Scoot over, Dr. Freud. A variety of alternative therapies are shifting the ways we approach mental wellness. Though talk therapy is alive and well, new approaches can serve either as stand-alones or enhancements to standard psychological treatment, depending on a given patients’ needs. Follow along as we sort through these therapies and learn how some people are drawing, dancing, laughing, and maybe even hypnotizing themselves to better health.
Dating back to the 1940s, art therapy uses the creative process to help clients explore and reconcile their emotions, develop self-awareness, reduce anxiety, cope with trauma, manage behavior, and increase self-esteem. Art therapy is particularly useful in cases of trauma, as it provides patients with a “visual language” to use if they lack the words to express their feelings. To enable these processes, art therapists (who are required to have a master’s degree in order to practice) are trained in human development, psychology, and counseling. Several studies support the therapy’s efficacy, finding that it can help rehabilitate people with mental disorders and improve mental outlook in women facing infertility.
Dance/movement therapy involves the therapeutic use of movement to access creativity and emotions and promote emotional, mental, physical, and social health, and it’s been used as a complement to Western medicine since the 1940s. Based on the interconnection between body, mind, and spirit, the therapy encourages self-exploration through expressive movement. Some studies have found that dance therapy can improve symptoms of depression and promote health and wellbeing, but other researchers remain skeptical of the therapy’s benefits.
Laughter Therapy (also called Humor Therapy) is founded on the benefits of laughter, which include reducing depression and anxiety, boosting immunity, and promoting a positive mood. The therapy uses humor to promote health and wellness and relieve physical and emotional stress or pain, and it’s been used by doctors since the thirteenth century to help patients cope with pain. So far, studies have found that laughter therapy can reduce depression and insomnia and improve sleep quality (at least in older folks).
Most commonly known for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), light therapy started gaining popularity in the 1980s. The therapy consists of controlled exposure to intense levels of light (typically emitted by fluorescent bulbs situated behind a diffusing screen). Provided they remain in areas illuminated by the light, patients can go about their normal business during a treatment session. So far, studies have found that bright light therapy might be useful in treating depression, eating disorders, bipolar depression, and sleep disorders.