Disadvantages of Self-help

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There are also sometimes significant disadvantages to self-help approaches as well.

  • You may lack the perspective to properly understand the nature of your issues. Your ability to help yourself will only be as good as your ability to be objective and clear about what the nature of your issues is. It is notoriously difficult to sort out, on your own, what your issues are really about. You may lack enough objectivity and perspective to make a true and accurate assessment or judgment concerning your own issues at this point. There are many ways that people find to deny or distort the truth of what is going wrong in their lives, even when such denial strategies do not serve their long term interests. In fact, there is a whole psychological literature that has developed to catalog the various defense mechanisms that people use to avoid knowing uncomfortable truths. For example, some people engage in a type of denial called "externalization". In this case, they are aware that something is wrong, but mistakenly think that the problem is caused by other people around them, instead of being due to themselves. Other people project their own troubling feelings onto other people just like a movie projector casts an image onto a screen. They may be angry people who aren't in touch with that fact. Instead of realizing that they are themselves angry, they project their anger onto others, and come to believe that it is other people who are angry. Such people believe that other people are picking fights with them (when they really aren't), and then "defend themselves" by picking fights themselves. Still other people engage in "workaholism". They escape from their problems by burying themselves in work to the point where they never have time to think about what drove them to do that in the first place. There are many more defense mechanisms than we've listed here. You can read more about defense mechanisms here.

    You could easily be in denial about your problems and using some sort of defense mechanisms to avoid knowing about them, or understanding their true nature. If this is the case, you are unlikely to be able to understand the true nature of your problems. Since you can't fix what you don't understand, you'll be helpless to solve your problems and may only create more of them should you try a self-help approach.

  • You may lack the knowledge of how to fix your issues. Even if you are able to be objective and accurate about the nature of your issues, you are still faced with the challenge of figuring out how to solve them. Creating a useful self-help plan requires accurate knowledge: 1) Knowledge of what is causing your problems, and 2) knowledge about how those problems can be fixed. People aren't born knowing how to fix problems. It takes access to resources and the willingness to read and study those resources before you can determine the best methods for helping yourself. Not everyone is able or willing to do this work.
  • You may lack the motivation or will-power to stick to a self-help plan. There is a final issue as well. Even if you know what to do to solve your problem, you aren't always able to stick to your plan and follow through well enough to benefit from your plan. Creating and maintaining the motivation necessary to stick to a self-help plan can be a very difficult thing to accomplish. Not everyone is able to motivate and discipline themselves sufficiently well, even when they are dealing with painful problems they very much want to solve.

Should you get stuck at any point during the self-help process, the best think you can do is to consult with a professional therapist or counselor specialized in addressing the sort of problems you are trying to work through. Professional therapists and counselors are trained to be objective observers of those people who come to them with problems. They assess issues raised with them according to well-established scientific and clinically based concepts and theories, and are able to guide their clients towards approaches that have been tried and tested for effectiveness. Professionals can help their clients to recognize when they are straying from the right path, and also provide support and encouragement for getting back on the path towards effective change. Finally, therapists and counselors provide their clients with important corrective feedback that they might not otherwise be able to provide themselves. Such feedback helps clients to recognize and overcome barriers and diversions to their progress.


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