Your mental health affects how you think, feel, and behave and can significantly affect your mood. What's more, when your mind suffers, physical health can also decline.
Therapy and counseling are traditional methods for tackling mental health issues. They are often the go-to solutions for treatment. However, other approaches to supporting your mental health, such as art or music therapy, have shown promising benefits. You can even combine these alternative approaches with traditional treatment, giving your mental health a boost from all sides.
The following five therapies bring unique value to assist people experiencing mental health challenges.
Art therapy is a common alternative therapy for improving mental health. Incorporating art as a creative outlet, this therapy helps you express your emotions and convey experiences through visuals. Art therapy offers an alternative means of communicating, as opposed to verbal or written communication.
This type of therapy uses various art forms, including digital media, painting, drawing, clay sculpting, collage-making, and other creative outlets. It can suit all artistic abilities and doesn't focus on the end product's appearance, instead aiming to heal and channel negative emotions into a positive outlet. Some goals of art therapy practices include:
• Offering a safe place to express emotions without judgment
• Connecting with others by using visual elements
• Exploring new coping mechanisms
• Making it easier to talk about a difficult subject matter
The American Art Therapy Association has found that art therapy can help improve cognitive function and build emotional resilience. Engaging in art as a creative outlet allows many individuals to work out conflicts and reduce stress levels.
Animal-assisted therapy uses the powerful bond between animals and humans to help provide support for mental health. For some people, animals help give a sense of calm and a loving feeling — often needed during difficult times. By reducing cortisol levels, this form of alternative therapy can also help improve negative symptoms associated with stress. Furthermore, animal-assisted therapy can increase levels of "feel-good" hormones such as serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin, leading to an overall better mood.
An animal therapist may suggest getting a house pet or attending sessions with animals in a professional setting outside of your home. Animal-assisted therapy may include simple actions like petting a cat or walking a dog but can also involve other animals, such as ferrets, guinea pigs, and rabbits.
Music has a powerful influence on our emotions, mood, and overall well-being. This type of therapy uses musical interventions to accomplish individual goals, such as managing stress or expressing feelings. Anyone can benefit from music therapy, with or without any musical skills.
Activities involved in music therapy sessions night include writing music, playing an instrument, improvising or singing songs, or talking about a song's emotions. Common goals for music therapy may include:
• Improving stress levels
• Promoting relaxation
• Building better social skills
• Exploring how to better express emotions
Music therapy is a targeted alternative treatment that can improve mental and emotional health and may be beneficial for those with mood or anxiety disorders. The Save the Music Foundation has found that music therapy can enhance emotional well-being and teach individuals new coping skills and mechanisms.
Similar to how house cats or dogs can provide emotional support, horses may help improve mental health during equine therapy.
In a study that examined many benefits of equine therapy, researchers found that this alternative therapy could help improve mental health, self-esteem, and communication skills. When someone masters the skill of working with horses, their self-esteem sees an impressive boost — something that can help more broadly in society.
Many mental health conditions also leave people feeling isolated or alone. In these instances, equine therapy can help create a meaningful connection.
Two other types of equine-assisted therapy are therapeutic horseback riding and hippotherapy. Therapeutic riding adapts the riding sessions to suit those with physical or mental disabilities, while hippotherapy is more involved. This therapy includes the horse specialist or handler but also uses an occupational therapist, speech therapist, or language therapist for specialized treatments.
Aromatherapy uses essential oils to influence the central nervous system. By inhaling specific scents, you may be able to reduce anxiety and depression and promote relaxation.
Lavender oil is one of the most commonly used essential oils in aromatherapy. The oil acts on the limbic system, creating a calming effect when inhaled. It has shown good effectiveness with relaxation and may help with depression and anxiety.
This therapy often uses essential oil diffusers, which dilute the oil in water and disperse the scent throughout the air. Your body's olfactory system is triggered when you breathe in essential oils, causing the brain to produce neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters include dopamine and serotonin, which help to regulate your mood.
Exploring Alternative Therapies for Mental Health
Trying these non-traditional therapies can help improve your mental health and support your recovery. While these therapies may not offer a cure, many people discover relief and symptom improvement with alternative therapies.