Recommended Self Help Tools

Self Help

Self help is a powerful tool.

Any action you take to further support and enhance the growth you are trying to achieve in therapy will be valuable. Recent research cited by Psychotherapy Networker magazine (August 2007) shows that self help can be as effective as therapy. Because we are all unique individuals, what may be a powerful self-help tool for one may do little for another. For this reason, you may want try a variety of methods and focus on those that feel most powerful to you. Self help comes in a variety of forms (not just the proverbial “self-help book”). Below are but a few methods of self help.


As with the exercise and martial arts, the practice of regularly meditating and learning how to relax will help you develop new skills to cope with the stressors in your life. Learning how to calm the mind and relax the body often play a pivotal role in the process of successfully changing old patterns. There has been a great deal of recent research evidencing the mental/emotional benefits of such practices, which are often referred to as mindfulness.

Exercise/ Martial Arts

In addition to giving you a positive feeling due to the release of endorphins, exercise also has the added benefit of facilitating neurogenesis, or new nerve cell growth. Research is increasingly pointing to the malleability of the brain and gives hope that even after severe physical/emotional trauma, illness or injury, the brain can rewire itself. This rewiring can happen on many different levels, including changing a thought pattern, and exercise facilitates this.

Yoga and martial arts such as yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong can be especially powerful as a supplement to therapy. Regular practice of using your body in a mindful, purposeful way, with increased consciousness of your breathing, increases your vital force. Energizing the body in this way facilitates the process of emotional and psychological healing, and is highly recommended as an adjunct to therapy.

Self-Help Exercises

Your therapist will sometimes recommend particular exercises that are designed to enhance or maintain your growth between sessions. You may find them on your own, as well, through reading, talking to a friend, or attending a support group. These exercises often stimulate your brain in a way that helps you to bring further clarification to new ideas and ways of doing things and serve to reinforce the new connection you are making.

Nutritional Supplementation

Keeping your body in good health and making sure your nerve cells have the basic building blocks for healthy function will facilitate changes you may be making in your behavior and thoughts. There is a growing body of research on the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids in depression, for instance. Other supplements such as B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, melatonin, St. John’s Wort, and amino acids have been researched (especially in Europe) with regard to positive effects on mental health. As with all aspects of your health, you are encouraged to search for information, consult with friends, physicians, and others who may be able to guide you.

Books and movies can facilitate our healing in a variety of ways. They portray archetypal struggles, inspire through character action, offer us emotional release (crying or laughing), and invite us to reflect on our own and others’ experiences. Below are some favorite books and movies to inspire, teach, and entertain you.


  • I Am
  • Buck
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  • The Intouchables
  • Forks Over Knives
  • Food Matters
  • Never Look Away
  • As Good As It Gets
  • Departures
  • Elling
  • Chariots of Fire
  • Fried Green Tomatoes
  • Good Will Hunting
  • Moonlight Lion
  • Gran Torino
  • Harold and Maude
  • Lars and the Real Girl
  • Life Is Beautiful
  • Mr. Holland’s Opus
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Remember the Titans
  • Renaissance Man
  • Shawshank Redemption
  • Shine
  • Sister Act
  • The Breakfast Club
  • The Sound of Music
  • The Whale Rider




  • The Road Less TraveledM. Scott PeckA beautiful classic with inspiring examples of profound change and personal transformation.
  • Getting the Love You Want, Harville HendrixThis seminal work by the founder of Imago therapy is strongly recommended for those receiving couples counseling from Karen Olson, or anyone interested in deepening their intimate relationship. The book covers romantic attraction, stages of love, why we are attracted to certain people and how that’s affected by our early childhood experience, offering a pathway for creating a conscious, loving relationship.
  • Keeping the Love You Find, Harville HendrixGeared toward single people, the book contains exercises to help identify patterns in relationships and begin to change them so that you may form healthy, nourishing relationships. It also includes a detailed description of the various developmental stages and illustrates how lack of completion at various stages can affect our interpersonal relationships for years to come.
  • Blink and The Tipping Point, Malcolm GladwellWhile these books have different foci, they are both marked by the wonderful writing style of Gladwell. His strong background in journalism helps him to write a cogent, very engaging synopsis on the way the human brain works and idiosyncratic ways that humans behave. He cites a great deal of scientific research, but does so in way that is engaging and memorable, rather than dry and pedantic.
  • The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls

    In this engaging and honest memoir, Ms. Walls recounts her life growing up with an alcoholic father through poverty and instability. In a balanced and integrative way, she illustrates the complex aspects of being human without resorting to simplistic, black and white notions of dysfunction and function.


  • Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourtA wonderfully told story of an Irish man growing up in an alcoholic household. For an even more potent version, check out the audio version available at Tucson-Pima Public Library.
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya AngelouThe first in her autobiographical series, this short work by one of America’s most celebrated poets/authors packs a mighty punch! In sharing her story of childhood trauma (including being mute), she provides a living example of profound transformation. Also available as an audio book read by Ms. Angelou herself.
  • Plainsong, Kent HarufWritten in a sparse, beautiful prose, this touching tale of interconnected lives in a rural town in America reveals how connections with others can help us stretch and transform ourselves.
  • Peace Like a River, Leif EngerA beautiful tale of interfamilial relationships and transcendence.

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