Ten Ways To Be Your Own Therapist

[Written in 2008.]

  1. KEEP A JOURNAL: Journaling – that is, writing down the truth of your feelings, your point of view, your fears, your angers, your hopes, your expectations, your desires, your fantasies, your hatreds, your regrets, your thoughts, your memories, your prejudices, your secret loves, your painful experiences, your humiliations, your past traumas – requires massive intimacy with yourself. This self-intimacy is the essence of good therapy, and yet is also what makes good therapy so difficult. Many people find it difficult to journal – or journal in a deep and prolonged way – because of the strange feelings of being so emotionally intimate with oneself. But if you can tolerate the potential discomfort, if you can sit with the truth of who you are and look at your truth expressed on the page in front of you, then you can nurture a wonderful relationship with your greatest ally: your own true self!
  2. ANALYZE YOUR DREAMS: Freud wrote (and I will paraphrase), “Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.” If you want to know what’s going on down there in the basement of your psyche, you need look no further than your dreams. The only problem with understanding your dreams is that they express your deepest truth entirely in code – through metaphor. Everything in a dream has meaning, and the hard work of decoding the symbols of your dreams – that is, getting to know the symbols of your own unconscious – will bring you right in touch with the depths of who you are, and what your unconscious conflicts really are. This is tough work, and often humbling and ugly, but if you can hang with it, the rewards will be well worth the effort!
  3. ENGAGE IN INNER DIALOGUE: This form of self-reflection allows us to ask ourselves a question in our own mind, and let ourselves free associate to the answer. Our mind has the capacity to always give us just the answer we need at any given time – and to answer with the most beautiful truth – if only we ask and listen for the answer. Inner Dialoguing is almost a magical technique, because it is so simple and obvious: ask yourself a question and just listen for the answer! Why it can be so hard for so many people, however, is that they lives their lives so dishonestly that they are terrified to GET the answer. It might really rock their boat. But that can be no excuse for the truth-seeker. If our boat is faulty it needs to be rocked, and sometimes a good rocking shows right where the weaknesses are – which allows us to repair them. I actually use Inner Dialoguing regularly as a therapist – in session with patients – when I don’t know where or how to proceed. The part of me that answers my thorniest questions is a better supervisor or therapist than any I have ever had.
  4. EXERCISE: This might sound rather blunt and concrete after having written about such lofty things as dream analysis and inner dialogue, but the reality is we all have a body that is full of memories and history and blood and energy. It is vital to get our energy flowing throughout the body – and to keep it flowing. Exercise works amazing wonders on the mind and emotions. I have heard it said that some studies have shown that just a little bit of regular, gentle, healthy exercise is as good as or better than an antidepressant – and certainly doesn’t poison you with side effects and spiritual squelching! Of course, some people go over the top with exercising, and use it self-destructively, but none of these self-therapeutic techniques are of any healing value if used radically out of balance with a healthy lifestyle.
  5. SOCIALIZE: We humans are social creatures, and as much as there is a time for aloneness and self-reflection, there is a time also for interacting with our fellows. We all need friends! An external ally in the world is a true gift, and oftentimes there is no better medicine than being witnessed by someone who loves us, cares about us, holds our best interest in their hearts, and is willing to take our side on life’s difficult journey. Plus, life entirely alone is boring!
  6. GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP: This might sound silly, but it is radically important. The brain simply needs its sleep to do its job properly. Also, the soul needs its rest as well, and when we deprive ourselves of proper, regular downtime in a safe, comfortable and non-medicated environment, we fail to meet our responsibility for self-love. When we engage in self-therapy we nurture the little child who lives inside of us, and that little child, like every little child in the world, needs to be tucked in and put to bed at a proper hour – night after night. Every good parent knows this.
  7. LIVE A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE: There is a wonderful therapeutic value in eating well, seeing the doctor regularly, taking care of our teeth and hygiene, and not putting any substances into our bodies which negate the spiritual journey of life. I believe that alcohol and drugs – both illicit and many that are perfectly legal – have no place on the healing process, and only foster anti-healing, that is, dissociation and regression. No one who loves a child would dare feed him cigarettes or alcohol, so when we consider that we are trying to heal and free the traumatized child within us, why would we bathe him in those very chemicals?
  8. TRY CELIBACY: Periods of celibacy – and being single, without even emotionally romantic attachment or masturbation – can be wonderful balms to the soul. They bring back into focus our relationship with ourselves, and help us detach from relationships and sexual activities – both of which so easily breed projection. Sexuality is a beautiful, powerful, and wonderful thing, but it is so easy to misuse, because unresolved childhood traumas magnetically attach to, distort, and ultimately pollute all things sexual. As the saying goes, “sex is simple, you’re not.” We do ourselves a wonderful service when we let our expressed sexuality lie fallow for a period – sometimes a long period – so that we can discover our deeper purity.
  9. READ GOOD LITERATURE: There are answers to life’s deepest questions everywhere – and sometimes, shockingly enough, these answers are even in books, and sometimes even in psychology books! (Pardon my humor. But then again, I really mean it. Freud wasn’t kidding when he titled one of his books “Humor And Its Relation To The Unconscious” – even if the book itself is dull as nails.) But all of literature – even areas we might normally shun as beneath us – has the potential to teach us something, to mirror some part of ourselves back to us, and if we search for the right book, we might just find it. And don’t poo-poo children’s and young adult books – I have often found that they hold more wisdom than the majority of adult literature! Ramona Geraldine Quimby (brought to life by author Beverly Cleary), The Giving Tree, and The Velveteen Rabbit have much to teach the inner child in all of us.
  10. HAVE FUN: This is not to be underestimated. We all need to relax, let down our hair, enjoy (or play!) good music, take a nice walk, go for a swim, and just do something seemingly non-productive for a while – only to discover later that our fun was far more psychically and emotionally productive and therapeutic than we could have imagined. Having fun balances out life’s intensity, and stopping and smelling the roses opens us up to a whole new portal of life’s beauty. Life, after all, is here to be enjoyed.

10 thoughts on “Ten Ways To Be Your Own Therapist

  1. Hi Daniel,
    I’ve really enjoyed reading your blogs and various tips for self therapy. I especially responded to your honesty regarding your journey as a therapist and all the personal, ethical issues that presented. Your message about authenticity & courage particularly hit home for me as I am trying to develop these in my life. Regarding Taylor’s questions about writing a journal or diary, I’ve found the regular practice is so helpful in working out feelings. I think you have to accept that there will be days when it’s difficult to write much but luckily at other times the diary can provide a useful repository for many thoughts and emotions which need to be untangled.
    Thanks for all your cyber inspirations!

    Best wishes,
    Elaine

  2. Hey Daniel,

    I’m just after some advice on journalling, from you specifically. Do you have a routine that you follow, or some warm ups? Do you have any recommendations on prompts to use to really get the emotional juices flowing? I’ve noticed when I type very quickly early on, it gets my energy up, but then I have to slow myself right down, even turn to the pen and paper to let it sink in and go deeper when that need arises.

    Also, in some instances when I’m trying to release anger, i notice that my mind becomes tired and tries to create illusions (basically like waking dreams) and I often have a hard time roping myself back in to focus on whatever it is I’m focusing on, whether that be a past event, recent event with a heavy emotional experience that is trying to surface- obviously anger is a big one for me and letting go of it or experiencing it, is hard. I’m scared because I know that behind that is more mourning, and large holes in my psyche that will then need to be filled by something (and I don’t want to let go with my hands, find them empty, and grab onto the nearest thing, such as vanities or food). Any advice on keeping the mind focused and getting to the heart of the experience?

    Anything would be appreciated,
    Taylor

    • hi taylor,
      hmm, good questions. i think i pretty much go with the flow of my journaling — whatever feels right. sometimes i journal a lot, other times a little. sometimes it’s almost like just recording what’s going on, sometimes it’s dream analysis, sometimes it’s just writing down a dream, sometimes it’s intense analysis of a situatin or of my feelings around it… i don’t try to force it. or push it in any way. i just go with what feels right… but that’s just me. maybe you’re doing it your way — and exploring your best way of doing it.
      daniel

  3. Do you think that there is such a thing as moderation with certain mind altering substances? Or a distinction between use and abuse? Also what are your thoughts on caffeine specifically?

    I found an old video of yours on YouTube today and I have been going through your material for a couple hours now. Extremely interesting and helpful.

    Cheers,
    Zane

    • cool zane, thanks. yes, i would think there is such a thing as moderation — and perhaps exploration to learn about how certain substances might affect us or even teach us. perhaps caffeine, yes — but i haven’t taken to that drug much! daniel

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