Because mental health is such a vast area of concern for so many people — especially as we enter year three of the Covid-19 pandemic — it’s essential to be aware of the many therapy options available to help people cope.
It’s important to know that suffering in silence is not the only option. There are tools, treatments, and support systems out there to help. While psychology and traditional forms of therapy are undoubtedly helpful in many ways, they are not the only option.
Various alternatives are growing in terms of prevalence and accessibility. However, one thing that needs to improve in order for these forms of therapy to be effective is awareness — people need to know their options in terms of treatment, and they need to understand the benefits of each form of alternative therapy.
According to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. reported anxiety or depressive disorder symptoms during the pandemic. That number was up from 1 in 10 in 2019.
The data is even more alarming for young adults (ages 18-24), with 56% of that population reporting symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder within communities of color. The research found that Non-Hispanic Black adults (48%) and Hispanic or Latino adults (46%) are more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorder than Non-Hispanic White adults (41%).
Bottom line: people across the board are struggling with mental health issues and need support and alternative therapies to help them cope.
First of all, what exactly is traditional psychotherapy?
According to the American Psychological Association, psychotherapy is when psychologists apply research-based techniques — including cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal, and psychodynamic therapy techniques — to help people develop more effective habits as they talk openly in a safe, supportive environment. Therapy is a partnership and a collaborative treatment based on the relationship between an individual and a psychologist.
While traditional psychotherapy is certainly effective and beneficial in many ways, it is not the only option. Other alternative therapies include hypnosis, psychedelic-assisted therapy, acupuncture, movement therapy, and more.
Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy
According to Psychology Today, hypnotherapy is “guided hypnosis or a trance-like state of focus and concentration achieved with the help of a clinical hypnotherapist.”
Imagine that you’re immersed in a book or TV show that completely absorbs you. Hypnosis is a similar concept, where you’re focused on one thing. The idea is to relax and focus your mind. In this state, patients can “turn their attention completely inward to find and utilize the natural resources deep within themselves that can help them make changes or regain control in certain areas of their life.”
Hypnotherapy can be helpful to treat many of the same issues as traditional therapy — anxiety, phobias, bad habits, depression, substance abuse, sleep disorders, and more.
According to Nicole Hernandez, a professional hypnotist and healer at the Four Seasons Hotel Downtown New York, hypnosis is about creating change after each session, whether that be a change in behavior or how you see the world and feel in your relationships. While in a meditative state of change, “it’s really about helping people work with their sensations. We are continually moving through our world by understanding our feelings. And then, how does our brain process all of that? We work with those modalities to change them and change how they make you feel,” Hernandez told BeLatina.
Psychedelic-assisted therapy is the ingestion of psychedelic drugs to assist in a mental health issue or psychiatric condition. But it’s not exactly what you might imagine, with a person taking drugs recreationally at home to experience a high. It’s far more scientific and controlled than that. This therapeutic practice is often done in the form of microdosing, where patients take a very small dose of a psychedelic drug that is too small to produce a high. However, it can still bring about benefits without hallucinogenic effects. This type of alternative therapy is done under the guidance of a therapist or professional, in a safe space so that their trip and any potential side effects can be managed.
While research is still new and scientists are still investigating the merits of microdosing and psychedelic-assisted therapy, early data indicates that “microdosing can still bring about some of the benefits observed with full-dose treatment without causing the intense and sometimes negative hallucinatory experiences.” Similarly, psychedelics interventions have shown promise as a treatment option for everything from substance abuse to anxiety to chronic PTSD.
You’ve probably heard people say that exercise is their therapy or that they work to clear their minds, and it’s not just a load of crap — movement really can improve your mental health.
Movement therapy, also known as Dance Movement Therapy (DMT), is the “psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration,” which can also help reduce stress and offer relief from mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
According to Katie Bohn, LPC, BC-DMT, SEP, RYT, a board-certified dance/movement therapist, “DMT is a creative art psychotherapy that utilizes movement and dance to support the physical, intellectual, and emotional health of an individual.” DMT can help people heal and work through issues in ways that words alone cannot address.
As a side perk, you’ll also be boosting your energy and improving your physical health as you move your body.
This ancient practice is one form of traditional Chinese medicine practiced in tandem with Western medicine today. Acupuncture involves tiny needles gently penetrating the skin in very specific places — it is believed that the human body has more than 2,000 acupuncture points that are all connected by meridians — as a way to create energy flow throughout the body.
The idea is that disruption to the natural energy flow can cause illness, disease, discomfort, and poor functioning. By opening those pathways through acupuncture, you can cure many ailments, from infertility, gastritis, back pain, and menstrual pain to mental health issues such as insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
That said, scientific studies have yet to fully explain how and why acupuncture works, and acupuncture is not for everyone, so it’s essential to consult with your doctor before trying acupuncture, especially to treat mental health issues.
There are tons of ways to practice meditation — from apps to podcasts to self-practice and group meditation- all of which offer a sense of deep relaxation and inner peace.
Think of meditation as the practice of profoundly focusing your mind on a specific moment to eliminate the distracting thoughts that can cause you stress. Coupled with deep breathing, this intense focus and relaxation can help improve mental health by offering a sense of calm and balance.
A growing body of research supports the benefits of meditation. A study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that mindful meditation programs over eight weeks had moderate evidence in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. And another study published in the journal Psychiatry Review found that people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder experienced reduced stress after participating in a mindfulness-based program.
Furthermore, meditation is exceptionally accessible; whether you choose to work with a practitioner or guide or practice at home using apps available at a click of a button on your phone, the benefits of meditation for mental health are far-reaching and lasting.
According to Reiki Master Victoria Bodner, LMT, Reiki is a form of energy healing that uses gentle touch to deliver energy to specific areas of the body in an attempt to improve your energy flow and balance. “Reiki aids in healing by helping people become energetically balanced — physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually,” Bodner explains.
The benefits of Reiki include, but are not limited to, relaxation, stress reduction, overall wellness, and inner peace. “Reiki complements other types of medical and therapeutic treatments, and it can increase the efficacy of other types of healing,” Bodner says.