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What is the difference between self-help and psychotherapy?

Most psychological therapies are connected to the popular self-help industry in some way. People who go through a series of psychotherapy sessions often utilise self-help strategies in order to make the most out of their therapeutic journey. An example of this is a patient reading a book on abusive relationships while they are dealing with the impact of repetitive interpersonal conflict.

The definition of psychotherapy in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary is:  treatment of mental or emotional disorder or of related bodily ills by psychological means. But this definition does not specifically tell us that a professional therapist is required for it to be psychotherapy. The significance in seeing a licensed therapist is more than just the use of the modality. Mental health concerns need to be handled with care. The right balance of effectiveness and support to ensure the mental health safety of a patient. 

Self-help products or services can employ psychotherapeutic techniques, however, are not replacing a licensed mental health professional. In some cases, self-help products can help people feel better during difficult times and can increase one’s cognitive, emotional or behavioural awareness. This is particularly useful in psycho-education and building motivation to gather self support. The definition of self-help is: the action or process of bettering oneself or overcoming one’s problems without the aid of others. Especially: the coping with one’s personal or emotional problems without professional help (Merriam-Webster online dictionary). This definition does stipulate no therapist is required.

It is critical to understand the difference between when to use self-help or professional help. If the self-help efforts are not helping a person resolve their issues which they are attempting to get past, it is important for them to see a professional. 

People don’t always see themselves accurately and it can be hard to identify the areas of oneself that others experience of us. People can get used to struggling through the days. Some self-help enthusiasts can have an underlying issue with believing they are faulty and respond to the urge to feel better, but not do the real work required to change their feelings. They do course after course, read book after book, but don’t actually address their fundamental issue. They rather perpetuate it by distraction. Sometimes their distractions have cost them thousands of dollars, yet they continue to experience feelings of the very problems they are trying to resolve. 

Psychotherapy can assist in helping people become more aware of issues that they may not have realised were actually causing problems in their relationships with others, themself, their careers or health. This also affords the opportunity to take action, and make change. 

Self-help and professional help can work very well together when used appropriately. And the success for any individual, with either method, really relies upon the individual’s commitment to their healing and being able to select the right treatment or help for the specific issue they need to overcome.

In my next post, I will be defining the various main approaches to psychotherapy.




These articles are not to replace a licensed therapist’s advice, or to influence any choices in where one gets therapy, who with and at which time of an experience. The posts are simply designed to help people find out what they might like to look further into regarding the psychotherapy industry. The reader is responsible for their own decisions, actions and behaviour, and further exploration on topics is recommended before making any decisions related to the details in the posts. These articles are designed to be at a superficial level of discussion. In compiling the articles, we have attempted to keep triggering material to a minimum, yet we cannot guarantee that readers will be comfortable when reading posts at all times. If you are experiencing any type of discomfort while reading any of the posts, please consider if you need some support.