A woman with long blonde hair sitting in the grass near a pond practicing meditation, facing away from the camera.

Prioritizing your mental health is essential. Your mental health influences how you think, feel and act. It trickles into work, school, as well as your relationships. Therefore, caring for your mental health means caring for each of these aspects of your life. There are small things you can do such as eating healthy and exercising regularly, but often those need to be done as a supplement to therapy.

Not everyone, however, can afford to see a therapist on a long-term basis. What’s more, therapy does not just happen inside a therapist’s office. Healthcare professionals such as occupational therapists (OTs) often encourage their patients to implement self-guided therapy techniques in their daily life as well. 

It is a part of an occupational therapist’s job description to help their patients practice such techniques outside of therapy sessions. Practicing these common therapy techniques is something that, for the most part, you can do by yourself. While you’ll need self-discipline and motivation to get started, the results are often worth it.

Detailed below are a few common therapy practices that you may find solace in:

Self-Directed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Tactics

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT for short, is a simple yet impactful tactic for improving mental health. The practice helps us shape the way we think and act. CBT can help challenge feelings of depression, alter unwanted behavior patterns, and treat mood disorders.

Common therapy techniques include:

  • Cognitive restructuring: Cognitive restructuring is the process of identifying and undoing negative, irrational, or maladaptive thinking patterns known as cognitive distortions. The first step of cognitive restructuring is identifying your feelings: pause and ask yourself what you are feeling and why you are feeling this way. From there you can generate alternative, more constructive thoughts.
  • Guided discovery: Guided discovery is a CBT technique that essentially entails using the Socratic method. Similar to cognitive restructuring, guided discovery involves identifying and then reflecting on thinking processes. The technique allows a patient to think for themselves without indoctrination from a therapist.
  • Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy is a technique that people diagnosed with anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder or agoraphobia, often find useful. This form of therapy involves gradually exposing patients to the source of their fear. Exposure therapy is an excellent self-directed practice. A significant aspect of it involves patients implementing the practice outside of therapy sessions.

Narrative Therapy Tactics

Narrative therapy involves looking at your life externally in order to gain a new perspective. This form of therapy aims for individuals to be their own therapist, capable of addressing a problem and confronting it. Narrative therapy follows three pillars: it is respectful, non-blaming, and views the client as an expert.

Techniques for narrative therapy include:

  • Putting together a narrative: The first and most basic narrative therapy tactic is putting together a narrative. This practice involves making meaning and finding purpose in an individual’s unique experience of the world.
  • Externalization: The next step, which we touched on in our definition, is externalization. The externalization technique asks individuals to view their issues as separate from themselves, rather than an unchangeable aspect of their lives.
  • Deconstruction: The deconstruction technique, as its name implies, has individuals deconstruct what they’re going through in order to see it through an objective lens.

Journaling Tactics

The art of journaling may help combat sadness, anxiety, and stress, or any unusual symptoms brought on by stress. Journaling is a simple practice and there are various ways for you to do it. You may wish to explore them all and see which one works best for you.

Journaling tactics include:

  • Gratitude journaling: In this kind of journal, you write down everything you are grateful for. What’s great about gratitude journals is the ability to go back and read them when you’re feeling down.
  • Playlist journals: If music is your preferred medium, you can make playlist journals instead. Playlist journals may reflect your life where you are now, where you’re going, or where you want to be. There are many different ways to construct a playlist journal. No way is right or wrong.
  • Writing letters: Writing letters is another way to express yourself through journaling. You could write letters to your ex, a removed family member, or your past self, for instance.
  • Tracking habits: Lastly, consider tracking your habits in a journal. You can simply write down your habits and make a note of each day or time you perform them. This can help you learn what may trigger your habits and provide a start to breaking unproductive ones.

Meditation and Mindfulness-Based Tactics

Meditation and mindfulness-based tactics require you to focus all of your senses completely on your surroundings. The aim of mindfulness is for individuals to become intensely aware of what they’re sensing, feeling, or experiencing at any given moment. This practice may be beneficial to improving mental health in the industrial workplace or in office settings.

To practice meditation and mindfulness, perform the following steps:

  • Find a comfortable place to sit: Anywhere you feel at peace, such as the couch, bed, or even your lawn.
  • Set a time limit for how long you wish to practice: If this is your first time practicing mindfulness, you may wish to set a time limit of only five or 10 minutes.
  • Notice each of your five senses: Next you simply want to note each of your five senses; noting involves nothing more than becoming aware.
  • Feel your breath: After noting your senses, take a moment to feel your breath.
  • Note when your mind wanders: Again, make note of each of your five senses each time your mind begins to wander. You don’t need to blame yourself for wandering, simply just begin noting again.

Art Therapy Tactics

You don’t have to be an artist to practice art therapy. Incorporating creative methods of expression into your self-guided therapy practices is something everyone can do. Art therapy also uses several different mediums, such as drawing, painting, sculpting, collage making, and doodling.

  • Draw, paint, or sculpt your emotions: No matter how you are feeling, translate that over to your art. If you’re feeling sad, use shades of blue. If you’re feeling flustered, draw messily.
  • Try line art: Line art is fairly simple and straightforward. If you only have a pen and paper, line art may be the easiest art therapy for you. Line art consists of a single line that makes up a drawing.
  • Make a collage: Cut out old photos or clips from magazines and build a collage that captures how you’re feeling.
  • Paint to music: Playing relaxing music while painting may provide double the effects on your mood and energy levels.
  • Draw outdoors: Similar to painting to music, painting outdoors may provide double the benefits as well.

Humanistic Therapy Tactics

Humanistic therapy tactics ask individuals to be true to themselves. This form of therapy is based on the belief that everybody experiences and has a different view of the world around them. With this in mind, practicing humanistic therapy tactics involves making choices that are unique to you and developing self-respect and self-love.

Types of humanistic therapy tactics include:

  • Gestalt therapy: Gestalt therapy emphasizes personal responsibility. The main idea behind this form of therapy is that unresolved conflicts will eventually lead to distress — and more conflict. During gestalt therapy, you’ll want to set up a safe environment in which you can express how you’re feeling. You can then practice this technique by role-playing, exaggerating a behavior, or reenacting a scenario.
  • Existential therapy: Existential therapy draws from the field of existentialist philosophy. The purpose of existential therapy is to consider your existence in the world and how it is your existence alone. It encourages you to confront the emotions and concerns you are feeling, put them in your unique perspective, and take responsibility.  

When to See a Doctor About Your Mental Health

It is important to remember that self-directed therapy should be reserved for mild to moderate mental health concerns. For more severe instances of anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions, professional help may be needed. Struggling to get out of bed in the morning, consistently missing work or school, and feeling helpless are a few signs that it is time to see a licensed counselor or doctor.

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