Self-Help Limits... Choosing Professional Options

From childhood on, I’ve been over the top in love with doing things myself. Both in my personal life and vocationally I’ve championed the cause of self-help. As a natural healthcare practitioner, I teach self-help techniques to my clients write articles and teach classes loaded with self-help strategies to the general public in the fields of healthcare and yoga. So recognizing and accepting the limits of self-help for me has been a reluctant revelation.

In this article we take a walk along the balance beam of basic sanity. A fall to one side and we abandon the responsibility of working for personal growth in our lives, laying the burden on others. In a fall to the other side, we rely too much on our own resources, when much needed help is right on our path, offering a willing hand.

What are some clues that show our need for professional resources?

1. We feel there are no options that give us what we need or want and find ourselves continuing down the same worn path, resigning ourselves to living with chronic pain or unhappiness.

2. Despite our investment in self-help books, audiotapes and CD’s, workshops and the inspiration as well as insight they bring, our difficulties persist and cycle back in intensity.

How do we determine the most appropriate kind of professional help for our situation? Here are some broad categories of dysfunction and their recommended resources.

ACUTE PAIN OF ‘UNKNOWN’ ORIGIN. For pain that comes on quickly and for which one does not know the cause, the best resource is a medical doctor. In our culture, Md.’s are by far the best-trained diagnosticians available. In a situation like this, quick action may be imperative. Even if you are a person who prefers alternative methods of health care, an accurate medical diagnosis may be critical for your health.

After getting a handle on what the problem is, you may choose to separate the medical doctor’s treatment options from her diagnostic services, and still treat your problem from a larger menu of options, which might include a mix of western medicine and natural healthcare methods.

Other professions that perform diagnostic services include Osteopathic doctors, (DO), Chiropractors, (DC), licensed acupuncturists (Lic. Ac.) and naturopathic physicians, (ND), Note: Naturopathic doctors are licensed in only a handful of states.

ACUTE PAIN OF ‘KNOWN’ ORIGIN. This category includes pain caused by accidents and overuse of muscles. Unless one is quite confident that there is no possibility of serious injury to an area, one should again seek the diagnostic services of a physician.

This time however, an osteopathic or chiropractic physician may also be sought for diagnosis and treatment of injuries that involve the spine and connecting muscles, tendons and ligaments.

Here again, your treatment options might also include the services of a Physical Therapist, (PT), Certified Massage Therapist, (CMT), Licensed Massage Therapist, (LMT), certified Acupressurist, (CA) or other type of qualified and experienced body worker, especially where the problem has more to do with the muscles than misalignment of the spine.

In the beginning stages of an acute injury to the back, treatment with a chiropractor may be the most effective modality. Furthermore, I have witness the benefits of chiropractic care for many other conditions in which spinal misalignment may be a factor. In my opinion, (an admittedly biased one), continual treatment of a spinal condition with chiropractic can have its limits. At some point, muscular imbalance, lack of strength and flexibility as well as excess muscle tension must be properly addressed.

All to often, I have seen people continue to have their spines frequently adjusted for many months or years, without significantly reducing tension in the muscles. This can lead to a spine that is overly mobile and will not hold adjustments. When this happens, people find themselves feeling better right after their spinal adjustment, but the tension comes back in a short time.

CHRONIC PHYSICAL PAIN. By the time pain is chronic, one usually has already experienced several diagnostic and treatment modalities. This is often a time when we rely too heavily on the self-help of over-the-counter pain medications or even prescription medications that relax muscular tension and provide pain relief. A great many of the people who end up with kidney problems, took large amounts of pain medications over a long period of time.

Perhaps one has concluded that there are no other treatment options and concludes: “I’ll just have to learn to live with it.” This is the time when natural healthcare methods may be explored to help turn things around.

There are many modalities in natural healthcare and a considerable range of experience and skill level among practitioners. Look for those modalities that have traditions of success, bearing in mind that these traditions are most often from other parts of the world, such as Asia and India. Seek practitioners who others recommend and who have proven professionalism through documented training and experience.

STRESS, ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION. When emotionally based conditions have gone on for a long time, we ignore them at the risk to our physical health, mental health and close relationships. This is an area where most all of us overly rely on ourselves. Seeking the services of a talk therapist helps us in a number of ways.

1. Professionals can help us assess our situation from a more objective and experienced vantage point. They have probably seen a situation similar to ours many times over the years. They likely know what works and what doesn’t.
2. Unlike the less accountable process of reading yet another self-help book, the therapist’s job is to ask us tough questions. Without leverage like this, it is often impossible to step out of our own habitual patterns of dysfunction.
3. A skilled therapist can offer fresh options, which we probably haven’t thought of, and can provide strategies to best help us integrate these new options into our life. If medications are also part of the equation for helping stress, anxiety or depression, your therapist may help you coordinate their work with your medical family physician or a psychiatrist.

Once again, the various forms of bodywork therapy noted above are very helpful in processing trauma and releasing stress and anxiety in your body. For this, it is vital that you question the bodywork therapist to make sure that he or she has specific training and experience in working with emotional balancing or trauma.

Quite often, physical pain is a manifestation of deeper stress or trauma issues, and bodywork can help deeply held trauma to release. Please be aware that your bodywork practitioner is not qualified to help you in the way that a talk therapist would work with you.

A bodyworker’s questions should be focused on the sensations in your body and not be directed towards assisting you in figuring out your past or seriously counseling you on your relationships.

With an understanding of what resources are available for our health and a willingness to seek out fresh options, we are empowered to grow towards higher awareness and well being.

Richard Chandler is in his 21st year of therapeutic massage and natural healthcare practice.  If you like quotations with introductions and commentary, please go to  Richard Chandler may be reached at richardjchandler(at) Please substitute @ for (at).