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Natural Approaches to Mental Health

Despite many disturbing facts about how we experience attempts to gain better mental health as detailed below, this article outlines encouraging solutions, and provides the six basic secrets to effective natural approaches that every health seeker should know.

Disturbing Facts
  • 19 million Americans struggle with an anxiety disorder1. Additionally, 5.2 million women experience PTSD each year, with as much as 51% of all American women experiencing post traumatic stress in their lifetime2. Fearfulness is to some extent a daily fact of life for many, and medication treats the distressing feeling but doesn't address the root cause in most cases.
  • 10 million Americans in 2006 were taking anti-depressants3. Some people are helped by these medications, especially when it keeps them from committing suicide. But medications are minimally effective for some, difficult to get right for others, and the side effects are debilitating for many.
  • 44 million in 2003 were taking at least one prescription drug, many of which have side effects that negatively impact emotional and physical health4. Some psychiatric drugs increase the risk for diabetes, and some almost always result in weight gain. Being on record as taking a psychiatric medication may carry a stigma that impacts employer perceptions and insurance claims in a variety of situations.
  • Stopping psychiatric drugs can have terrible, even dangerous consequences5. Medications should never be stopped "cold turkey," or without the supervision of a physician. Few natural health providers have even minimal training in psychopharmacology, and none should ever recommend terminating prescription medications without consulting your physician.
  • Mental/emotional burn out in professional and personal life take a serious physical and relationship toll6 by adversely impacting the immune system, increasing high blood pressure, promoting poor coping choices including substance abuse, lowering tolerance for differences of opinion, and increasing interpersonal conflicts and social withdrawal.
  • Patients in psychotherapy often also take psychiatric drugs7. The good news is that clients and clinicians may find that medications can provide enough symptom relief to allow a greater capacity to do the change-making work of psychotherapy, and to sustain changes between sessions. However, some drugs will have the opposite effect by over-deadening emotional responses and interferring with cognitive function, which then prevents psychotherapy from being effective.
Encouraging Solutions

Given this dismal and deteriorating picture of mental health in the United States, it is no wonder that upwards of 39% of us seek out complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments -- including natural approaches to health and healing -- each year. Common sense knows that the growth of these modalities could not happen if they didn't work, at least in some way for some people at some times.

In addition to healing systems such as naturopathic and botanical medicine, acupuncture, homeopathy, Ayurveda, chiropractic and massage that all have good benefits for mind and spirit, natural health approaches to mental health also include among many practices:

  • flower essence remedies
  • personal growth work
  • talk therapy or counseling
  • stress and conflict management strategies
  • communication and interpersonal skills improvement
  • hypnotherapy and guided imagery
  • meditation and spiritual practices
  • nature (eco-) based psychology
  • energy psychology techniques

Each of these modalities works in a different way, and addresses different needs and problems. Some are more effective than others depending on the individual's personality and learned (and unlearned) coping behaviors. Each are most effective when provided or guided by a well trained clinician.

In other words, natural approaches to mental health can be effective in the right circumstances. Generally, natural approaches have less serious side effects than psychiatric drugs, or none at all, making them the best first choice option in many situations of normal life and everyday stress.

For individuals who are already using prescription medications, moving off psychiatric drugs should be done very carefully, and only with proper medical supervision. Ideally, allopathic clinicians and CAM providers will work together, or at least consult each other, when individual patients desire to shift their treatment to increase natural approaches and decrease pharmaceutical methods.

In my practice as a psychotherapist and therapeutic coach, I tend to draw women who have become dissatisfied with taking medications and are turning to natural approaches to mental/emotional and spiritual distress. I recommend learning and increasing the use of natural approaches while correspondingly and methodically reducing the use of pharmaceuticals under their physician's care when that is in the client's best interest.

Some of my clients have been satisfied with the quality of life that their medications allow them to have, and when this is the case, I believe the responsible approach is to celebrate that fact, and expand personal growth skills and empowerment options in other areas of life. Neither medications nor any single natural health remedy I know of is THE answer for all people all of the time.

With my clients, I have the most success with a combination of flower essence remedies, individualized solution-focused counseling (no cookie cutter cognitive behavioral techniques or endless psychoanalysis), stress management, guided imagery, modified somatic awareness meditation, and the incorporation of nature and energy-based spiritual practices into the emotional and mental balance strategies. Every client has a unique set of needs, strengths, and coping ability, and I find that the application of what I call emotional first aid with some focused personal growth and spiritual grounding is a highly effective treatment approach for the stresses of every day life in modern society.

What Health Seekers Should Know

Individuals seeking better mind and spirit health should know what every doctor, therapist, and alternative health care practitioner knows -- the six basic secrets about the effectiveness of any approach to healing distress of mind and spirit, which are:

  1. An unhealthy lifestyle will overcome the benefit of drugs, supplements, exercise, talk therapy, or any other approach to dealing with mental and spiritual distress.
  2. True healing requires that individuals willingly change by removing obstacles to health that have accumulated in their habit and attitudinal patterns.
  3. Negative attitudes and beliefs, along with high levels of external stressors, have mental, spiritual, and physical consequences. Developing positive attitudes and beliefs, and having good stress management skills, are things that people have to do for themselves -- they can't be done for you or to you, even though others can teach you how and provide important support through the roughest of times.
  4. Any healing approach whether conventional, alternative, or natural can only be as effective as the level of genuine effort one puts into faithfully adhering to its protocols.
  5. One size doesn't fit all in mental health counseling care. The most effective practitioners are able to shift approaches with patients to help find the best combination of conventional, alternative, and natural strategies for each individual, even if that means recommending modalities that another clinician practices.
  6. Spiritual practices that promote trust, creativity, connection to a transcendent other or to a higher self, faith, peace, reverence, respect, tolerance and the possibility of magic or miracles have positive benefits for healing emotional and mental problems.

If you're suffering from some form of mind or spirit distress, reaching out for help to ease your suffering is the smart thing to do. Finding the natural approach modalities and practitioners that will be most effective for you may take a little time and persistence, but the results are likely to be worth it. Exploring the advertisers in the Natural Choice Directory is a good place to start.

© 2008  By Deah Curry PhD

Dr Deah Curry, PhD, is a therapeutic coach with more than 17 years of experience helping women overcome the fear, stress, and burnout that drains the satisfaction from daily life. Her unique 2 hour once a week sessions provide solutions, insights, and new skills, and help clients move quickly through their distress. See her websites which include www.DeahCurry.net, www.InnerJourneyWork.com, www.EmotionalFirstAid-Coaching.com and www.WiseWomanArts.com. Colleagues in the healing arts can find private practice building tips on her site www.LiminalRealities.com.

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References

1. APA Help Center, online.http://apahelpcenter.org/articles/topic.php?id=6#Panic%20Disorder

2. Ibid.

3. Richard Rubin, MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. June 2006, Antidepressant use associated with increased type 2 diabetes risk. A Medscape article. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/539078

4. Sankar Vedantum, December 2004. Antidepressant Use by US Adults Soars. A Washington Post article. http://www.biopsychiatry.com/antidepressants/usa.html

5. Mary Duenwald, May 2004. The Consumer--How to Stop Depression Medications: Very Slowly. A New York Times article. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=990ceed9173ef936a15756c0a9629c8b63&sec=health&spon=&pagewanted=print

6. Sharon Toker & Arie Shirom, October 2005. Burnout does take physical toll: Sexes differ in their immune reactions to burnout on the job and depression, study says. An American Psychological Association article. http://www.apa.org/releases/burnout101605.html

7. Laurie Meyers, June 2006. Psychologists and psychotropic medication. A Monitor on Psychology article. http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun06/psychotropic.html