Approaches to Mental Health Care
source: Knowledge Exchange Network (KEN)
An alternative approach to mental health care-one that emphasizes the
interrelationship between mind, body, and spirit-can play an important role in
recovery and healing. Although some people with mental health problems recover
using alternative methods alone, most people combine them with other, more
traditional treatments-such as therapy and, perhaps, medication. It is crucial,
however, to consult with your health care providers about the approaches you are
using to achieve mental wellness.
Although some alternative approaches have a long history, many remain
controversial. The Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of
Health was created in 1992 to help evaluate alternative methods of treatment and
to integrate those that are effective into mainstream health care practice.
Once considered a fringe approach to managing the symptoms of various illnesses,
self-help has become an integral part of treatment for mental health problems.
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, and 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 hyperactivity.
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.
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 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 Taichi. 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 so many people turn on soothing
music to relax or snazzy tunes to help feel upbeat. Research suggests music
stimulates the body’s natural “feel good” chemicals (opiates and endorphins).
This results in improved blood flow, blood pressure, pulse rate, breathing, and
posture changes. Practiced primarily outside the United States, music/sound
therapy has been used to treat disorders such as stress, grief, depression,
schizophrenia, 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
Wellness is a state of balance between the spiritual, physical, and
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 a “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
Cuentos: Based on folktales, this form of therapy originated in Puerto
Rico. These stories 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 culture.
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
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.
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
Telephone Counseling: Active listening skills are a hallmark of telephone
counselors. They also provide information and referral to interested callers.
Telephone counseling often is a first step for many people to receive 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 toll-free.
Electronic communications: Technologies-such as the Internet, World Wide
Web, bulletin boards, and electronic mail lists-provide access directly to
consumers and the public on a wide range of information. Online consumer groups
can exchange information, experiences, and views on mental health, treatment
systems, alternative medicine, and other related topics.
Radio psychiatry: Another relative new-comer to therapy, it was first
introduced in the United States in 1976. Radio psychiatrists and psychologists
provide advice, information, and referrals to callers with a variety of mental
health questions. The American Psychiatric and American Psychological
Associations have issued ethical guidelines for the role of psychiatrists and
psychologists with radio shows.
|This fact sheet does not cover every
alternative approach to mental health. A range of other alternative
approaches-such as psychodrama, hypnotherapy, recreational, and Outward
Bound-type nature programs-offer opportunities to explore mental wellness.
Before jumping into any alternative therapy, learn as much as you can about
it. In addition to talking with your health care practitioner, you may want
to visit your local library, book shop, health food store, or holistic
health care clinic for more information. Also, before receiving services,
check to be sure the provider is properly certified by an appropriate
|American Art Therapy
Association, Inc. 1202 Allanson Road Mundeliein, IL 60060-3808 Telephone:
847-949-6064/888-290-0878 Fax: 847-566-4580 E-mail:
||National Association for
Music Therapy 8455 Colesville Rd, Suite 1000 Silver Spring, MD 20910
Telephone: 301-589-3300 Fax: 301-589-5175 E-mail:
|American Association of
Pastoral Counselors 9504-A Lee Highway Fairfax, VA 22031-2303 Telephone:
703-385-6967 Fax: 703-352-7725 E-mail:
Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine P.O. Box 97075 Washington,
DC 20090 Telephone: 202-232-1404 Fax: 202-462-6157
Association 1701 Clarendon Boulevard Arlington, VA 22209 Telephone:
800-986-4636 Fax: 703-243-2593 E-mail:
Center 599 Canal St. Lawrence, MA 01840 Telephone: 800-769-3728 Fax:
|American Dance Therapy
Association 2000 Century Plaza, Suite 108 10632 Little Patuxerot Parkway
Columbia, MD 21044 Telephone: 410-997-4040 Fax: 410-997-4048 E-mail:
||National Mental Health
Consumers Self-Help Clearinghouse 1211 Chestnut Street, Suite 1000
Philadelphia, PA 19107 Telephone: 800-553-4539 Fax: 215-636-6312 E-mail:
|MADNESS (an online
discussion place for users of mental health services) To subscribe to
MADNESS, send e-mail to LISTSERV@maelstrom.stjohns.edu with the message:
SUBSCRIBE MADNESS yourfirstname yourlastname
Clearinghouse CUNY Graduate School 25 West 43rd Street, Room 620 New York,
NY 10036 Telephone: 212-817-1810 Fax: 212-642-1956
||Inclusion of an
alternative approach or resource in this fact sheet does not imply
endorsement by the Center for Mental Health Services, the Substance Abuse
and Mental Health Services Administration, or the U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services.
|Disclaimer: I am not a
health care professional. I am an abuse survivor. The resources on this site
are for information and education only. Information on this website is meant
to support not replace the advice of a licensed health care or mental health
care professional. Please consult your own physician for health care advice.
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Last edited: 01/02/03.