Mental Health Treatment: Other Approaches to Healing

Reviewed Apr 8, 2017


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These approaches include:

  • Animal-assisted therapy
  • Creative art therapies
  • Mind-body medicine

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Medicine and therapy work well at treating many mental health problems. Yet some people want to try other ways to feel better. Here, you can read about some of those ways. Many people try these methods along with their standard plan of care. They may help support your efforts to get well.

  • Animal-assisted therapy (AAT). This method is based on research suggesting that animals are good for people’s health. It is more than visiting with a pet. A therapist trained in AAT makes a treatment plan that involves animal interaction. Many studies suggest that animals are useful therapy tools. One study found that AAT reduced anxiety in people with mood disorders and psychotic disorders.
  • Creative art (expressive) therapies. Art, music, writing, and dance are useful tools. They can help people work through feelings and events that are hard to talk about, or those that cannot be expressed using words alone. They are holistic. This means they work with the body, mind, and spirit. Studies suggest that these therapies can lower anxiety and depression. They may also boost self-esteem and self-awareness.
  • Self-help groups. Social support can help you cope with or recover from a mental health problem. Self-help groups bring together people with problems like yours. Groups can give you helpful advice. Groups also allow you take steps to help yourself stay well.
  • Pastoral counseling. Many people with mental health problems turn to a trusted pastor, priest, or rabbi for prayer and support. Some people seek help from a pastoral counselor. This is a person educated and trained in religion and providing mental health care.
  • Food and supplements. Many special diets claim to help mental health. Studies looking at how diet affects mood and mental health are limited or have mixed results. We do know that a healthy and well-balanced diet gives your body all the nutrients needed for good health. We also know that taking large doses of vitamins is not needed and may even be harmful. Some people try herbal supplements to boost mood, reduce worry, or sleep better. For instance, good evidence suggests that St. John’s wort can ease mild depressive symptoms. But it is not a proven cure for depression. Many herbal supplements may not mix well with drugs you use. Some can even be harmful.
  • Mind-body medicine. Meditation, yoga and similar techniques teach people how to use the mind to feel better. Evidence suggests that mind-body medicine might help with stress, worry, depression, and mood. It may also boost self-awareness and self-care.
  • Massage therapy. This involves touching and rubbing the body to ease tension and stress. It may lower symptoms of anxiety too.

Do these work?

Many mental health providers think that these methods can play a role in treatment when used along with conventional methods. Yet, we don’t always have scientific proof that they work or are safe if used alone. In some cases, a therapy may seem to lessen symptoms in the short-term. But we don’t know if the benefits will last. Some have little to offer and may even be harmful. More research is needed to learn about the usefulness and limitations of many less-established ways. 

Before you try a new approach

Talk to your doctor to get all the facts. Your doctor can tell you if it may be useful and safe for you to try. Never stop or change your current plan without talking to your doctor first.




By Christine P. Martin ©2012-2017 Beacon Health Options Source: Mamtani R and Cimino A. “A primer of complementary and alternative medicine and its relevance in the treatment of mental health problems.” Psych Q. 73(4); 2002:367-381; U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Herbs at a Glance: A Quick Guide to Herbal Supplements. June 2010,; Kyrouz EM and Loomis C. “A review of research on the effectiveness of self-help mutual groups.” American Self-Help Clearinghouse Self-Help Group Sourcebook (7 ed). Madara 2002; Delta Society website,; American Association of Pastoral Counselors,

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