Behavior

What are they and why?

Name the emotion you respond with (self-criticism, fear, avoidance, anger) and consider how helpful, or unhelpful it is to achieve your practical goals. If your problem is emotive, consider how the situation makes you feel and how to change your perspective on it. If the problem is behavioral, consider why the feeling or situation creates this behavior. Finally, make a solid list for how changing your unhelpful behaviors and feelings could lead to a more positive outcome.

Woman walking in snow near train tracks
Implement Your Plan

Real Life Applications

Bring the Therapy Into Practice

Consider a recent example or just make up a situation in which you would respond unhelpfully. For just a moment, consider the worst that could happen. Plan what you would do in this scenario. Then, consider the likeliest scenario. The worst and likeliest often do not overlap, and consider how you would react to this. Finally consider the best scenario and how you would react, then consider how you could provide this outcome if possible. If the adversity you face is changeable the goal should be to steer yourself in a positive direction. If you cannot change it, your goal should be coming to terms with it. You don’t need to force yourself to feel good about it. Some situations just simply do not allow this. Instead, just try to feel an acceptance of it.

pinned post-it with light bulb on it
Keep Tabs On Yourself

Remember Why You React The Way You Do

Use The ABCs of Therapy

Our reactions are a culmination of our personal beliefs. A = your practical problem, B = your beliefs and evaluations, C = A+B or your emotional reaction to the practical problem because of your beliefs. Here is where you check your beliefs, irrational reactions are often the result of irrational beliefs. Instead, replace these irrational beliefs with rational ones. An example: “I am helpless” can be “I can control my own reaction to this” or “I have to stop this” to “I want to stop this”.

Man in coffee shop looking at phone
Reinforce Your Rational Beliefs

Reinforce and Put Your Therapy To Work

Use Your Rational Beliefs

Finally, reinforce your rational beliefs. Understand what you want, and then understand that you don’t need what you want. Dispute your former beliefs and repeat your rational beliefs. When a situation arises that will set off your irrational reactions or emotions, recognize it. Then remember the work you’ve done, and put it to use. Remember the best possible outcome and then use your rational beliefs to achieve it.

Make Time for Yourself

Therapy Comes in Many Forms

Don’t forget to pair your therapy with other forms of self-care. Music therapy or meditation is a good way to relieve stress, especially if you’ve worked yourself up by addressing a stressful situation. Reading a book can be a great way to take your mind off of a bad situation.

Man with face in hands
Stop If It's Out of Hand

Know Your Limits

Self-Therapy Isn’t For Everyone

If you notice in your diary that overtime your outcomes are becoming worse or you are feeling more and more negative, it may be time to stop and seek a professional. Self-therapy can be a great tool for many people but it is not for everyone.

Whether you’re dealing with a daily issue or just trying to figure out a way to cope with difficult times, self-therapy is a good tool for self-improvement and positive growth.

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Abby Marsh

Abby is a Student at Pitt majoring in Communications.
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