The Do-It-Yourselfers Guide to Making Positive Life Changes: Try These Therapy Alternatives

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There are plenty of perfectly legitimate reasons why someone might not want to visit a therapist. It can be expensive, inconvenient, and (for some) anxiety-provoking.

    . . . studies have shown that computer-administered therapy can produce many of the same positive changes as visiting a therapist in his or her office.

-Dr. Jason Holland, Lifespark

Though there is no perfect substitute for face-to-face interaction with a trained therapist, there are now a number of alternatives that offer many of the benefits of traditional mental health treatment.

So, if you want to get the benefits of therapy, but for whatever reason feel like visiting a therapist just isn’t possible for you right now, here is brief review of three therapy-alternatives:

1. Online Therapy

An increasing number of studies have shown that telephone- and computer-administered therapy (provided by a trained therapy via online video/audio chat or text/email) can produce many of the same positive changes as visiting a therapist in his or her office. There may even be added benefits, as some research has shown that clients participating in therapy remotely tend to stay in treatment longer, most likely due to the convenience of being able to attend sessions from the comfort of one’s own home or office.

If online therapy sounds like it might be for you, then check out these two options:

A. BetterHelp offers live chat, message exchange, phone session or video conferencing with trained and licensed therapists. A recent study by a UC Berkeley researcher reports that BetterHelp members are more satisfied with online text-based counseling than face-to-face counseling. Counseling on BetterHelp is based on a flat membership fee that covers both the use of the platform and unlimited counseling. Prices range from $35 to $70 USD per week for unlimited access to your counselor. However, BetterHelp isn’t for everyone, and on their website they offer referrals for those in imminent crisis or danger.

B. Amwell offers a number of online health services online, including therapy for psychological issues. They have a vast network of trained and licensed therapist across all 50 of the United States. And on their website, they tout that 96% of clients say they are “very or extremely satisfied with their therapist.”

Depending on the background and training of your therapist, pricing can range from $79-$95 for a 45 minute session (compared to $161 for an average therapy office visit). If your health insurance provider covers telehealth services, you might be able to get your out-of-pocket costs reduced even further.

For now, Amwell is only available in the United States. However, according to their website they “hope to soon be available internationally.”

Read Related Article: When Your Life Story Takes a Nose Dive: 3 Ways of ‘Re-storying’ the Darker Moments in Life

2. Self-Help Apps

If you don’t have the dough for online therapy or want to work on improving yourself without having to bother with a therapist, there are a number of self-help apps that are available for Android and iPhone. Interested in learning more? Check out one of these self-help apps:
A. MoodTools was initially developed as a project undertaken by two undergraduates and a professor at Duke University. These students wanted to make the tools of cognitive-behavioral therapy – a highly effective form of therapy that involves examining negative thought patterns and engaging in mood-boosting behavioral exercises – available to anyone with a phone or computer.

The app is free to use and includes (a) information about cognitive-behavior therapy, (b) links to a host of inspirational and educational videos, (c) diary records for examining negative thoughts, and (d) activities designed to improve mood.

MoodTools is a fantastic free resource. But a few words of caution are worth noting. Without reading up on the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy and really understanding the concepts, some of the tools may not entirely make sense, potentially diminishing their therapeutic value. For example, it would be difficult to make use of the negative thought diaries without first knowing something about common negative thought patterns and ways of challenging them.

Thus, potential users are encouraged to first learn about cognitive-behavioral therapy by either closely reading through the information in the app or consulting a popular book on the topic, like Feeling Good by David Burns.

B. The Meaning of Life Experiment was recently launched by Ashok Gupta, who is not a therapist but began investigating the topic of finding meaning in life after his experiences overcoming a debilitating illness. His program is available as a free Android or iPhone app.

The program is broken into 30 days (but allows users to proceed at their own pace), each of which include a 20-30 minute video, guided audio meditations, and journaling exercises. The covered topics are wide-ranging and draw upon findings from quantum physics, philosophy, neuroscience, and psychology.

Although the efficacy of this program has yet to be formally evaluated, users have generally reported positive experiences, with an average rating of 4.7 out of five stars in the Google Play store. The Meaning in Life Experiment is ideal for someone who is generally feeling okay about their life but would like to be inspired and discover new ways of looking at the world.

3. Self-Help Books120x123 Miracle of Self-Discipline

For old-timers out there like me who didn’t grow up with smart phones and would prefer a low-tech option, a good self-help book can also do wonders for your mood and give you a new perspective on life. Here are a couple that are definitely worth checking out:

A. Feeling Good by David Burns is a self-help book that is designed to improve mood and is based on cognitive-behavioral principles. In several studies, people who read this book have been found to show improvements in mood similar to that found for live therapy.

B. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl presents a framework for thinking about meaning in life, as explained in poignant examples drawn from Frankl’s experiences as a psychiatrist and prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. Although this book is frequently assigned as prescribed reading in therapy, one study found that reading Man’s Search for Meaning did not reduce symptoms of depression to the same extent as Feeling Good. So, this book may be best suited for those who generally have their mood under control but want to find greater meaning and purpose in life.

In sum, if you want to get the benefits of therapy without visiting a therapist’s office, check out one of these options. And as always, let us know how it goes.


Further Reading: 



Anderson, L., Lewis, G., Araya, R., Elgie, R., Harrison, G., Proudfoot, J., … & Williams, C. (2005). Self-help books for depression: How can practitioners and patients make the right choice? British Journal of General Practice, 55, 387-392.

Andrews, G., Cuijpers, P., Craske, M. G., McEvoy, P., & Titov, N. (2010). Computer therapy for the anxiety and depressive disorders is effective, acceptable and practical health care: A meta-analysis. PloS One, 5, e13196.

Barak, A., Hen, L., Boniel-Nissim, M., & Shapira, N. A. (2008). A comprehensive review and a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of internet-based psychotherapeutic interventions. Journal of Technology in Human services, 26, 109-160.

Mohr, D. C., Vella, L., Hart, S., Heckman, T., & Simon, G. (2008). The effect of telephone‐administered psychotherapy on symptoms of depression and attrition: A meta‐analysis. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 15, 243-253.

Richards, D., & Richardson, T. (2012). Computer-based psychological treatments for depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 32, 329-342.

Scogin, F., Hamblin, D., & Beutler, L. (1987). Bibliotherapy for depressed older adults: A self-help alternative. The Gerontologist, 27, 383-387.

Spek, V., Cuijpers, P. I. M., Nyklíček, I., Riper, H., Keyzer, J., & Pop, V. (2007). Internet-based cognitive behaviour therapy for symptoms of depression and anxiety: A meta-analysis. Psychological Medicine, 37, 319-328.


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