Self-Therapy Can Actually Relieve Depression & Anxiety – For Free

self-therapy reading book with coffee

Before I started freelance writing, the last job I held was as head cashier for a retailer. I helped ensure our cashiers’ satisfaction via rewards for certain goals. We would create Candyland-esque games to track employee progress. In other words, half of my job involved arts and crafts. It was pretty great.

But I was also the person the cashiers called when their tech wasn’t working. As head cashiers, we were given a manual of troubleshooting tasks to do first – things like, “Unplug it and wait thirty seconds before plugging it back in.”

If it was that easy, great, problem solved. If it wasn’t, we called tech support – and that, more than pulling carts or chastising the employees trying to be sneaky about texting behind their registers, was the worst part of my job.

By the time tech support answered, what did they tell us to do first?
“I’d like you to unplug the machine, wait thirty seconds, then plug it back in.”
“I tried that already.”
“Try it again, now that we’re on the phone.”

So frustrating. Why wouldn’t these so-called experts let us help ourselves? Eventually, we’d start counting to thirty while multi-tasking on another project. Not that I advocate lying. Usually.

Cool, but isn’t this article about mental health?

*I respect the tremendous amount of effort involved in getting a college degree.*

Disclaimer: I have a BA in English, so my version of “tremendous effort” involved suffering through Wuthering Heights.

I also understand that every specialization has a 101 level class that many people will take as an elective… and none so common as Psychology 101.

In Psych 101, you’ll learn the signs of each mental illness. As a really fun bonus, you might briefly develop Medical Student Syndrome and start self-diagnosing ailments left and right. Self-diagnosis is bad – but professionals do use certain checklists to diagnose the existence or severity of mental illnesses. You can find those checklists online easily (some more authoritative than others).

And even beyond your diagnosis, you’ll learn that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most commonly prescribed treatments for anxiety and depression. You can find the tenants of CBT online, too.

Self-help doesn’t work, though.

Actually, according to this study, a self-help approach to CBT can be just as effective as therapy or medication.

Don’t believe that study? Take it from the dozens of Twitter users that responded to my thread about the efficacy of self-help.


In fact, have you heard of Woebot? It’s a new robo-chat app based on CBT. You read that right – you can get psychological help from a robot. Think of it as the human equivalent of that troubleshooting guide. (I’m not affiliated with them, and I haven’t tried it yet, but I should.)

Plus, I can speak to the power of self-therapy because I’ve been there. I’ve been through several therapists, none of which fully understood what I was going through. They couldn’t prepare me for my major depressive episode of 2013, largely caused by extremely low self-esteem.

In early 2014, I purchased a self-help book: Feeling Good by David Burns, based on CBT. (That’s an affiliate link, although I’ve been recommending it long before I started using Amazon Affiliates.) I was wary about self-help books, as they get such a bad rep – but just the first two chapters of that book changed my life.

In 2014, I was able to hold a job, go back to college, and save my marriage. It paved the way for 2015 and 2016 to be some of the happiest years of my life. For the first time, I was okay spending time by myself, because it turned out myself wasn’t such a bad person after all. Of course, it didn’t prepare me for the depression crash I’d face in late 2017 or mid 2018. Probably should have read more than two chapters.

Right now, I’m working through another David Burns book: Ten Days to Self-Esteem (aff). I hate the clickbaity title, but the exercises in this book have been so helpful for me so far.

Good for you, but I’m sure it can’t help me.

If you’re struggling with a mental illness and you can afford to see a therapist, that’s awesome. I want to stress this:

IF YOU NEED EXPERT ASSISTANCE OR COUNSELING TO GET THROUGH YOUR DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY, SEE A PROFESSIONAL. If you’re in immediate danger, please call the suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-8255), 911 / 999, or at least phone a friend. Self-help isn’t for everyone.

But let’s face it: health insurance in America sucks. Most Americans don’t even have $500 in savings, much less the money to see a therapist. Yes, sliding-scale payment options exist, but they’re flawed.

And even beyond payment costs, the Twitter Mental Health community is always talking about terribly long wait times to see a therapist – sometimes six months or more. (This issue seems to be particularly prevalent in the UK.) There are structural problems here that need to be addressed (which I’ve written about over at Absolute Advocacy), but the right resource can be a great way to jump-start your success.

Why not give one of these self-therapy resources a try? You can try some things out yourself, and for the things you can’t fix alone, talk to a therapist.


Self-therapy has worked for so many people. Using a book, an app, or an online course, you can relieve your symptoms and jump-start mental health treatment.


  1. Rachel Rene says

    Excellent information and highly relatable. I’ll be looking into some of the resources listed for sure.

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