Self-reflection: Be your own therapist

Photo: Kathleen McCormick

How is your life going? Do you keep running into the same problems over and over again? Would you like to:

  • not second guess yourself so much
  • be good enough as you are without comparing yourself to someone else
  • stop taking things so personally
  • be able to handle situations that are difficult without thinking the worst will happen
  • refrain from blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong
  • stop feeling that you have to do things perfectly

Do you see a way out?

Getting help or helping yourself

For many years now I have subscribed to a way of dealing with problems. It is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It is very simple and elegant in how it can provide you with insight into how you think and how this interacts with feelings and behaviors. CBT is problem-focused and action oriented. It can be done with the help of a therapist and there are also many excellent workbooks and interactive computer programs that people can use on their own. What I find to be really great about CBT is that it provides you with a framework that ultimately teaches you to be your own therapist. Basically it helps you to become critical of your own negative thinking and to think more realistically and constructively. It also helps you to figure out which behaviors are serving you well and which are not. It has been found to be effective in treating almost every mental health issue from depression to addiction use disorders to schizophrenia.

The basics

Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck are considered to be the fathers of cognitive behavioral models of treatment. They came up with their models independently. Albert Ellis’ model is referred to as Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy while Aaron Beck’s model is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy . In these blog posts I will concentrate on Aaron Beck’s model since this is the model I was trained in and use. It explains how thinking affects mood and behavior and how this cycles back again to affect thinking. We learn to challenge our negative thinking and, through practice, become able to trace our negative thoughts back to our basic beliefs about ourselves, the world and the future. We can also challenge negative beliefs by addressing the behavioral part of the problem. For example, if we believe we are too anxious to attend social events we might test this out by arranging to meet a friend at a party. We essentially set up an experiment to prove ourselves wrong and gradually this belief begins to change.

Where do you start?

Once the basic model is understood you can start to work on your thinking and behavior in order to improve how you feel. You can learn more about this process at the following websites which I highly recommend:

Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:

Dr. David Burns’ website, Feeling Good:

Coping with chronic illness: step-by-step


I have a chronic illness. This has led me to become sensitized to how people cope and how they may define recovery given the nature of a chronic illness. Anyone could probably tell you that there are stages that you go through. These have been widely written about. As is often the case we all have our own way of dealing with things; see if you can relate to what I have found to be true for me. These stages are not mutually exclusive; we can be participating in more than one at a time and can keep recycling through. I try to keep in mind that it is important not to judge myself or others based upon how each of us is uniquely coping with our illness.


If you have enjoyed good health throughout your life having less than optimal health can be quite challenging. My first response to my illness was to ignore my symptoms and try harder and harder to do the work that I had always felt I was called to do in my professional career. I ignored the warning signs, increased my stress level and, consequently, my symptoms became much worse.

Seeking expert guidance

As my symptoms worsened I went to my primary doctor and many specialists to try to find out what was wrong with me. I turned myself over to the medical profession for my care. I believed in the medical profession. I got some answers but the puzzle of my illness continued. Things remained unexplained even after I received a diagnosis. When I attempted to express my concerns I felt that I was dismissed and misunderstood. I became resentful and angry.


I began to feel a little better but not enough to continue on with all the demands in my personal and work lives. I was dissatisfied with this state of affairs. I began to seek out answers on my own. I read academic journal articles, alternative health blogs and participated in forums. This was the beginning of taking back more control of my health and feeling empowered to move forward in an informed and collaborative way with a physician who had a deeper understanding of the illness I was diagnosed with.


I experienced a great deal of frustration with the medical system throughout this time. Only at this point, however, did I have enough energy to look outside of my own needs to see how other people with my diagnosis were also struggling to find answers and proper care. I started a support group with others whom I had met on forums. I got involved in efforts to promote awareness on the local level. I went to the state capital to advocate for the needs of our community.


This has taken several years! I still have many of the same symptoms. I have seen some improvements and am hopeful about the future. My attitude has changed; I am engaged in the process of healing and am not chasing a cure. My appreciation for the things I DO have in my life is no longer limited. This brings me happiness.

And again

I am an imperfect human. I can go back to feeling victimized, angry and resentful. This does happen sometimes. My job is to use the tools I have developed to manage my illness AND my perspective.

This information is for educational purposes only and should not in any way be considered a substitute for professional help. If you feel that you need immediate assistance please call your local psychiatric emergency services.