I once had a conversation with a Japanese colleague of mine about the American concept of the mind-body connection when it came to therapy. She laughed at me and said, “In our culture, they were never separate.”
That always stuck with me, especially as I started to research alternative forms of therapy for a relative of mine who wanted to try something other than traditional talk therapy. When you see that there are different types of therapists whose processes are based on solid, empirically-based research, you'll have information that can help you — or someone you love — find the right therapist.
If you are dealing with a mental heath issue (depression, anxiety, insomnia, grief or stress) and don’t want to be in therapy for the rest of your life, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) allows you to participate in your own recovery. Cognitive behavioral therapists may give you some homework to do to help you master whatever it is you are lacking. For example, if you go to a CBT for anxiety, they may have you keep a record of when you feel anxious, on a scale of one to 10, how anxious you felt and what thought preceded the anxiety. CBT is all about changing the way you think. CBT utilizes a limited number of sessions to help get you back to your life with the tools you’ll need to help yourself. CBT is extremely motivating and highly effective. To find a doctor who does CBT near you, your best resource will likely be your heath insurance, or ask the folks at the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, or check out the National Institute for Mental Health.
Dance therapy can help patients who are shy, have body image problems or find talk therapy too confrontational. Dance therapy is also good for those with dementia and those who have severe mental health issues and are in day programs, since it is very useful for building communication. One of the best uses for dance therapy over the past few years has been for kids with autism.
Dr. Shoshana Dayanim of Keiser University says dance therapy is great with movement exercises or even just passing a ball around. “Dance therapy can help the patient get in touch with their surroundings in a meaningful way. It grounds you in reality, because you have to be present.”
She likens it to education. “We all learn differently, so it stands to reason that when it comes to therapy, it’s the same thing. Not all therapy works for every person.” Dance therapy is very good at helping you articulate what’s really going on in areas of depression for example because it is so non-confrontational. Dr. Dayanim suggests that if you are looking for a therapist for someone who is on the spectrum, dance therapy’s “mirroring technique” has been found to be highly effective. The American Dance Therapy Association is a great place to find a dance movement professional near you.
If you are having specific phobias that you need to get over quickly — like you’re afraid to fly and have a trip to Hawaii planned with the family — exposure therapy might be right for you. It is gradual and repeated therapy that exposes you to the element or situation you are afraid of and teaches you how to lower your anxiety levels surrounding the target of the phobia. If we use the flying example, there are programs where they will start with education about flight, then you are taken to an airport, next you may board a plane and finally a short take off and landing. Common uses for exposure therapy are for everything from fear to PTSD. The Mayo Clinic is a great resource to find a therapist who can help.
If you have a daughter between the ages of 8 and 18 with body image issues, look into activity-based programs. Those programs are a specialty of GMA contributor Dr. Robyn Silverman, who makes it clear there is a big difference between body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and body image. “If your child has an eating disorder or BDD, they will need a clinical therapist well-versed in it, since this needs a much more profound clinical slant.”
Body image is different. “Even girls who seem normal and healthy may not feel happy with their bodies," she says. “Their feelings may even interfere with daily tasks.”
Girls need to learn how not to pick apart messages that they receive from the media, but also from those around them. These programs educate girls and can help their babysitters, your mother-in-law, older siblings and anyone who is around her giving her an unhealthy message. These programs are not therapy based, but are really strong options that build on media literacy and how to navigate the world we live in.
Dr. Silverman suggests programs like Girls on the Run, Girls Inc. or Girl Scouts and Big Brothers Big Sisters. “Some are weekly, some bi-weekly, but they all talk about the body with a focus on empowerment." Contact these programs and read Dr. Silverman’s book, Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How weight obsession is messing up our girls for more information.
If you have self-esteem issues, especially those surrounding aging, traditional psychotherapy might be your best option. Psychotherapist, Dr. Robi Ludwig explains, “The process of talking can change the brain chemistry. Just by sharing your story, in an unedited way, in the presence of a professional, can be enough.” Therapy at its best can be validating. You learn that your emotions matter, especially if people around you are dismissive of your feelings.
Traditional talk therapy can help you feel less out of control as you learn that its OK to have your feelings. “But,” Dr. Ludwig adds, “also to correct distortions that you hold.” Dr. Ludwig, author of Your Best Age is Now likes to focus on issues that involve the ageing process. She talks to patients about what we're told culturally, and what that means in terms of your life. She says that she likes to change the thinking of people who are feeling hopeless about their future. “It’s wrong thinking that it’s too late to have anything positive happen for you in your life, or feeling regretful about the mistakes you’ve made.”
She also believes that it is never too late to have the career you want, have the type of relationship you want or look the way you want. “It’s absolutely not too late,” she says. She adds that “we are so youth focused that we have overlooked the new science about being in mid-life, how we think and how we learn.”
This type of therapy can help you understand that each stage brings its own challenges but also its own solutions. “You’re doubting yourself and need to feel more in control of the life you want to have. Of course it’s possible and the science backs that up.” To find a great psychotherapist near you, check out the American Psychological Association.
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