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  • Writer's pictureKiki Fehling

9 Non-Therapy Options for Improving Mental Health

Updated: Nov 17, 2023

This morning I read this Substack post – No, Not Everyone Needs Therapy – and found it really interesting and thought-provoking. Though I don’t agree with every argument the author makes, it is obviously true that not everyone needs therapy. Also, even when someone could benefit from therapy, it’s not always easy to find... There aren’t enough trained, licensed clinicians available to serve all of the people who want therapy (especially for certain mental health issues, like BPD). Even if someone finds therapy in their area, it’s often too expensive to attend sessions for as long as they need/want to. Finally, and sadly, research shows that therapy actually harms some people.


(Note: I intend to write about this issue more in the future. For now, I’ll just point out that harm caused by therapy seems to be due to mismatches between client and therapy, rather than therapy itself being harmful. That’s why finding the right therapist for you is so important, and why I'm writing an ebook about finding a therapist – if you want to hear about it when it’s released, sign up for my newsletter!)


Luckily, there are a lot of non-therapy options for improving your mental and emotional health. Of course, if you’re struggling with severe depression, debilitating anxiety, self-harm, addiction, or other behavioral and emotional problems that make it difficult to live the life you want to live, I strongly encourage you to find professional help. (See the “I’m trying to find a therapist” section on my resources page for guidance.) But, if you don’t want therapy, or haven’t yet been able to find it, below are some non-therapy suggestions for finding emotional healing and resilience.


Self-Help Therapy Resources. “Self-Help” describes a fairly large swatch of things. There are books, online videos, and podcasts that can teach you mental health skills or lessons. While these options are not sufficient for helping everyone, they offer at least one option for people waiting to receive therapy or unable to find therapy right now. Of course, not all self-help is created equal... There are certain types of self-help books, for example, that are meant to be used as “self-therapy,” also known as bibliotherapy. Some even have research supporting their use for improving mental health! If you want to find self-help resources based on evidence-based therapy, look for authors, podcasters, youtubers, and other content creators who are licensed mental health professionals who specialize in your specific issues. (For an example directory of self-help books, see here.)


Find Peer Support. Whether you are attending therapy or not, finding support from peers can be amazing for a lot of people struggling with mental health. There are tons of support groups and coaching options both online and in-person in many cities. Your best bet is googling "mental health support group in [your location]" (or searching with terms for your specific mental health concern, like depression) or searching through large mental health organizations (like Mental Health America, NAMI, DBSA, Hey Peers, etc). You also can find tons of peer support online, like in mental health communities on Reddit (e.g., r/dbtselfhelp), or through social media by following content creators with lived experience of your mental health struggles. Talking to or hearing from people with experiences like yours can help you feel less alone, which can in itself be a healing experience.


Improve your physical health. People really underestimate the impact that their physical health has on their mental health. If you are struggling emotionally and haven’t been paying attention to your physical health, start there. There’s a lot of resources out there that can help you with your diet, fitness, hormonal balance, medication-taking, sleep hygiene, hydration, and general health habits. Try to find evidence-based resources from specialists when you can. Keep in mind: change in health-related outcomes and behaviors can be really hard and slow. So, it's important to practice self-compassion when working to improve your physical health. I encourage you to find support from dietitians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, medical doctors, hormone specialists, and other trained/licensed professionals for any problems, confusion, or obstacles you face.


Get involved in your community. bell hooks wrote: "Rarely, if ever, are any of us healed in isolation. Healing is an act of communion." Take that advice to heart. Many of our mental health difficulties stem from loneliness and lack of meaning. Getting involved with your community can help lessen the burden of these two things. Volunteer at a local organization you believe in. Attend your town/city hall meetings. Go to your local library, coffee shops, or event spaces regularly. Introduce yourself to your neighbors. Volunteer at local organizations that help people or animals in need. Contributing to the wellbeing of others contributes to your wellbeing both indirectly and directly.


Journaling. Beyond the relationship you have with the therapist, one of the most powerful parts of therapy is just paying attention to your emotions and inner experiences. So often our families and cultures have taught us to keep our emotions to ourselves, to focus on the positive, or to prioritize achievement over self-care. But, our bodies physically evolved to feel emotions for a reason--even the painful ones. Ignoring or suppressing emotions causes us problems. Journaling allows us time and space to actively reflect on our lives and experiences, which can increase our self-understanding and help us feel less overwhelmed. Some research even suggests that hand-writing about stressful/traumatic experiences can help people process emotions and reduce distress! So, if you're willing to keep a journal/diary, buy yourself a blank notebook (or a therapy-inspired journal) and go for it!


Explore your goals. Another big part of therapy for some people is getting better clarity on their priorities and goals in life. If you’re feeling lost or unmotivated, exploring your values and desires for your future could be a useful thing to do without a therapist (or before meeting with a future therapist). The therapy I specialize in, DBT, offers a concept of a “Life Worth Living” — the life that you would find most joyful, pleasurable, and meaningful. You can find a number of free resources about identifying your Life Worth Living online (including from me in my store). Free resources online about determining your values and goals from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can be really helpful here, too. There also are numerous non-therapy authors, thinkers, and content creators (e.g., James Clear, Brene Brown, etc) who discuss habit-building or value-based living.


Get out in nature and find time/space to rest. Today’s world is fast-paced, demanding, and technology-driven. It’s very likely that you do not get outside and move your body in nature as much as would benefit you! Going on walks or hikes, bird-watching, swimming, working with animals — all of these things can be incredibly healing and therapeutic for people. Further, a lot of people work non-stop, and would benefit from finding more space and time to just rest. Experiment with taking naps. Get off your phone. Stop answering work emails after a certain time each night. Use your vacation days. Not all of these rest tools may be available to you in your specific financial/logistical situation; but even taking a five-minute break to close your eyes or stretch in the middle of the day can be a powerful reset for folks. See what you can do to support your mental health by de-stressing through rest and nature. (Do you struggle with over-working, and need some inspiration to rest? Check out this, this, and this book.)


Work with non-therapy healers. Again: if you struggle significantly with your mental health, if you take psychiatric medications, or if you have a mental health diagnosis, it's important that you seek therapy/therapy-like services from licensed professionals who are best equipped to help you. Otherwise, there are a lot of types of healers/helpers who can guide folks looking to improve their mental health by getting support coping with everyday stressors or life transitions. Coaches, for example, can offer tips and strategies for dealing with various non-clinical issues, they can offer support for specific lived experiences, or they can act as a useful non-biased listener and guide. Pastors, rabbis, and other religious figures are often experienced in providing non-clinical counseling and life guidance. Masseuses, acupuncturists, reiki practitioners, somatic coaches, and other professionals specialize in body-based healing that some people find very helpful. Finally, there also are countless traditional healers, practices, and ceremonies that can improve mental health for people of indigenous communities (and for the people who are invited into these practices by indigenous communities).


Reach out for help in crisis. Outside of any support groups or friends, there are people you can reach out to when you’re really really struggling and don't want/have a therapist. Here are a few hotlines you can call if you’re ever in crisis or great distress:

  • 988 — National Lifeline — support for mental health and suicidal thinking

  • 1 (800) 604-5841 — BlackLine — support for BIPOC people

  • 1-866-488-7386 — The Trevor Project — support for LGBTQ people

  • 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) — NAMI — support and information about mental illness

  • 1-(888) 457-4838 — Sam Foundation — support for military-related issues


Bottom Line


While therapy is amazingly helpful for many people, there are countless options for personal, psychological, and spiritual growth outside of modern psychotherapy. I hope this post helped you think about some new options, and I hope you find the healing and growth you’re looking for!


 

Have questions or ideas about this post? Or want to suggest the non-therapy options that have helped with your mental health? Please comment below or reach out to me on social media!


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