4 Therapy Techniques You Can Do Without a Therapist
Introduction to the Practices
People often come to me looking for practical things they can implement to change their lives. Over my years as a meditation teacher and my time practicing therapy I have picked up a few techniques that I offer people. It is important to mention that as a therapist I don’t like to skip right to the solution. Often, what someone needs it to discuss the issue that is affecting them so that I can develop targeted interventions. I always recommend that if you have something big going on in your life you take time to explore the issue before trying to jump in and “fix it”.
These 4 techniques are not offered so that you can fix everything in your life. Rather, they are practical therapeutic suggestions that you can try on your own. For many people actually getting to a therapist is out of the question. They might be unable to go due to scheduling, financial resources, or availability of qualified therapists. Everyone deserves to have access to quality therapeutic interventions, even if that means having to them on your own.
1. Practice Distress Tolerance
Distress tolerance is a skill that is often employed in dialectical behavioral therapy. It is a technique where you try to actually sit through difficult emotions. Often when I see people suffering from anxiety they experience the thoughts and body sensations as being overwhelming and unbearable. The point of distress tolerance is to teach your body and mind that you can make it through these difficult feelings without falling apart.
Practice: When something comes up that feels overwhelming see if you can take a few moments to close your eyes and just experience the feeling. You might turn to the body and notice what your jaw, throat, or stomach feel like. Also, see if you can notice the painful thoughts that are happening. Is your mind telling you to jump up and get away from this feeling? See if you can sit with it for long enough to realize that you can make it through the feeling.
The practice of bearing down and backing off is sometimes known as titrated exposure. This technique come from a specific therapeutic technique called systematic desensitization. You can read more about it this type of work here. Desensitization was developed to help people who are coping with phobias. However, this skill works for people who are dealing with trauma, anxiety, depression, and many more clinical issues.
Essentially what you do is expose yourself to something in very small doses. Above I talked about distress tolerance. Well, the best way to practice distress tolerance is by pairing it with this skill. Sit through a little bit of discomfort at a time until you can handle more and more.
Practice: Pick something that is particularly difficult for you to confront. It might be fear of spiders, feelings of anxiety, or a conversation with an annoying person. See if you can chose the piece of this thing that seems the most benign and manageable.
If we take the example of spiders, you might start by just thinking about spiders. Try to hold an image of a spider in your mind until you start to feel less anxious. This piece is the bearing down. Now, if you start to feel overwhelmed back off. You might need to pick a piece that feels even less anxiety provoking or just expose yourself to it for a shorter period of time. The point is to expose yourself without getting flooded. Take things as slowly as you need to.
3. Noticing The Joy
This technique is take from Rick Hanson’s work on creating positive pathways. His website, RickHanson.net offers a ton of great resources that explain is work in more detail. Essentially, he outlines the idea that if you focus on things that bring you joy you will end up feeling happier. I want to be clear that he is not just talking about the power of positive thinking or ignoring things that are negative. Rather, it is about training your brain to notice and enrich pleasant things that are already happening.
Practice: Pick one thing in your awareness right now that feels pleasant. It can be as small as the feeling of your breath or a bird chirping outside your window. Notice how it feels in your body to pay attention to this thing. You might feel your shoulder drop or your belly soften. See if you can really focus on this one pleasant thing for just 20 seconds or so. If you get distracted by a thought, just try again.
You can do this any time and in any situation. You don’t need to use this skill when something bad is happening. In fact, it works the best if you do it in a few different conditions. Try it when things already feel pleasant, when you’re bored, and during times of conflict.
4. Evaluate Your Options
Many people want to know what they should do in a difficult life situation. I firmly believe it is not my job as a therapist to tell anyone what to do. Rather, I can help them see what options are available and talk through each one with them. But, you can also do this on your own. This skill really works best when talking about interpersonal conflict.
In any relationship conflict you generally have three options, fight, accept, and leave. The fight option doesn’t mean to literally fight with someone. Rather it means to continue to stand your ground and hold true to what you want or expect from the other person. This might mean communicating your needs clearly or asking them to change something that isn’t working. The accept option means to accept things as they are. It might not be exactly how you want, but can you be ok with it? Leaving means that you pull back from or walk away from the relationship. If it really is just causing harm and you cannot accept things you might need to set a boundary and pull back.
Practice: You can bring to mind a conflict you are having with another person right now. It can be a friend, partner, or family member. What would it look like to fight and stand up for what you need? Would this person be able to hear you and change their behavior? Next ask yourself what it would look like if you accepted things as they are. Could you be ok even if nothing changed? Finally, consider what it might be like to set a firm boundary and pull back from the relationship. Does caring for yourself mean less time or closeness with this person?
The important thing is that you don’t need to decide right away! Instead just consider these options and know that they are available to you. Often during conflict people feel powerless. Just knowing you have three options might be empowering. Eventually you will have to decide which road to take but you don’t need to pick right away.
Allow yourself some time and space to try one or all of these therapeutic skills. You might find it helpful to talk to a friend or mentor after trying one. If one stands out as being particularly helpful given your situation just focus on that one for a while. The point is, you can really make this your own and use them in the way that best serves you.
If at any point you feel overwhelmed or like you need help, remember you don’t have to do this on your own. You can reach out to me for counseling at (707) 780-3003. If you need immediate or emergency care please contact 911. There are people who care and are available to support you!