Feature: Alternative Therapies for the Mind
Today, there seems to be plenty of alternatives to the psychiatrist’s couch.
There was a time when the troubles that affected the mind and mental well-being of a person were discreetly swept underneath a rug.
Then, times changed and the few who ventured to face their demons found themselves in the psychiatrist’s office, pouring their hearts out, sometimes haltingly, sometimes in a flood of words. Still others went to counsellors who sat them down and helped them unlock and free their minds.Today, times have further changed.
Major inroads have been made into the treatment of the mind, and the stigma attached to mental trouble is slowly eroding.
Also, there are a host of alternative therapies on offer, like the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), the Bach flower remedies, acupressure, Tai Chi and our very own Ayurveda. It has become a more understanding world out there, a world happy to help the troubled ones in as many ways as possible.
What troubles one’s mind invariably affects one’s life in the most devastating of ways, invariably impinging on family, studies, work and social exchanges. There is an urgent need for professional help to negotiate thoughts, feelings and situations, to be able to tackle the real world. The bottomline is an effective coping strategy, with or without medication.
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that is used to treat a wide range of disorders, including phobias, addictions, depression and anxiety. Patients learn how to identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns that have a negative influence on their behaviour. CBT aims to help patients become aware that while they cannot control the world around them, they can definitely control their reactions to the environment.
As Dr Anupama Sequeira, consulting psychiatrist at the Baptist Hospital, Bangalore, succinctly puts it: “Not too much has changed when it comes to the inherent problems that affect the mind. CBT, Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), behavioural therapy for children – these are all backed by a major body of research and evidence, and work very well for personality problems, even in these fast-changing, tumultuous times. As for alternative therapies, I’m not sure they do well as standalone therapies, but they might work alongside conventional therapy. We suggest yoga and mindfulness, pet therapy and the like, but only in addition to the core therapy.”
Riddhi Kandwal, counsellor at Sagar Clinic, Bangalore, defines conventional counselling as a journey to self-discovery and self-mastery, one which helps both the unquiet and the quiet mind. She believes something significant can be achieved with continued research on the efficacy of the combined use of conventional and unconventional therapies. “We could well arrive at more groundbreaking therapy styles,” she says, citing the highly effective DBT (created by Dr Marsha M Linehan for dealing with emotional issues) that integrates CBT, mindfulness from Buddhist meditation, relaxation and breathing techniques.
The alternative forms of therapies available today are many and varied, ranging from yoga, aromatherapy, bio-feedback, music-drama-dance therapy, hypnosis and more. Bach flower remedies are solutions of water, containing extreme dilutions of flower material developed by Edward Bach, an English homeopath, back in the 1930s. Dr Bach thought of illness as the result of a conflict between the purpose of the soul and the personality’s actions and outlook, an internal war that leads to energy blocking, which in turn leads to physical disease.
He believed that the healing energies of flowers unblock the channels within our minds so that we can approach life more positively. These flowers are chosen individually to make a mother tincture and used to treat conditions like depression, anxiety, insomnia and stress. They are usually recommended by a naturopath or by a trained Bach flower practitioner.
Mallika Ramachandran, a Bach flower practitioner, says the therapy works in a subtle, yet tangible way. Because the remedies are extremely diluted, they do not have a characteristic scent or taste of the plant, but they are extremely effective, insists homemaker Jillian William. “The Bach flower drops work very well for me. I used to suffer from breathing problems and panic attacks since childhood. The results are amazing and I feel the benefits every day.”
The EFT therapy operates on the premise that emotional stress obstructs the natural potential for healing in the body. The more unresolved emotional issues one can clear, the more peace and emotional freedom one will have in life. EFT borrows from the Chinese meridian system by tapping the body’s energy meridian points and healing power to get rid of fears, phobias, anger, grief, anxiety, depression and traumatic memories.
Mridula Nair an EFT practitioner, says that EFT empowers the client to directly come to terms with what their body is telling them, to accept it, then overcome it. “The client does it all, the practitioner is a mere facilitator,” she says. Mohan Kumar, a businessman, confesses, “I was sceptical about any alternate therapy, but after I was coaxed into having an EFT session, I have changed my mind. My trigeminal neuralgia is under control with reduced medication, thanks to EFT.”
Tai Chi practitioners have always held that Tai Chi calms the mind down, even as it tones the body, all in a harmonious way. Says Sifu George Thomas of the Fu Sheng Yuan Tai Chi Academy, “While doing the Tai Chi forms, the mind slows down and all thoughts of the past or the future gradually merge with the present moment. In this state, the mind is still and very aware. As one trains on a regular basis, always staying in the present moment, the central nervous system calms down and in turn, dissipates stress and anxiety.”
Do these therapies work or are they placebo solutions? Well, to quote John Milton, the mind is is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.So, one needs all the help one can get.