As a caregiver and someone who is watching a loved one struggle with a mood disorder, figuring out if and how to involve alternative therapies is one more challenge.
Alternative therapies – techniques that usually fall outside of the realm of conventional treatment -- is a hot topic for many traditional therapists and psychiatrists. It is certainly true that traditional therapy and medication or a combination thereof have provided relief for many suffering mental disease. Yet a great many other affected people don't receive the relief they seek. And the truth is we don't know how many people are actually "cured" or "healed" from traditional therapies. Perhaps this is why alternative therapies have assumed a place alongside conventional healing modes. In fact, they are also called "complimentary" therapies because they are often utilized in concert with traditional approaches.
When people feel bad, they usually start with a trip to a therapist who can conduct a screening, develop a diagnosis, and then recommend where to go for help. Typically, the standard treatment is talk therapy in conjunction with medication. As a result of managed care, increasingly people seek treatment first through their primary care physician, which has its own pros and cons. Caution is recommended, since mental illness is a specialty. You would not go to your primary care physician for heart surgery, so think twice about asking a primary care doctor to diagnose and treat you or a loved one for a mood disorder, such as depression or bi-polar disorder.
What role do alternative therapies play in treating mood disorders?
For many suffering from mood disorders, alternative therapies are used in conjunction with medication and/or talk therapy. Some of the more serious alternative treatments include: repeated transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS); the use of lightboxes for people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD); eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy; massage treatments; hypnosis; sleep deprivation therapy; Chinese herbal medicine; group therapies; support groups and psychosurgery.
Many people report being helped or even healed by alternative therapies. Exactly why or how the therapies work is not a question to be answered here. In his book, The Noonday Demon, Andrew Soloman eloquently states: "Depression is a disease of thought processes and emotions, and if something changes your thought processes and emotions in the correct direction, that qualifies as a recovery. Frankly, I think that the best treatment for depression is belief, which is in itself far more essential than what you believe in."
Simply put, a great variety of factors – including situation, openness, genetics, sociological and physiological issues -- all play a role in the "healing" factor. Very often there is no "cure" and the pain may or may not subside over time with or without help from medication therapy and other methods of alternative healing. Still, who are we to instruct the person struggling with mental disease to stop searching for ways to assuage their pain?
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