Last Sunday I gave a talk on doing therapy on yourself, as well as giving demonstrations of two different exercises—one from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, one from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which were the modalities in the focus of my talk. CBT and DBT are not the only types of evidence based therapies (in fact, DBT is descended from CBT). However! I find that most self-help and/or manualized therapies that people run across are from Cognitive Behavioral or Dialectical roots, and that those who dislike CBT like DBT and vice versa.
None of the comments below should be taken as Official Therapeutic Advice. However, I made lots of recommendations based on reading and poking through all sorts of books and apps and exercises intended to teach self-therapy.
Except where otherwise noted, all are books or resources I’ve personally used, and all are compared to at least two other things I’ve tried and found inferior.
These are not the total of all books that are non-clinical and excellent. They are, however, books I have interacted with and found to be generally excellent.
When Panic Attacks
CBT for Work
I talked briefly about clinical books, which I recommend non-clinicians try out. They’re often more expensive, but usually extremely information-dense, tend to contain far more worksheets and exercises, and are usable to the layperson. My advice for reading them effectively: skip the theories (more on this in another post) and go straight to suggested questions and example interactions between therapist and client. The book is trying to teach a framework from which the clinician can adapt and pull from to interact with their client.
I usually find it most useful to read the book while imagining I am the clinician (clinical books facilitate this well) with a client in front of me with identical issues and history to mine. This both makes it more likely that I’ll take the outside view and forces me to avoid skipping aversive steps, which I notice I do more frequently when reading non-clinical books. So! below are my favorite clinical books:
Clinical Interviewing (here’s the endorsement for this one: I enthusiastically read this school textbook for fun and I don’t regret it one bit.)
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder (not just for people with BPD—I found the worksheets and handouts in this most useful for boundary-setting and interpersonal skill development)
DBT Workbook for Clients (Caveat: this is the only thing on the list that I have not vetted personally, though I have repeatedly been told by others I trust that it is wonderful)
Sources for Exercises and Worksheets:
For a massive variety of free-to-use worksheets, there’s psychology.tools.
I used this particular worksheet (slightly adapted) to create the CBT that I lead the group in doing. I chose it because it’s short, it ends on a positive note, and it explores a bunch of reasons as to why a problem could be persisting. It also capitalizes on the peak end effect.
Presumably from the makers of psychology.tools, there’s selfhelp.tools, a site that’s explicitly for use by non-clinicians.
Google Drive of CBT forms that have been made into Google forms!
Note: since I gave this talk to rationalists, I included some specific notes for that community; mainly, what questions I ask when suggesting what kind of therapy someone might prefer. They are enclosed below. Again, not official advice.
1. Do you find meditation practices to be
(a)pleasant and useful or
2. When you have unpleasant emotions, do you prefer
(a)poking and digging into them and the root cause or
(b) focusing on causing them to dissipate?
3. If you have taken a CFAR workshop recently and took Val’s class on embodied cognition, etc, did the ‘feel your feet’ exercise make sense? Can you usually notice how you are occupying your body?
4. If you have read Gendlin’s Focusing, did the idea of a ‘felt-sense’ make sense to you? Were those exercises natural?
If (b),(a), No, and No, I suggest starting by looking at things described as CBT or cognitive therapy. If (a),(b), Yes, and Yes, I suggest starting with mindfulness/DBT first. Technically, DBT is a cognitive behavioral therapy. However, the ‘feel’ of things described mainly as CBT and the feel of DBT seem to be significantly different, with the latter being mindfulness/Zen/radical acceptance focused in a way that the former does not emphasize.