ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES TO MENTAL HEALTH
What are alternative approaches to mental health
care? What are some of the different kinds of alternative
Diet and Nutrition
Animal Assisted Therapies
Culturally Based Healing Arts:
Native American Traditional Practices,
Relaxation and Stress Reduction Techniques:
Guided Imagery or Visualization
Where can I find more information?
What are alternative approaches to mental health care? An
alternative approach to mental health care is one that emphasizes the
interrelationship between mind, body, and spirit. Although some alternative
approaches have a long history, many remain controversial.
The National Center for Complementary and
Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health </_scripts/redirect.asp?ID=2038>
was created in 1992 to help evaluate alternative methods of treatment and to
integrate those that are effective into mainstream health care practice. It
is crucial, however, to consult with your health care providers about the
approaches you are using to achieve mental wellness.
Self-help Many people with mental illnesses find that self-help
groups are an invaluable resource for recovery and for empowerment.
Self-help generally refers to groups or meetings that: Involve people who
have similar needs Are facilitated by a consumer, survivor, or other
layperson; Assist people to deal with a "life-disrupting" event, such as a
death, abuse, serious accident, addiction, or diagnosis of a physical,
emotional, or mental disability, for oneself or a relative; Are operated on
an informal, free-of-charge, and nonprofit basis; Provide support and
education; and Are voluntary, anonymous, and confidential.
Diet and Nutrition Adjusting both diet and nutrition may help some
people with mental illnesses manage their symptoms and promote recovery. For
example, research suggests that eliminating milk and wheat products can
reduce the severity of symptoms for some people who have schizophrenia and
some children with autism. Similarly, some holistic/natural physicians use
herbal treatments, B-complex vitamins, riboflavin, magnesium, and thiamine
to treat anxiety, autism, depression, drug-induced psychoses, and
Pastoral Counseling Some people prefer to seek help for mental
health problems from their pastor, rabbi, or priest, rather than from
therapists who are not affiliated with a religious community. Counselors
working within traditional faith communities increasingly are recognizing
the need to incorporate psychotherapy and/or medication, along with prayer
and spirituality, to effectively help some people with mental disorders.
Animal Assisted Therapies Working with an animal (or animals)
under the guidance of a health care professional may benefit some people
with mental illness by facilitating positive changes, such as increased
empathy and enhanced socialization skills. Animals can be used as part of
group therapy programs to encourage communication and increase the ability
to focus. Developing self-esteem and reducing loneliness and anxiety are
just some potential benefits of individual-animal therapy (Delta Society,
Expressive Therapies Art Therapy: Drawing, painting, and
sculpting help many people to reconcile inner conflicts, release deeply
repressed emotions, and foster self-awareness, as well as personal growth.
Some mental health providers use art therapy as both a diagnostic tool and
as a way to help treat disorders such as depression, abuse-related trauma,
and schizophrenia. You may be able to find a therapist in your area who has
received special training and certification in art therapy.
Dance/Movement Therapy: Some people find that their spirits soar
when they let their feet fly. Others-particularly those who prefer more
structure or who feel they have "two left feet"-gain the same sense of
release and inner peace from the Eastern martial arts, such as Aikido and
Tai Chi. Those who are recovering from physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
may find these techniques especially helpful for gaining a sense of ease
with their own bodies. The underlying premise to dance/movement therapy is
that it can help a person integrate the emotional, physical, and cognitive
facets of "self."
Music/Sound Therapy: It is no coincidence that many people turn on
soothing music to relax or snazzy tunes to help feel upbeat. Research
suggests that music stimulates the body's natural "feel good" chemicals
(opiates and endorphins). This stimulation results in improved blood flow,
blood pressure, pulse rate, breathing, and posture changes. Music or sound
therapy has been used to treat disorders such as stress, grief, depression,
schizophrenia, and autism in children, and to diagnose mental health needs.
Culturally Based Healing Arts Traditional Oriental medicine (such
as acupuncture, shiatsu, and reiki), Indian systems of health care (such as
Ayurveda and yoga), and Native American healing practices (such as the Sweat
Lodge and Talking Circles) all incorporate the beliefs that: Wellness is a
state of balance between the spiritual, physical, and mental/emotional
"selves." An imbalance of forces within the body is the cause of illness.
Herbal/natural remedies, combined with sound nutrition, exercise, and
meditation/prayer, will correct this imbalance.
Acupuncture: The Chinese practice of inserting needles into the
body at specific points manipulates the body's flow of energy to balance the
endocrine system. This manipulation regulates functions such as heart rate,
body temperature, and respiration, as well as sleep patterns and emotional
changes. Acupuncture has been used in clinics to assist people with
substance abuse disorders through detoxification; to relieve stress and
anxiety; to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder in children;
to reduce symptoms of depression; and to help people with physical ailments.
Ayurveda: Ayurvedic medicine is described as "knowledge of how to
live." It incorporates an individualized regimen-such as diet, meditation,
herbal preparations, or other techniques-to treat a variety of conditions,
including depression, to facilitate lifestyle changes, and to teach people
how to release stress and tension through yoga or transcendental meditation.
Yoga/meditation: Practitioners of this ancient Indian system of
health care use breathing exercises, posture, stretches, and meditation to
balance the body's energy centers. Yoga is used in combination with other
treatment for depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders.
Native American traditional practices: Ceremonial dances, chants,
and cleansing rituals are part of Indian Health Service programs to heal
depression, stress, trauma (including those related to physical and sexual
abuse), and substance abuse.
Cuentos: Based on folktales, this form of therapy originated in
Puerto Rico. The stories used contain healing themes and models of behavior
such as self-transformation and endurance through adversity. Cuentos is used
primarily to help Hispanic children recover from depression and other mental
health problems related to leaving one's homeland and living in a foreign
Relaxation and Stress Reduction Techniques Biofeedback:
Learning to control muscle tension and "involuntary" body functioning, such
as heart rate and skin temperature, can be a path to mastering one's fears.
It is used in combination with, or as an alternative to, medication to treat
disorders such as anxiety, panic, and phobias. For example, a person can
learn to "retrain" his or her breathing habits in stressful situations to
induce relaxation and decrease hyperventilation. Some preliminary research
indicates it may offer an additional tool for treating schizophrenia and
Guided Imagery or Visualization: This process involves going into
a state of deep relaxation and creating a mental image of recovery and
wellness. Physicians, nurses, and mental health providers occasionally use
this approach to treat alcohol and drug addictions, depression, panic
disorders, phobias, and stress.
Massage therapy: The underlying principle of this approach is that
rubbing, kneading, brushing, and tapping a person's muscles can help release
tension and pent emotions. It has been used to treat trauma-related
depression and stress. A highly unregulated industry, certification for
massage therapy varies widely from State to State. Some States have strict
guidelines, while others have none.
Technology-Based Applications The boom in electronic tools at home
and in the office makes access to mental health information just a telephone
call or a "mouse click" away. Technology is also making treatment more
widely available in once-isolated areas.
Telemedicine: Plugging into video and computer technology is a
relatively new innovation in health care. It allows both consumers and
providers in remote or rural areas to gain access to mental health or
specialty expertise. Telemedicine can enable consulting providers to speak
to and observe patients directly. It also can be used in education and
training programs for generalist clinicians.
Telephone counseling: Active listening skills are a hallmark of
telephone counselors. These also provide information and referral to
interested callers. For many people telephone counseling often is a first
step to receiving in-depth mental health care. Research shows that such
counseling from specially trained mental health providers reaches many
people who otherwise might not get the help they need. Before calling, be
sure to check the telephone number for service fees; a 900 area code means
you will be billed for the call, an 800 or 888 area code means the call is
Electronic communications: Technologies such as the Internet,
bulletin boards, and electronic mail lists provide access directly to
consumers and the public on a wide range of information. On-line consumer
groups can exchange information, experiences, and views on mental health,
treatment systems, alternative medicine, and other related topics.
Radio psychiatry: Another relative newcomer to therapy, radio
psychiatry was first introduced in the United States in 1976. Radio
psychiatrists and psychologists provide advice, information, and referrals
in response to a variety of mental health questions from callers. The
American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association
have issued ethical guidelines for the role of psychiatrists and
psychologists on radio shows.