If psychotherapy conjures up images of you lying on a chaise pouring your heart out while a therapist takes notes, you might be surprised to find out several alternatives today to the traditional Freudian therapy. These therapies can be extremely beneficial to your overall mental wellness and emotional state, and may be just as or even more effective than standard psychotherapy sessions.
Explore the list below of 19 unique forms of therapy to find one that joins things you love with the results you want.
1. Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy
If you love horses and have stables near you, this might be your perfect therapy. Therapists use horses as a therapeutic tool for the improvement of a wide range of mental health issues such as relationship and communication issues, attention deficit disorder, mood disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Most of the work occurs on the ground rather than on the saddle. The horse handler and equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) practitioner guides you, but you and the horse remain the central focus. Studies show EAP is an effective therapy for veterans with PTSD that can significantly reduce or eliminate PTSD symptoms.
2. Llama Therapy
Llamas are making their way into nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. They’re much friendlier than alpacas, and llama owners swear llamas can sense whether people are happy to see them, anxious, or ill. For example, llamas will often lower their heads for you to pet them or simply stand still if they feel you’re apprehensive about their presence.
Llamas have grown in popularity over the years as they’re featured in commercials and merchandise. Part of the draw for this therapy remains the entertainment and novelty factor that llamas provide. In the end, they’re fun to be around, make people smile, and give much of the same benefits that come from hugging and petting more common animals like dogs or cats
3. Pet Therapy
Having a dog or cat as a pet can give you meaning and purpose in life and even a psychological boost. When spouses die or children move away, a pet adds life and sounds to your home again, gives you a reason to get out of bed, and provides companionship. They also lower your stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as increase serotonin and dopamine levels—two feel-good chemicals that make you happy and increase your overall wellbeing.
Dogs are also trainable to sniff out diseases like different types of cancers or warn their owners of dangerously low blood sugar. Alzheimer’s patients also seem to like having dogs around, and their presence and friendliness seem to help reduce aggression and emotional upheavals in dementia patients.
4. Horticulture Therapy
Many seniors already find gardening to be a relaxing and refreshing activity. Horticulture therapy takes gardening to the next level by introducing therapeutic elements using a licensed therapist. Studies show horticulture reduces stress and pain and helps attention. It can also help improve your memory and language skills or strengthen your muscles and coordination when used together with a physical therapy program.
Therapeutic gardens also exist and are rising in popularity within recent years. These gardens are professionally-designed oases intentionally created to bring people together with nature so they can reap the benefits of its healing properties. Landscape artists work together with horticulture therapists to create something aesthetically pleasing and mentally uplifting.
5. Wilderness Therapy
Sometimes nothing can be more cleansing for the body and mind to get out there and be in the middle of nature. Wilderness therapy programs take your talks with your therapists from the confines of an office to the great outdoors as you hike or walk while chatting with them. You can make standing appointments with your therapist or participate in boot-camp-style intensive therapy programs lasting for weeks or months.
These types of programs have been very successful. At the one-year follow up of a research study, 81 percent of participants rated their wilderness treatment therapy as effective, and 83 percent of participants reported to be doing better. Overall, the study found patients had maintained their positive changes from their wilderness therapy treatment.
6. Ocean Therapy
Beaches already put you in a zen state of mind. Perhaps it’s the feeling of walking barefoot on the sand or seeing the deep blue sea. Or maybe it’s the smell of the salt breeze or the ocean wind brushing against your face. Regardless, all of nature’s elements seem to come together to bring a sense of inner peace when you’re there. Ocean therapy takes advantage of the healing power of the beach through water sports like surfing, diving, and sailing to help people suffering from PTSD and other mental health issues.
7. Play Therapy
We know that play has a vital role in a child’s cognitive development. Child therapists frequently use toys and other items to help children express themselves and communicate with others. While play therapy is traditionally associated with children, research has started exploring how the same therapy model might be of use to adults and the elderly. Some studies show outcomes of decreased depression, higher self-esteem, and improved social skills.
8. Sand Tray Therapy
There seems to be nothing more fun than playing in a sandbox when you’re a child. As it turns out, we can still have our fun in the sand as adults. Sand tray therapy seeks to recreate past traumatic events in a non-threatening way using miniature objects representing real people and actual events to tell your story. Sand tray therapists work alongside you, helping you to engage fully with the world you create. You can see changes in yourself in as little as one sand tray session, though sessions can involve a series of trays that are used for months or years.
9. Massage Therapy
What can be better than a good massage? Its ability to relax and destress is self-evident, but did you know it can also boost your health? Deep tissue massages, for instance, are shown to increase your number of white blood cells—the fighter cells that protect against diseases and viruses like the Coronavirus. Massages also decrease cortisol levels, and particularly in seniors, they can relieve chronic pain, muscle stiffness, poor posture, and depression. If you’ve been waiting for an excuse to get a massage, you now have all the reasons you need.
Sound- and Art-based Therapies
10. Music and Gong therapy
Music can be soothing or exciting, depending on the rhythm. Like other forms of art, it can also be helpful at balancing your internal emotional states. Working with a trained music therapist may help you feel less anxious and depressed, improve physical and emotional pain, and reduce stress.
In addition to music, studies are exploring how the vibrations created by sound can bring healing to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s patients and those with dysrhythmias in certain parts of the brain. Some people are also using gong therapy, or “gong baths” to achieve many of the same benefits as music therapy and to encourage wellbeing.
11. Dance Therapy
Talking it out isn’t for everyone. People who love activity and are always on the go might enjoy alternative therapies such as dance therapy. Similar to exercise, dancing releases mood-boosting chemicals like endorphins and activates the pleasure centers in the brain. Dance therapy can also help seniors prevent falls by improving their balance, coordination, and mobility, as well as give them better physical fitness.
12. Gestalt Therapy
If you’d always had a flair for the dramatic, gestalt therapy may be the creative therapy for you. In gestalt therapy, you sit in front of an empty chair and imagine a person of your choice sitting there. You then act out your part and the other’s as you work through repressed dialogues. You’ll get to say everything you always wished and respond as the other person might have in conversation.
By taking on both roles, you’ll gain insight into the other person’s perspective as you try to work through what they might think and tell to you. You might find that temporarily switching hats lets you see the situation in a different light and replaces feelings like anger or resentment toward the other person with sympathy and understanding.
13. Art Therapy
Some people are drawn to art from a young age, but others discover its healing powers during their senior years in the form of art therapy. This type of treatment melds together psychology and the visual arts to help people improve their mental health, cognitive skills, and dexterity.
Therapists report as many as 78 percent of their clients are older adults who want to stave off memory loss from dementia, keep their minds sharp, manage pain from chronic conditions, or maintain nimble hands. Seniors in art therapy also experience less depression, take fewer trips to the doctor, and need fewer medications.
14. Laughter Therapy
Laughter has long been heralded as the best medicine, and science is continually proving that to be true. So maybe it’s not surprising that laughter therapy is growing in popularity. Just as it sounds, laughter therapy uses laughter to improve your wellness, normalize your blood pressure, boost disease-fighting antibodies, and reduce stress by turning off your body’s fight or flight response.
The benefits don’t stop there. A good laugh also oxygenates your blood when you gasp for air after a long laugh, helps you cope with pain, and even helps you burn calories. Laughter might well be the magic pill we’ve all been searching for. The protocol involves laughter exercises, comedy movies, books, puzzles, skits, games, and more.
Office- and Clinic-Based Therapies
15. Nutritional Therapy
There are dozens of chemicals in the body affecting your overall mental health. Rather than treating symptoms of chemical and nutritional imbalances, such depression and Alzheimer’s, using only traditional medications, nutritional therapy seeks to find and correct what’s causing the mental illnesses. Approaches involve using blood tests to see deficiencies, and then fixing them with vitamin prescriptions. It’s a medically-backed therapy with open support from alternative and holistic medicine.
16. Biofeedback Therapy
If you’ve ever felt frustrated that you can’t see therapy’s immediate results, you’ll love biofeedback therapy. The treatment uses electrodes on your skin to show you in real-time what’s happening in your body. The goal is to train your mind to control involuntary bodily functions, such as your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. The therapist induces emotions in you, such as stress or anxiety, then allows you to practice relaxation techniques to bring your levels back to normal. Monitors give you instant feedback, so you know exactly how you’re doing.
17. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
If you’d like to work with a therapist but are tired of merely rehashing old events, EMDR can allow you to work with your psychotherapist in a different capacity. Originally designed to ease the stress caused by traumatic memories, EMDR engages your senses to change the way your brain processes and stores your trauma. The result is your troubling life experiences are made less painful. The therapist accomplishes this using simple tools like a swinging pendulum or moving finger to stimulate your eyes and access both sides of your brain. Rhythmic taps or tones may also be used.
Hypnotherapy may make you think of magicians and magic tricks. But, when performed by a licensed psychologist as part of a therapeutic session, the effects are real and potentially life-changing. There’s no squawking like chicken or doing the Macarena here, but hypnotherapists might help you quit smoking, lose weight, or reduce your worry about the future. Psychologists like Dr. Guy Montgomery of Mount Sinai School of Medicine have used hypnotherapy to help cancer patients feel less pain and discomfort. How well hypnotherapy works on a person varies. It also may not be a reliable way to recall memories.
19. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Sometimes, changing how we feel is a simple as changing our thoughts about a circumstance. Cognitive-behavioral therapy tries to root out faulty or unhelpful thoughts you’re having to then show you how your distorted thinking is causing the problem. CBT therapists guide you in approaching the same situation that was distressing you from a different angle. If, for example, you feel like you’ve never done anything useful with your life, a CBT therapist might ask you to challenge that thought by looking at all the things you’ve created in your life that have helped yourself and others.