- There are many types of therapy out there that are effective at treating a variety of mental health issues.
- The most robustly studied, best-understood, and most-used is cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Other effective therapies include light therapy, hypnosis, and mindfulness-based treatments, among others.
When you think of therapy, you probably picture a patient lying on a couch and divulging all their inner thoughts to a nodding therapist. Though “talk therapy” is important and widely used to address a variety of mental issues, there are several other therapies that might have escaped your attention which are also effective.
We spoke to Dr.Martin Antony, professor in the Department of Psychology Ryerson at the University in Toronto and author of “The Anti-Anxiety Workbook” and clinical psychologists, Dr. Deborah Offner and Dr. Alicia Tisdale about what other forms of therapy are out there and what conditions they’re best suited to treat.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is often considered the current gold standard of psychotherapy
Cognitive behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that you may not have heard of but is very widely practiced and has been proven time and time again through various studies to be a successful form of therapy.
“Through CBT, many people are able to change their perspectives and beliefs and feel more in control of their decisions and relationships,” Offner told INSIDER.
CBT works by looking at both behavior and ways of thinking which are unhelpful or continue to maintain a problem and then uses a variety of strategies to help the patient overcome these.
For example, one strategy that is used when treating depression is behavioral activation, in which therapists instruct patients to start to schedule activities that will get them out of their house and lift their moods. Other strategies include problem-solving training and social skills training.
CBT is also big on “homework.” “There’s a portion of it that happens in the session, where you’re talking to a therapist, but there’s also a portion of it that happens between sessions,” Antony told INSIDER. “We want the benefits to generalize into the person’s everyday life. It’s kind of like going to physical therapy in a way, you can go to the appointments but that in itself might not lead to the changes in your shoulder pain, you also need to do the exercises between sessions – it’s that kind of treatment,” he added.
Studies have shown that CBT is successful in treating depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance use problems, marital problems, posttraumatic stress disorder, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, borderline personality disorder, and more.
“Pretty much for every major problem that people experience, there’s a lot of literature supporting CBT as a solution,” said Antony.
Light therapy could help with Seasonal Affective Disorder
Light therapy is a treatment for a subtype of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD refers to a seasonal pattern of mood changes where a person becomes depressed during winter, and sometimes fall, due to a lack of natural light.
“The thumbnail sketch is that lack of light leads to sadness and low mood, along with other depressive symptoms, even if there are no other stressors in a person’s life at the time,” said Offner.
During light therapy, a patient sits near a device called a light therapy box which emits bright light that mimics sunshine. Light boxes used in light therapy are relatively small and affordable and can therefore be used in a patient’s home or office. Many people who suffer from SAD find that light therapy eases symptoms when used regularly.
Hypnosis might help treat anxiety, pain, and more
“All hypnosis is, is focused concentration, when we can focus and concentrate on whatever we’re trying to change, then we can relax more,” Tisdale told INSIDER.
Hypnosis is a therapeutic technique in which clinicians help their patients achieve a state of relaxation. When the patient is relaxed, then the clinician or psychologists can make suggestions to help them overcome whatever problem they’re trying to treat.
“The hypnotherapist can help you access parts of yourself that you may keep at bay at most times, and can offer useful input or perspective that your hypnotic state will likely make you more receptive to receiving and integrating,” said Offner.
It’s important to note, however, that not everyone is capable of being hypnotized. According to the National Institute of Health, however, 15% of the population is highly hypnotizable.
Exposure therapy might help patients overcome their fears
Exposure therapy is a form of CBT that focuses primarily on treating a patient’s specific fear.
“The best way to overcome fear is to confront the fear and situation. The best way to learn that a situation isn’t dangerous is to experience the situation in a safe controlled way and to learn that nothing bad happens,” said Antony.
During exposure therapy, a patient is incrementally exposed to their source of fear until they are no longer afraid. For example, a patient with a fear of spiders might begin by saying the word “spider” then seeing a picture of a spider, then standing 10 feet away from a spider in a jar, etc. until they feel comfortable going as far as holding a spider. All of this is done over a few sessions and at a pace that the patient can tolerate.
Exposure therapy can be used to overcome external as well as internal fears, for example, to treat the intrusive thoughts that a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder might experience (OCD).
The practice has been scientifically proven to help treat phobias, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, OCD, and posttraumatic stress disorder.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and other mindfulness-based treatments have been proven to help with depression and substance abuse
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is a form of cognitive therapy that uses traditional CBT practices as well as mindfulness-based stress reduction exercises such as meditation and breathing exercises.
“An important principle in all mindfulness-based treatments is that rather than try to control emotions, or control your physical sensations, we want people to take more of an acceptance stance towards them, to be aware of them, to let them happen, to not try to fight them, or judge them,” said Antony.
As Antony points out, mindfulness practices have been around for thousands of years and there’s nothing new about them. What is new, is that in the last 19 years there has been a lot of systematic research on it that has proven it is quite successful. According to this research, mindfulness exercises combined with CBT are effective “but there’s also evidence even when you don’t integrate them into CBT that these treatments can be effective as well,” said Antony.
Play and sand therapy is commonly used for children but may help adults as well
- Wikimedia Commons
“Play and sand therapy offer both children and adults ways to express their emotions and access their unconscious needs, fears and desires symbolically, through the use of toys or objects that can represent their inner lives,” said Offner.
While a child or adult plays, a trained therapist can then observe and interpret what they are doing in order to get a deeper understanding of what is happening in the patient’s life. From there a therapist may use other methods to address the patient’s problems. Both forms of therapy are most commonly used with children but can also be used with adults who “have experienced significant trauma that may defy being adequately described with language,” said Offner.
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