You're not out of the norm if you feel like talk therapy, aka psychotherapy or counseling, isn't a super effective way to manage your mental health. The success of talk therapy varies from individual to individual, and can also depend on mental health diagnosis and severity. Some researchers think the effectiveness of talk therapy is somewhat exaggerated: a 2015 meta-analysis published in the journal PLOS One found that the efficacy of psychotherapy as a treatment for depression has been "overestimated" thanks to publication bias, though the study emphasized that it is still effective. Talk therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) can be extremely beneficial to your mental health if you stick with it, and attend regular sessions. But, if you and your doctor are finding traditional talk therapy ineffective, there are a lot of mental health treatments that aren't talk therapy that may be worth exploring.
Dr. Steve Levine, a board-certified psychiatrist and founder and CEO of Actify Neurotherapies, tells Bustle that talk therapy may not always be the most effective or productive route for some people with severe mental health issues. "We tend to focus on the emotional aspects of these illnesses, but cognitive symptoms are some of the most disabling — difficulties with concentration, attention, and memory," he explains. "Recent research has shown us that depression and anxiety are neurodegenerative conditions, meaning that they are associated with structural damage in the brain. This can affect new learning, which is required to reap the benefits of talk therapy."
If traditional talk therapy isn't your thing, that doesn't mean you're out of luck. Modern day psychotherapy has been developing since the 1940s and is among the most widely-known forms of mental health treatment, but complementary and alternative medicine (aka, CAM) and alternative therapies are gaining in popularity in recent years. "Some therapies like EMDR, art therapy, dance therapy, and more involve little to no talking. Therapy is a learning process, and everyone has a different learning style, says Dr. Levine. "For some, a 'talking cure' is just the thing, but others have difficulty articulating their feelings or processing verbal input. With the guidance of a specialist, these non-verbal therapies offer a way to access, express, and process these unspeakable feelings."
Unfortunately, many non-verbal therapy options, such as art therapy, have fewer practitioners because they're lesser-known forms of therapy. However, if you're interested in exploring some of these treatments, you can search for practitioners in your area or talk to your GP about them. Here are seven mental health treatments to try that aren't talk therapy, and the potential benefits of each.
1. EMDR Therapy
According to the EMDR Institute, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a "psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories." Though EMDR involves some talking, the EMDR therapist focuses on stimulating your eyes with swinging pendulums, or by moving their finger back and forth. Basically, by engaging the five senses, EMDR is supposed to alter the way your brain processes and stores trauma — making the painful memory less painful. Though it's a new (and kind of confusing) therapy option, a 2014 study found EMDR was more effective at treating people with trauma than regular cognitive behavioral therapy.
2. Music And Gong Therapy
There's no denying that even people who live without mental health issues use music as a form of medicine. The benefits to working with a trained music therapist are substantial: Studies have shown music therapy and the vibration of sounds help relieve anxiety and depression, reduce physical pain, and have even help hospice patients better accept their illness.
In addition to regular music therapy, some people are turning to gong therapy (aka gong or sound baths) for the same exact reason. Much like music therapy, gong baths help some people relieve stress, lower blood pressure, and encourage wellness.
3. Sand Tray Therapy
Who didn't like to play in the sandbox as a kid? Turns out, the common childhood pastime actually can be used as a therapeutic tool. According to GoodTherapy.org, sand tray therapy "allows a person to construct [their] own microcosm using miniature toys and colored sand. The scene created acts as a reflection of the person’s own life and allows him or her the opportunity to resolve conflicts, remove obstacles, and gain acceptance of self." Instead of talking, sand tray therapy allows you and your therapist to dive into your subconscious, and conceptualize the thoughts you cannot put into words.
4. Art Therapy
If you can't quite put into words how you're feeling, art therapy could be an helpful route in lieu of traditional talk therapy. The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) defines art therapy as "an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship." Multiple studies have shown art therapy not only eases the symptoms of mental health issues, but also anxiety and depression related to chronic physical illness.
5. Dance/Movement Therapy
Instead of talking it out, you may need to dance it out. No, really: Dance and movement therapy can encourage your brain to release feel-good endorphins, and activates your pleasure responses. The practice is becoming more popular; there's even an annual conference in the U.S. hosted by the American Dance Therapy Association to discuss the benefits of dance and movement therapy.
6. Wilderness Therapy
No, wilderness therapy doesn't just mean you get to go backpacking or hiking sans therapist. The American Psychological Association (APA) describes wilderness therapy as an emerging kind of mental health treatment that brings "empirically informed therapeutic techniques and therapists into the wilderness." While there is a bit of traditional talk therapy involved, wilderness therapy is done in a scenic backdrop rather than a dimly lit office — in between the hiking and camping. Wilderness therapy programs are typically geared towards teens, but there are a handful of programs for adults.
7. Light Therapy
Though light therapy is typically utilized for people who have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it never hurts to get a little Vitamin D. If you're not in the mood to talk with a mental health professional or if you can't afford regular individual therapy sessions, making a one-time investment in a light therapy lamp may be worth it. Light therapy obviously won't help you actively work through deeper traumas or issues, but it's a form of therapy nonetheless.
If typical talk therapy isn't cutting it for you or helping you process your mental health issues, you can talk to your mental health support team about if one of these are a better treatment option. Incorporating creative therapies that allow you to process your emotions through your other five senses could be the key to sparking emotional growth and wellness — that talk therapy just can't access for you.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the degree to which researchers believe talk therapy is an effective treatment for mental health issues. It has been updated to more accurately reflect that research.