Over the last decade we’ve seen a great rise in the availability and quality of self-help techniques. This has been a result of shifts in popular culture, the rising demand for mental health care and the growing body of scientific evidence in support of self-help techniques.
Moreover, access to these ideas has resulted in a more informed public which is better equipped to look after its mental health. Psychology is no longer a dark art, but a pervasive part of how we conduct our daily life. For those without immediate access to mental health care, being able find information about their concerns has been the greatest of all successes.
This however has come at a small cost. We have also seen a blurring of the lines between the services offered by registered health professionals and those found on DIY shelves.
Some persons opt for the cheaper, celebrity endorsed, reassuring tone provided by self-help, when they probably should be speaking to their GP. Self-help is by no means a substitute for professional medical care. Furthermore, self-help is wrongfully viewed by many as a first option or something of a frontline treatment. In doing so they might overestimate how powerful or effective some of these self-help techniques are, and delay getting the more appropriate treatment they need.
In recent commentary about the DSM, I referred to the harm caused by the careless labeling of illnesses.
There is a growing resistance to this medical model and its on-off paradigm. In reaction to this, the danger is the expectation that self-help is Psychology’s new age, alternative medicine.
This danger is not confined to, but best represented by self-help treatment for depression and anxiety-related disorders such as OCD and related phobias.
Let us ask my friend Simon to set the scene and see if it is possible to produce a programme which will cure pain:
Simon plays football. I don’t know if he’s any good or not, but I do know that it is really important to him that he recovers from a knee injury which has kept him off the field. It would be very easy to kill the pain through subliminal or hypnotic suggestion. In doing so, his brain would no longer pay attention to the information signals which are the body’s way of alerting him to his knee trauma.
The unconscious shift would not regenerate tissue in his knee. Many in the profession argue that this is entirely possible, but I have yet to be presented with any scientific study to support this.
Simon will go back onto the field causing further damage to his knee.
Further along this slippery slope are psychological issues where the same rules apply. It is possible to treat the signs and symptoms of anxiety related disorders by downloading and playing a subliminal mp3. (I’m proud to say you won’t find one at Subliminal Today, though). The same is true of hypnosis recordings. The suggestions work in much the same way, supressing and in some cases totally removing the symptoms. These two approaches have been shown to be extremely effective at dealing with symptoms of anxiety.
Anxiety when it is supressed is strange, unpredictable and it reveals itself in a plethora of ways. The key to treating anxiety permanently is to address the cause of said anxiety (I would be remiss if I claimed that psychologists fully agree on this).
So why is Paul depressed and what lies behind Claire’s irrational fear of pigeons? Removing the symptoms without treating the underlying cause has three very troubling consequences:
- The individual fails to allow themselves the proper care.
- The anxiety remains, and presents itself in an entirely new way which can impair social or occupational functioning in more severe ways.
- The symptoms alter in ways which prevent a health professional from making a successful diagnosis, thereby preventing the most appropriate course of treatment.
Using hypnosis and subliminal messaging for the treatment of anxiety related disorders, in the absence of registered professional care is ill advised. However, the industry could make better use of both techniques by integrating them further with traditional support structures. With the growing need around the world for at least a basic level of support, there is much to be said about a person’s ability to get self help and use it responsibly. Its associated treatments have been shown to be comparable to traditional approaches, and in some cases even more effective. In conjunction with one on one attention, self-help can be truly beneficial, dramatically cut recovery time and support sustained healing.
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