When someone experiences pain or discomfort, whether physical or mental, the instinct is to do something to remedy it. Throughout the history of human existence, people have tried different approaches to relieve physical and mental pain, some more successful than others. The successful ones have developed over the centuries to what at times is known today as home remedies or traditional medicine.
Clinical medicine has proven to be effective most of the time, but sometimes it’s not enough, or the side effects of a medication outweigh the benefits. What other options are there for situations like this?
Scientific knowledge is slowly acknowledging the benefits of complementary and alternative medicine in the treatment of mental health disorders. Complementary and alternative medicine is any healing health practice outside of the dominant health system in a particular country (Mamtani et al., 2002). It is estimated that 25 to 50 percent of industrialized nations use complimentary and alternative medicine (2002).
The list of complementary and alternative medicine is extensive and ranges from effective to completely useless or even harmful. Dr. Ravinder Mamtani and Andrea Cimino, both professors at the New York Medical College, co-authored an article in Psychiatric Quarterly addressing the different complementary and alternative medicines that have been studied and shown to be effective for various medical issues. Though there are various complementary and alternative medicines for many different aliments, this article will focus on those that are effective in treatment of mental health disorders.
Mamtani and Cimino report that people with psychiatric disorders are more likely to use complementary and alternative medicine (2002). They warn that health care providers can no longer ignore these methods because of their increasing popularity. It is important to know the different methods commonly used so as to work with them and avoid medications reacting to other supplements the patient may be using. The Internet with all its good and bad advice makes patients more informed or proactive in healing. Health care providers need to be aware of these things to work with them and to help the patients avoid harmful alternative medicines (2002).
Below are some of the most commonly used techniques and their effectiveness in treating mental health disorders. Mind and body techniques as well as manipulative therapies have been shown to be effective in treating mental health disorders. These include hypnosis, cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation and massage.
1. Hypnosis, according to Mamtani and Cimino, is a state of intense concentration, which allows the person to ignore their physical surroundings and intrusive thoughts (2002). During hypnosis, the person is given suggestions to help change their negative behaviors. Randomized control trials have shown that hypnosis can effectively reduce anxiety and panic disorders. When used in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy, it has been shown to be successful in treating phobias (2002).
2. Cognitive behavioral therapy, though thought by some to be part of clinical medicine, has proven to be effective in treating anxiety, depression and panic disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches a patient to nurture healthy thoughts and emotions while altering negative ones (2002).
3. Relaxation techniques involve two parts: “1) ‘repetitive focus on a word, sound, prayer, phrase, or a muscular activity,’ and 2) ‘the adoption of a passive attitude toward intruding thoughts and a return to the focus’” (2002). Deep relaxation techniques include meditation and progressive muscle relaxation; brief relaxation techniques include different types of deep breathing. Both types of relaxation have proven effective in treating anxiety related to stress (2002).
Other mind-body techniques that have proven to be relaxing and effective in the treatment of anxiety and stress include yoga, tai chi, meditation and imagery (2002).
4. There is also one manipulative therapy that has proven effective in treating a mental health disorder and that is massage. “Massage is the manipulation of soft tissues and muscles to produce relaxation” (2002). There are many different kinds of massage and evidence suggests that any type can help reduce anxiety.
Alternative medicines such as acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal remedies and nutritional approaches, though used by many people with mental health disorders, have not been shown by science to be effective. But there is one exception…
5. St. John’s-wort has been shown to be effective in treating mild depression (2002).
Mamtain and Cimino suggest that complementary and alternative medicines are not curative, but “there is sufficient evidence that if appropriately used, CAM therapies can provide valuable symptomatic assistance to patients with psychiatric disorders” (2002).
Mamtani R., Cimino A. (2002) A primer of complementary and alternative medicine and it’s relevance in the treatment of mental health problems. Pyschiatric Quarterly. 2002;73(4):367-381. http://web.a.ebscohost.com.byui.idm.oclc.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=2&sid=53d34f5c-ab87-4731-ad3a-a373cbdcfbe7%40sessionmgr4006.