Can You Really Manifest Better Mental Health? Therapists Weigh In
For when you’re going through it.
Manifestation is everywhere, from TikTok’s lucky girl syndrome to the spiritual girlie in your group chat who swears she manifested her boyfriend. Whether you want to attract a romantic partner, make more money, or simply live your best life, there’s a manifestation technique out there for you (see: journaling about your desires or creating a vision board with a Sofia Richie-esque quiet luxury aesthetic). But when it comes to making deep changes — like wanting to improve your mental health — does manifestation actually work?
Gen Z is more likely than other generations to report poor mental health, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else is in the clear. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that approximately one in five adults of all ages in the United States live with a mental illness. Fortunately, talking about mental health is becoming less stigmatized — but with the lack of accessible, affordable mental health care, many people turn to social media for answers about how to feel better ASAP.
Below, licensed therapists and psychologists give the lowdown on whether manifestation is a legit way to improve your well-being and happiness.
Manifesting For Better Mental Health Requires One Key Element
Manifestation tends to emphasize the power of a positive mindset, which is a good place to start. Morgan Pommells, MSW, a trauma therapist based in Toronto, Ontario, says it can be a beneficial technique for mental well-being because the process starts with identifying your ultimate goal, then envisioning what it’ll look like IRL. This can help you create a clear picture of what you desire, which means you’ll be more likely to stay motivated to achieve it, Pommells says. In other words, if you can visualize your life with better mental health, you’ll be more inspired to get there.
But Lauren Cook, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, keynote speaker, and author of Generation Anxiety, says that thinking happy thoughts alone won’t necessarily change your mental health. “I look at mental health holistically — it’s about our brain health and our body health, too,” she says. “We also need to make changes in behavior to see an actual difference. We can’t just positive-think our way into something, which is where manifestation really lacks validity.”
Plus, many popular manifestation practices assume a certain level of privilege, and changing your mental health with a manifestation mindset is simply not possible for everyone. (Think: Did your roomie really manifest her new job out of nowhere? Maybe, but there are often many factors at play.) “Manifestation takes practice, time, mental space, [and resources] that are not always easily accessible to all socioeconomic backgrounds,” says Maja Zovko, LMSW, a spiritually-oriented psychotherapist in Vermont and New York. “Our environment and our life circumstances affect our mental health. It’s not always possible to rapidly change our life circumstances.”
Although thoughts alone won’t instantly change your reality, thinking more positively can still be a helpful step in changing the trajectory of your well-being, Cook says. “When we’re connected to a sense of hope — when we believe in ourselves and want good things for ourselves — that’s a great thing,” she says.
Zovko agrees that while manifestation isn’t a quick fix, it can help to rewire unhealthy thought patterns that may be negatively impacting us. “Our cognition affects our behavior,” she says, which is why therapies that help you reframe your mindset and cognitive patterns like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) have had enormous success with mental health challenges like anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and eating disorders.
While Cook cautions against the idea that manifestation is an end-all, be-all, if you struggle with your mental health, cultivating a more positive mindset may help you feel more hopeful about the future. “Manifesting can be a wonderful thing, but where people get into trouble is when they think it’s a causation effect — that it’s going to automatically lead to something amazing happening in their life,” she says. In fact, too much “magical thinking” can lead to delusion, Cook says — so, the goal is to be optimistic while still being realistic.
The bottom line: While manifestation can be helpful in some cases, it’s certainly not a cure. Visualizing yourself with better mental health can be a good start, but taking action will get you to the next phase.
How To Manifest Better Mental Health
If you feel like you’re doing all the “right” things for your mental health but you’re ready for a new approach, incorporating manifestation into your routine may provide a fresh perspective — as long as your positive thinking is combined with intentional action. “Manifesting a less anxious life has to also include steps like talking to a therapist or your doctor, engaging more with friends, or challenging negative thoughts,” Pommells says.
To start manifesting better mental health, Zovko recommends activating a simple mindset shift: First, audit the subconscious thoughts you have about yourself, then see if you can reframe them to be more empowering. “Get to know yourself better,” she says. “What is the script that’s running through your mind? Is the script saying, ‘[My goal] is possible,’ or ‘It’s not possible’? Start small, and implement a mindset change in which you always ask yourself, ‘What else is possible?’”
Manifesting better mental health can also look like cultivating more self-love, Zovko says — whether it’s going on a hot girl walk with a fun playlist or finding small ways to boost your confidence, like pampering yourself, setting boundaries, or carving out solo time to rest and reset. If you’re feeling discouraged, she also recommends this talk about cultivating a growth mindset by psychologist and researcher Carol Dweck, Ph.D.
Like any wellness practice, caring for your mental health is about finding what works for you — whether it’s traditional therapy, fitness, medication, spirit-mind-body practices, or a combination of everything. When paired with these actions, manifestation can help you visualize the life you want to live and give you the motivation to go after it.
“True mental health growth is about more than just wishing or thinking positively; it’s about making those thoughts a reality through deliberate and ongoing effort,” Pommells says. “The real transformative power lies in bridging the gap between the mental envisioning of a healthier state and the concrete actions that can lead there.”
Lauren Cook, Psy.D., licensed clinical psychologist, speaker, and author of Generation Anxiety
Maja Zovko, LMSW, spiritually-oriented psychotherapist in Vermont and New York
Morgan Pommells, MSW, trauma therapist in Toronto, Ontario