Bob Denny: Help yourself

Published: Monday, March 3, 2014 at 4:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 3, 2014 at 4:22 p.m.

What is psychology good for, anyway? Is it just mumbo-jumbo talk by stuffy professionals? Or is it a helpful tool we can all use to build better lives for ourselves?

Psychology has been a slow-growing science, since the ancient Greeks. Rather than just go to philosophers or experts, teachers like Aristotle, Socrates and Plato taught that the practical way of getting answers to their questions was to observe, experiment on the world around them, and look objectively at the results of their studies. They asked, “What are the answers that work in the real world?”

Through the ages, many bright thinkers used science as a tool to study and to learn how the universe, and the mind, works. During the last couple of hundred years, Wilhelm Wundt set up the first psychological laboratory in Leipzig, Germany, and studied rat behaviors. No, rats aren’t people, but he wanted to find out if rat maze-solving could help us solve our own problems.

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian medical doctor, who took cases other physicians couldn’t fix. He theorized that our mental process were the root cause of many illnesses. Psychiatrists today still base a lot of their practice on his work. More recently, B.F. Skinner, Albert Ellis and others developed theories about behavior, learning, and our thinking processes, used widely in today’s problem-solving and behavior management techniques.

Do we always need expert help with our psychological issues? Can I do it on my own? Mental health professionals, and the law too, draw the line for getting help: When we have significant, long-lasting problems affecting a major part of our lives, like work, relationships, or difficulty with our everyday functioning or quality of life, we need professional help.

But if we haven’t crossed that line, we can probably do a lot to help ourselves, to improve our level of functioning, improve our quality of life, and develop a positive mental health. our doctor or a mental health professional, such as a counselor, can help you determine if you’ve crossed that line, or if you’re ready for self-help.

If you’re ready, here are some ideas that can help:

What are the problems that are troubling you? It helps to write them down, or start a journal.

What would you like to have instead of these problems? What’s the ideal outcome? Allow yourself to dream a little.

What are some easy little things you could do, that would move you in the direction of your dreams?

Why aren’t you doing them already? What’s getting in the way? Why aren’t you taking action? Do you find yourself making excuses? Face the problems honestly.

Identify and change the behaviors that are keeping you from dealing with your problems. Find little actions you can take, instead of continuing the old behaviors that are messing you up.

Change your thinking. Can you recognize your negative thoughts? Think of the opposite. Look at its positive side. Instead of “It’s too big! It’s no use! I can’t do this!” think, “I can do this, little by little.”

When you can change your actions and your thinking, you’ll find that your feelings will change for the better. When you feel better, you’ll find it easier to move forward in your problem-solving. Then that will help you feel better, and you’ve started a chain reaction.

It’s not always easy, but it’s your life you’re talking about! Take charge of your thinking and your behavior, and you take charge of your own life. You’re on the way towards building that happier life that we all deserve!

Bob Denny has been a licensed mental health therapist in Florida, worked with troubled youth and families for a career, and taught psychology at Florida Gateway College for the last 10 years. Check out his new book, “Happiness is looking for you!” on the Comments welcome at

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