Psychological Self-Help

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Guard against misdiagnosis
WARNING: None of us is qualified to diagnose ourselves. A major
concern is what if we misdiagnose our own problem. What if our
headache is caused by a tumor instead of stress at work? What if our
anxiety is caused by hyperthyroidism or hypoglycemia instead of
feelings of inadequacy? What if our poor interpersonal relationships
are caused by schizophrenia instead of shyness? What if our "highs"
and irresponsible spending are the result of a mild manic-depressive
disorder instead of simple "impulsiveness?" What if our depression is
caused by PMS instead of our marriage? What if our marital problems
are caused by unconscious childhood experiences instead of poor
communication skills? What if our fear of knives is caused by an
unconscious urge to kill ourselves instead of merely being a fear
reaction to knives? 
We are dealing with very complex matters. Even the experts
disagree and don't know much about the causes of many disorders.
Therefore, it is absolutely essential that every self-diagnostician get a
second opinion, especially when there are significant risks involved. If
there is any threat to life, if you might have a serious emotional-
mental disorder (this is hard to know), if you have a chemical
dependency, if the problems could be caused or treated with physical-
chemical means, or if you have tried for some time to make changes
and failed, please seek professional help right away. As mentioned in
Understandings 11 and 12, always get help making a diagnosis and
treating a serious problem. See a physician and/or a psychologist. 
On the other hand, it is obvious that many of the problems listed in
Table 2.1 are psychological, requiring new habits, new skills or
different ways of thinking, not surgery or drugs or therapy for a
psychosis. It is also obvious that some of these problems may have
existed for a long time without serious consequences; therefore, it
may be quite reasonable, in these less serious areas, to try initially to
change yourself without first seeking professional help. If you can
change yourself without professional help, wonderful! If you can't, get
See the problem as a challenge and an opportunity.
In spite of the warning just given, the evidence is clear (D'zurilla, 1986) that
optimism is important. No one is going to be a self-helper unless he/she
believes (1) the problem is solvable and (2) he/she is capable of solving it. If
you believe you can change things, you will work on the problem sooner,
harder, and longer. Where does this self-confidence come from? Largely from
trying to change things and having some success (see chapter 14--helpful
attitudes). It has been said, "Improving is catching! 50% of people who stop
drinking also stop smoking." So, select something you can change and really
want to change--and let's get on with it. 
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