When you think of going to therapy, you may imagine the stereotypical scene of a patient sprawled out on a couch, looking at the ceiling or playing with a stress ball while a counsellor sits nearby, diligently taking notes. That’s talk therapy, and for many, it works quite well. But, not everyone responds well to the same kind of counselling. Think of those who would need counselling for communication issues, or because they struggle to be vulnerable. This type of traditional therapy setting could actually be quite intimidating for them. When someone has a physical ailment, we understand that their body may respond completely differently to one type of treatment than someone else, with the same problem, responds. So, it’s not a stretch to see why different individuals respond to different kinds of therapy.

Fortunately, there are many types of therapy that don’t involve notebooks and chatting for an hour until the little timer goes off. There are some kinds of therapy that aren’t often discussed in mainstream media. And there are some kinds that are even a bit more fringe. If you believe you or a loved one could benefit from therapy but are turned off by talk therapy, here are a few unique kinds of therapy that could be of help.

When talk therapy doesn’t work

Before diving into the non-traditional forms of therapy, it’s important to look at the signs and reasons talk therapy may not work for all. In many cases, individuals do not seek therapy until the situation has become dire. This is particularly true for those who suffer from depression. At that point, they may hope for immediate results when they’re actually in a state that will require extensive time in therapy to see results.

Sometimes it’s a matter of finding the right therapist, and patients shouldn’t hesitate to open up to their current therapist if they believe their methods are not working for them. A good therapist should gladly make a referral to a colleague. These non-traditional forms of therapy we’re about to discuss can be useful when talk therapy has failed, or as a supplemental treatment to talk therapy.

  1. EMDR

EMDR stands for Eye Moment Desensitization and Reprocessing. The simplest way to explain it is that a therapist will move her fingers back and forth in front of your face, asking you to follow the movements with your eyes, as you talk about a painful memory – going into detail about the emotional and physical sensations. Then the therapist will gently guide you into having more pleasant thoughts. It may sound like hypnosis, but the patient does not go into a trance-like state during EMDR.

  • How effective is it?

EMDR is relatively new to the psychology community, but it’s already gaining respect. After the session is complete, therapists ask the patient to rate their stress level. They ask this at the beginning of the session, as well, and compare the two numbers at the end. Research has found EMDR can be more effective than talk therapy in patients who have undergone trauma. This type of therapy is meant to help one reprocess painful memories, eliminating or minimizing both the psychological and physical symptoms one experiences when recalling such memories.

2. Primal therapy

If you’ve ever passed a therapist’s office and heard loud bursts of intense screams coming from it, that therapist may practice something called Primal therapy. Primal therapy focuses on addressing some of the earliest difficult emotional experiences an adult may have had in childhood, and either yelling, screaming, or crying at the absent adult (often a parent) who caused that suffering. Sometimes called Scream therapy, it’s a supplemental part of larger counselling that helps a therapist understand a patient’s repressed emotions.

  • How effective is it?

Limited studies have found Primal therapy to be quite effective in patients with neurosis or personality disorders. However, in one study, a patient had an affective psychosis triggered by the treatment, as the treatment itself may be traumatic for those who lack a certain level of stability. Typically, Primal therapy patients must partake in the treatment for well over a year to see results.

3. Art therapy

The core idea behind art therapy is that patients can use visual mediums as a way of expressing their emotions when they struggle to do so with words. There are several forms of art therapy, but a common form involves the therapist analyzing the patient’s artwork, and deducing the patient’s inner experience through the visual evidence. It’s commonly used for patients with self-esteem issues, or those struggling with self-awareness because the act of creating art can boost confidence, as well as reveal feelings one may not know they had. Art therapy is often done with paint, pen/pencil, and paper, or clay.

  • How effective is it

Studies have been done on the effectiveness of art therapy for a variety of patient types and issues. One study found that art therapy can help alleviate depression in prison inmates, as well as help minimize aggression. It also found that art therapy can help alleviate stress, anxiety, and burnout in healthcare professionals.

4. Sand therapy

Sand therapy includes several other types of therapy, including play therapy and art therapy. Sand therapy was created by a psychologist named Dora Kalff in the 1950s. She consulted a paediatrician and child psychologist to develop it, but it is used on adults today, as well as children. In sand therapy, a patient is given a box or tray of sand, and sometimes small toys or figurines. Through the process of creating pretend worlds in the sand, the patient gives the therapist insight into their emotions, and how they relate to the world.

  • How effective is it?

Though sand therapy is often thought of as therapy for children (and can be quite effective in that capacity), there are also circumstances under which it’s useful for adults. Because it relaxes the mind and body, minimizing impulsivity and aggression, it can be useful in adults who have suffered some extreme trauma or are suffering grief that makes it difficult for them to use their words to express themselves.

5. Music therapy

Without even knowing it, you may perform some forms of music therapy on yourself throughout your life when dealing with stressful moments. Music is quite powerful at alleviating stress and anxiety. Music therapists are trained professionals who know how to use music to help you in many ways. There are five pillars of the therapy that pertain to improving communication, distracting us from anxiety-inducing stimuli, tapping into memories, encouraging or changing behavioural patterns, and impacting the part of the brain involved in moderating emotions. You’ve likely experienced how music has relieved anxiety, sent away a bad thought, or even moved you to feel or behave a certain way. Music therapists know how to harness the power of music in a targeted manner.

  • How effective is it?

Studies have been done on the effectiveness of music therapy on dozens of diseases. It’s been found to be particularly useful in improving the social functioning of those with schizophrenia and other mental disorders. It’s also beneficial to those with Parkinson’s disease and can improve their ability to carry out certain physical tasks. Research shows it may help alleviate depression, and improve sleep, too.

6. Horticulture therapy

Horticulture therapy combines a bit of play therapy and wilderness therapy as it involves a recreational activity, outdoors, bringing in those soothing effects of nature. But the effects cannot take place when one simply gardens alone. Trained horticulture therapists engage patients in plant- and gardening-related activities aimed at a specific healing goal. It’s used to treat both physical conditions, as well as anxiety, depression, and social disorders.

  • How effective is it?

Horticulture is often available in long-term health facilities that treat patients with emotional disorders, as well as physical ailments. Research has found that patients who have access to this type of therapy can have shorter stays at the facility, feeling ready to return to the world sooner than those who do not. Additional studies have shown it could be useful in treating depression, schizophrenia, and dementia.

7. Gestalt therapy

If you ever witness someone participating in Gestalt therapy, you may say, “That person needs therapy” because it does look a bit odd. Gestalt therapy involves looking at an empty chair, imagining that a certain person with whom you’re having conflict is sitting there, and speaking to that absent individual. You then switch places, and speak as that individual, responding to you. It’s said to provide great insight into the experiences and perspective of those with whom we have conflict – some even try this therapy to understand loved ones who have passed away.

  • How effective is it?

Research has indicated that Gestalt therapy (sometimes called the two-chair method) is more effective than cognitive-behavioural therapy in handling marital conflict and unfinished business. It can also be quite useful in addressing conflict split (being internally conflicted between two aspects of one’s self), and decisional conflict (difficulty making a personal choice when one’s personal values are at risk, or there is the potential for regret or other risks).


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