5 alternative therapies that could boost your mental health
“You have to set your mind free and be open to what you are receiving”
I love Cat Steven’s rendition of ‘Morning has broken’. Ironic, because I’m not really a morning person these days. While the gentle fingers of the sun nudge me awake, I stubbornly stay under the covers. The malaise is too strong. Just the idea of making a cup of tea fills me with anxiety. Is this depression, anxiety, or burnout? Medication works for many people, but I would like to first explore alternative therapies and healing techniques. (Could manifestation be an option?)
Non-mainstream therapies can be used to complement allopathic methods, as they usually take a holistic approach to health by addressing more than one issue. Alternative healing therapies also help us connect with ourselves, a luxury in these fast-paced digital times.
We investigate 5 accessible forms of alternative therapies for mental well-being that are gaining popularity.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
In Netflix’s Qala, a young musician is unable to win the love and approval of her mother. She’s stuck in a pattern, despite getting hurt repeatedly.
In circumstances like this, Ludhiana-based psychotherapist Kashish Vyas uses EFT to help clients. “EFT is rooted in acupressure. We tap around 10-12 points around the face, neck and hands, while clients speak affirmations aloud (usually), describing their challenges,” explains Vyas. The tapping activates meridian centres (meridians are paths through which energy flows), which can relieve emotional pain and decondition belief systems.
Practitioners believe EFT can help with challenges from PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) and dissociation to even boredom.
Harish*, a client of Vyas in his 30s, thinks EFT helped rein in his anxiety. “Painful childhood memories haunted me. I’d tried other therapies without success, and was not sure this would work. After eight sessions, my anxiety levels dropped and I could think with more clarity.”
Dance movement therapy
Dancing without worrying about skill, grace or Moni maasi’s strict sangeet choreography can be freeing.
“We use innate movements to help people express themselves. We tend to think of our experiences cognitively – in our mind – but the body too is a reservoir of information,” says Charvi Budhdeo, a dance movement therapy facilitator and trained Odissi dancer. “Clients know their bodies the best. I give them tools of movement so that they can arrive at their own solution.”
She works with people of all age groups on issues such as anxiety, ADHD, and postpartum blues (check out these stories of Indian women’s postpartum experiences). Dance movement therapy increases body positivity, and this group based activity also gives a “sense of community” for young adults struggling to fit in with their peers.
Budhdeo quotes the example of her student Ria* who, after surrendering to the process, stopped feeling like an outsider and developed a new set of tools to deal with college life.
Science agrees that music is therapeutic, but you may be surprised to learn that even sounds devoid of melody, have a deep impact on the mind.
Artist and musician Swapnil Gawde learnt the technique of sound bathing from Svaram in Auroville, Pondicherry and got together with a few friends to create a unique soundscape. “During the sound journey, the mind, body and emotions of clients enter into a ‘theta’ (deeply relaxed) state where healing occurs.” They use instruments tuned to specific frequencies — resonating pipes, chimes, wind instruments like the didgeridoo and percussion instruments — along with natural elements like water and leaves. Participants are supine, which brings down their defences and enables them to listen better.
Aarti Vachani looks forward to her monthly sound bathing session. “You have to set your mind free and be open to what you are receiving. It takes you into a different world, and sleep is excellent after a session,” she says.
What if your therapist was a ball of fluff on four legs named Cookie? Kaavya Chandy, counselling psychologist in Bengaluru, has worked with over 50 children using her trained Shih Tzu.
“Children who are reluctant to be in therapy come to a session just to spend time with Cookie. They tell me that ‘Cookie is feeling lonely’ or ‘Cookie is anxious’. This is their way of expressing what they feel. I have treated children facing low self-esteem, bullying and behavioural challenges,” says Chandy.
Akhil*, 7, a child with ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) would avoid answering Chandy’s questions initially. Enter Cookie, and Akhil began asking whether the dog liked school and had friends. This gave Chandy a clue that he probably didn’t. Using Cookie as a role model, Chandy was able to make him change some of his classroom-inappropriate behaviour, like flapping his hands when excited.
Imagining yourself on a beach with the sound of the waves is serenity itself. Tapping into the imagination in a formal process is called visualisation, probably what John Lennon had in mind when he urged listeners to ‘Imagine’.
Dr Gunjan Trivedi is a certified NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) practitioner and yoga instructor. He uses visualisation (also called guided imagery) in complement with other therapies to help with poor sleep quality, dependence on social media, addiction to pornography, or phobias like the fear of flying.
“Clients’ bodies and minds should be relaxed. People are pulled by invisible strings, they have to be freed of those strings. The next step is visualising a pre-identified situation (depending on the problem to be resolved) using all the senses. The process is repeated a few times,” he explains.
Prerna* was scared of dogs after several traumatic encounters, the earliest being when she was eight. At the end of a few sessions, she fearlessly entered an elevator with a dog in it.
A balanced point of view
Some doctors, like Ahmedabad-based psychiatrist Dhruv Thakkar, believe in “taking a holistic approach to mental health. Alternative therapies can be beneficial if the practitioner is good.” But, he cautions, “there isn’t sufficient research and proof of efficacy with alternative therapies.” Most psychiatrists prefer medication, with some feeling that even conventional psychotherapy is a placebo. Here, an even-handed approach wins. “I never discourage my patients from exploring alternative therapies. If they get good results, I encourage them to continue.”
*Names changed to protect privacy