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When Self-Help is No Help

Although self-help principles and concepts can be enormously useful in helping you change your life for the better, I believe there are limits to how much you can achieve using self-help. Granted, you and you alone can do incredible things to improve your life. Nevertheless, you may find that depending solely on your own devices is not always the best path. Self-help can sometimes be wrought with built-in limits.

One limit in the area of mental health involves conditions like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and a host of other challenges. I shutter to think about the number of times I’ve heard and witnessed well-meaning self-help or personal development authors or speakers delve into areas where they lack the proper knowledge or training. I’m sure you’ve heard self-help “gurus” prescribe vacuous success quips and pollyannaish nonsense in situations where professional help would be the best answer.

I’ve had many clients over the years where it was clear to me that some of the issues they were dealing with were not in my wheelhouse or circle of competence. I’m not a doctor nor have I had any kind of medical training, yet clients have asked me about issues that run much deeper than finding your life’s purpose, changing your beliefs, setting goals that are attainable, reaching more financial success, or developing new strategies for your life and business. The list goes on and on, but what if medical guidance is necessary? What if your underlying chemistry is such that no amount of effort on your part is going to fix your problem? Let’s use depression as an example as it comes up frequently.

Depression comes in many forms but let’s just consider two broad categories: (1) situational depression, and (2) clinical depression. As the name states, situational depression is situation based. Something has happened in your life that is a short-term, stress-type issue. Maybe something bad has happened and you need to find a healthy way to process it. Perhaps you need to change the situation or just change the way you think about the situation. Self-help, or a bit of coaching, might be useful in this case. So far, so good.

However, what if your depressed mood doesn’t get better in a few days? What if the situation gets better but your depression continues? It’s possible that you’ve stepped into the world of clinical depression.

Here’s an except from Medical News Today:

“Clinical depression is more severe than situational depression. It is also known as major depression or major depressive disorder. It is severe enough to interfere with daily life.”

“It is classified as a mood disorder and it typically involves chemical imbalances in the brain.”

“Clinical depression can have genetic origins or it may develop as a response to painful or stressful experiences or events, such as a major loss. These major life events can trigger negative emotions such as anger, disappointment, or frustration.”

“Depression can change the way a person thinks and how the body works.”

“Alcohol and drug abuse are also linked to clinical depression.”

Since the lines between situational and clinical depression can get blurry, I can understand why people can be confused. However, I’ve learned that it’s always best to err on the side of caution. If you are experiencing depression and it’s been more than a few days, stop the self-help and go get some professional help. I’ve gone so far as to fire clients that didn’t want to seek professional help if I believed there was even the slightest possibility of clinical depression.

Perhaps I’m overly sensitive in this matter because I have a history of mental health issues in my family. My mother suffered from depression and anxiety. My father battled substance abuse. And I lost one of my brothers, Paul, on Thanksgiving Day in 2015 as a result of his mental health issues. His condition was so severe that he tried to take his life several times. He finally decided to declare himself DNR (“Do Not Resuscitate”) and then refused to take his medications and also refused to eat or drink. Death was more appealing to Paul than the pain of living. So this issue is very real to me.

My own DNA has provided me with more faulty wiring and circuitry than I’d ever care to admit. Have I experienced depression and anxiety to a high degree? Yes. Have I tried to fix it myself? Yes. Has it worked? No. I wouldn’t be writing this blog or doing anything else for that matter if it were not for the ongoing help and support of my amazing family and friends along with some incredible doctors.

Are you experiencing any issues that are out of the reach of the latest self-help book, or a new-to-the-scene motivational speaker, or an exciting life coach? If self-help or pop-psychology isn’t working, I’d say the sooner you get professional help the better. I’m still happy to work with you or help you in any way that I can, but remember that all improvement begins by telling yourself the truth. So how are you doing, and how are you feeling? No, really, how are you feeling? The healing starts with the truth.

No matter what problems you may be facing, there is help available. Maybe a great life coach is all you need to help you see yourself from the outside looking in. Just make sure you choose the right person for your situation. We are all too close to ourselves to really see ourselves as we really are. Shakespeare captured this idea best when he wrote:

“The eye sees not itself but by reflection or of some other means.”

So get the right person to give you both an outside look and an inside look if necessary. Make sure that, if you need a complete inside look, you get the right professional with the best medical training. New discoveries are being made everyday. Never lose sight of help that might be closer than you think with your family and friends. Tell your family and friends how you feel, and always remember to keep the faith. The help you need is available, and it’s within reach.