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Natural Awakenings Bucks and Montgomery Counties PA

Many Paths To Healing: Exploring Modern Mental Health Practices, Treatments and Modalities

by Karen L. Smith, Rebecca Antsis and Karen G. Meshkov

Life is not without its ups and downs. At some point in the journey, we will likely be presented with circumstances that upset our mood and behavior. Though many tools and resources are available that can help us on our path to optimal mental health, the first challenge is figuring out what kind of help we need, and where we can get it.

As an advocate of integrative, holistic and complementary approaches to healing, Natural Awakenings offers this guide as our attempt to survey the contemporary healing landscape and raise awareness of the myriad resources available to those seeking inroads to a more emotionally healthy, happy and balanced life.

It’s important to note that several of these paths overlap in theory and practice, and that many more modalities are in current or emerging use today than have been included here. Rather than endorsing one practice to exclusion of any others, our intention is to offer an introduction to the wide range of options available within our community as a starting point for education and inquiry.


Counseling Sometimes in the form of groups or crisis intervention, counseling is most frequently best suited to very specific life situations, like managing a death or recent diagnosis, facing a divorce, leaving a violent relationship, “coming out” or getting support as a caregiver. Whatever the situation, the goals of counseling are to provide support, validation, a safe place for exploration of feelings, options and concrete resources. These services can frequently be found through agencies, hospitals and the like.

womancounseling_30023928_sPsychotherapy Psychotherapy has as one of its primary aims to help clients have better access to their unconscious mind. While individual sessions may tend to the daily life of the client, its real goals are to aid in the ways we find ourselves stuck or repeating ourselves year after year. It assumes that our early years formed certain ways of seeing ourselves, relationships and the world that are difficult for us to see, and that if we identify those lessons through listening to our unconscious, we can make core changes that will impact the whole of our lives moving forward. This is an umbrella term for therapeutic modalities as diverse as Freudian Psychoanalysis to Humanistic and Gestalt.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies Some practitioners offer concrete therapies to help people learn cognitive, behavioral and emotional regulatory techniques to manage moods, control behaviors and tolerate emotional fluctuations without becoming triggered or over-stimulated. These techniques are important tools for stabilizing folks who are emotionally reactive due to trauma or constitutional issues. They are built on the foundation of years of research and have proven efficacy in helping people develop concrete skills for living.

Psychiatric Interventions While it is true that as Americans we live in a world where popping pills seems to be the default, it is a mistake to disregard the profoundly positive impact the right medications can make on many people suffering with mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Psychotropic medications may be recommended to help address mood changes that persist over weeks or months and interfere with daily life functioning. They are often essential for folks that have biological/chemical contributions to their mood. There are several types of medications including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors. Other medications are sometimes used “off label” to manage depression, including atypical antipsychotic agents and antihistamines. An increasing number of hospitals and clinics offer ketamine to address treatment-resistant depression and suicidal ideation. After a reasonable commitment to some counseling or psychotherapy, some supportive nutrition and nutritional supplements, some bodywork and body/mind centering activities, getting a referral to a good psychiatrist from one of your trusted practitioners can be a worthy action.

Nature Based, Animal Assisted and Expressive Arts Therapies These therapeutic modalities provide inroads to the unconscious in service of facilitating psychological healing.

Expressive Arts Therapies is the umbrella term for several therapeutic disciplines that utilize the creative arts for therapeutic purposes. Expressive Arts Therapies modalities include, but are not limited to: Art Therapy, Music Therapy, Movement/Dance Therapy, Writing/Bibliotherapy and Drama Therapy. While Expressive Arts Therapies may not be as widely practiced as its talk therapy cousin, they can be found in a plethora of settings. Expressive art therapists most frequently practice in treatment centers, elderly housing, mental health facilities, schools, short-term outpatient groups and private practices. Expressive Arts Therapies can be used as a primary therapeutic vehicle but most often is utilized in a complementary capacity to help locate and define core material difficult to access verbally. Certain populations with limited verbal capabilities benefit greatly from these forms of therapy.

Adventure Therapy is the use of experiential learning techniques coupled with tenets of group therapy practices. Specifically useful in building self-esteem, treatment of addiction and in fortifying healthy social behaviors, these include Women’s Wilderness Retreats, Men’s Wilderness Journeys, etc.

Ecotherapy/Nature Therapy is the applied use of nature-based exercises to address both mental and physical health. This form of therapy is founded on the principles of ecopsychology, a branch that studies the ways in which humans and the natural world are intimately connected. Within ecopsychology, the deleterious effects of the disconnect between nature and humans are arguably the cause of many psychological pathologies.

Animal Assisted Therapy is the applied use of animals during therapeutic sessions. Pet Therapy allows animals to accompany counselors or therapists to help people recover from or better cope with issues as far ranging as heart disease to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Therapy animals may be brought into facilities or assigned to individual clients. Equine-Assisted Therapy (EAT) encompasses a range of treatments that include activities with horses to promote physical, occupational and emotional growth in clients with a wide range of issues, including autism, cerebral palsy, dementia, developmental delay, genetic syndromes, traumatic brain injuries and PTSD.

Somatic Psychotherapies Somatic psychotherapies help individuals release trauma held in the body or regulate mood and mental functioning. Such approaches, once associated only with physical health, are now being used to help facilitate insight, increase mood stability and relieve symptoms of emotional pain and trauma. Affirming the inseparability of mind, body and spirit, somatic-based therapies account for information contained in posture, gesture, movement and bodily tensions, as well as in cognitions, emotions and relational dynamics to inform mechanisms for healing. Practitioners help clients learn to release bodily tension through breathing exercises, sensation awareness, physical exercise, voice work, massage and grounding exercises.

Body-Mind Psychotherapy (BMP) is a somatic-cognitive approach to psychotherapy that is focused on physiology, neuroscience and early motor development. Mindfulness of body sensation is a primary tool. Hakomi and Core Energetics are popular forms of this approach.

Integrative Psychotherapy is an approach to healing and easing life’s problems by increasing one’s resilience and personal resources. It incorporates the fundamental principles of traditional psychotherapy and holistic medicine to promote healing on all levels (emotional physical, mental and spiritual) to enable patients to manage stress and create a healthy lifestyle.

Altered Consciousness Interventions Inviting clients into altered states of consciousness may be useful for accessing psychological material difficult to bring to conscious awareness.

Hypnotherapy is a form of psychotherapy used to create subconscious change in a patient in the form of new responses, thoughts, attitudes, behaviors or feelings, and is undertaken through helping the patient enter an altered state and then being led, by suggestion, by a therapist knowledgeable about the patient’s psychological landscape.

Past Life Regression is a technique that involves the subject answering a series of questions while hypnotized to reveal identity and events of alleged past lives, a method similarly used in recovered memory therapy. It is typically undertaken either in pursuit of a spiritual experience or in a psychotherapeutic setting.

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) may be used in conjunction with psychotherapy and focuses on the alteration of disturbing experiences to alleviate suffering. EMDR is a well-regarded intervention for managing symptoms of PTSD and other persistent emotional distress. The goal of EMDR is to reduce the long-lasting effects of distressing memories by engaging full brain engagement through bilateral sensory input via visual, auditory and/or tactile channels.


Ayurvedic Medicine, originating in India, is one of the world’s oldest medical systems. It focuses on maintaining health via the balance of the elements (doshas): air, fire and water. A patient’s body type, determined according to ayurvedic principles, is the basis for individualized dietary regimens and other preventive therapeutic interventions.

Meditation and Mindfulness Practices are techniques designed to help quiet discursive thought and still the mind as a path to developing a calm, centered inner awareness. Mindfulness practices are self-administered and have been practiced for millennia by yogis, healers, medical practitioners, shamans and laypeople alike.

Yoga is a an ancient spiritual practice which means “to join” or “to unite”. There are technically six paths of yoga—Hatha, Karma, Bhakti, Jnana, Kriya and Raja Yoga—although Hatha Yoga forms are the most commonly practiced in the U.S. today. Hatha Yoga typically combines breathwork (pranayama), physical postures (asanas) and meditative techniques.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) encompasses a large corpus of medicinal wisdom that has been practiced for over five millennia. The core philosophical principle of TCM is to maintain the yin/yang balance of life force energy, called chi or qi. Following are some distillations of TCM that have evolved over the centuries.

Acupuncture is a technique in which practitioners stimulate specific energy channels (“meridians”) on the body, most often by inserting thin needles through the skin. Acupuncture is often used for pain management as well as to address a wide range of body system dysfunctions.

Acupressure uses precise finger placement and pressure over meridian points along the body, and targets similar issues as acupuncture, particularly chronic pain.

Tai chi, Tui Na and Qigong are some of the ancient Chinese systems of daily movement, postures and breathing that help center the body and align our energy through removing blockages embedded in muscles and tissues.

MASSAGE THERAPY This is a general term for the manipulation of soft tissue for therapeutic purposes. Massage incorporates various disciplines and involves kneading, rubbing, brushing and tapping the muscles and connective tissues by hand or using mechanical devices. Its goal is to increase circulation and detoxification in order to reduce physical and emotional stress and increase overall wellness. Massage therapy includes a variety of different styles and approaches, including Shin Tai, Shiatsu, Thai, Swedish, Deep Tissue and Reflexology, that offer not only pain relief or body repair, but aid in the release of emotions held in the body and help people connect with their physicality.

ENERGETIC MODALITIES Following is a partial list of modalities that focus on the broad concepts of “energy biofields” and “biomagnetics” as core principles for restoring a healthy mind-body balance.


Energy Psychology, including Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) and Thought Field Therapy (TFT), involves tapping on meridian points on the body in combination with vocal positive affirmations to restore the mind and body’s balance.

Energy Therapy/Medicine is a branch of alternative medicine that involves the channeling of healing energy into a patient by a healer to restore mind-body balance by activating the client’s natural healing processes. This may or may not be hands-on touch healing. Some examples are Reiki, Pranic Healing and Healing Touch.

Neuroemotional Technique (NET) incorporates an amalgam of factors including kinesiology, brainwave patterns, semantics, muscle testing, emotions, reflexes and more to restore physical-emotional health and balance.

Sound Healing facilitates relaxation through subtle vibrations of singing bowls, tuning forks and a variety of musical instruments.

Technology Assisted Therapy

Biofeedback utilizes instruments that provide information on the activity of certain physiological systems, such as blood pressure, muscle tone and heart rate, with a goal of learning how they may be independently manipulated and maximized for personal health.

Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (dTMS) is a non-invasive technique that can induce increases or decreases in excitability of large populations of neurons in deep areas of the brain. It is used for the treatment of several types of depressive disorders.

Vagus Nerve Stimulation is utilized for treatment-resistant depression. It involves implantation of a small electrical device and wire into the body along the vagus nerve, regulating mood through regularly generated impulses that stimulate neurochemical responses.

FOOD, PLANTS, HERBS AND SUPPLEMENTS What we put into our bodies is instrumental to our physical health, and is key for mood and energy management.

Aromatherapy uses plant materials and aromatic plant oils, including essential oils and other aroma compounds, for the purpose of altering one’s mood, cognitive, psychological or physical well-being. Blends of therapeutic essential oils can be issued through topical application, massage, inhalation or water immersion to stimulate a desired response.

manypathsarticle3Bach Flower Remedies are a system of tinctures intended to correct emotional imbalances and work in conjunction with herbs, homeopathy and medications. It proposes that the remedies contain the energetic or vibrational nature of the flower and that this can be transmitted to the user.

Herbalism (also Herbology or Herbal Medicine) is the study and use of plants for medicinal purposes. The scope of herbal medicine includes plants, fungi, minerals, shells and certain animal parts such as bee products.

manypathsarticle2Homeopathy, or Homeopathic Medicine, embraces the notion that illness may be cured by a substance which, when given to a healthy person, produces the same illness—a.k.a. “like cures like”. Homeopathy subscribes to the law of minimum dose—in other words, the lower the dose, the greater its effectiveness. Homeopathic substances are derived from plants, minerals and animals, and treatments are personally tailored for each individual such that two people with the same symptoms may be given different treatment regimens.

Nutritional Counseling addresses physical and mood/energy conditions through the use of a specifically tailored diet, which may include the use of supplements, to address deficits in the body that may be causing or contributing to the presenting issues.

Supplement Treatment can include Detoxification (sometimes called Body Cleansing) as a type of alternative medicine treatment that aims to rid the body of unspecified “toxins”—accumulated substances that proponents believe have undesirable short-term or long-term effects on individual health. Supplement treatment can also include adding supplements to the body to address deficits.

NEW AGE/SPIRIT-BASED For many people, guidance and inspiration can be found in a myriad of practices that emphasize spirituality, holism, mysticism and the metaphysical.

Angel Messages provide encouragement and positive affirmations through angel card readings, which are similar to tarot card readings, but rely on channeled information from etheric realms.

Crystal Healing channels the light passing through the geometrically organized water molecules of a crystal in order to help organize the water molecules in the body’s tissues and cells.

Crystal Light Healing Therapy utilizes a set of colored lights aligned with the body’s chakra system. These lights shine on and off in certain rhythms to cleanse, balance and align the patient’s energies.

Empathic Session: An Intuitive Empath can sense and feel the feelings of others and can absorb the energy of others to facilitate healing. A Spiritual Empath can sense how in tune others are with their higher power. A Precognitive Empath can predict various outcomes. A Telepathic Empath can recognize thoughts as well as feelings.

Intuitive Guidance is received both by the client and practitioner in an open, receptive, sacred space created through the use of visualization exercises, posing of questions, calling in allies and guides, using oracle cards and asking Spirit for direct assistance.

Intuitive Healing relies on the use of the five senses to locate and correct imbalances in the energy flow within the body through visualization and focused thinking with the assistance of a practitioner.

Lightbody/Sacred Geometry Activation embraces the gridwork of light and geometry that brings together one’s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual being by radiating light energy to electromagnetically link the multidimensional self with the infinite universe.

Lightworkers are those who volunteered, before birth, to help the planet and its population heal from the effects of fear. Each lightworker is here for a sacred purpose.

Mediumship/Psychic Reading places a medium in the role of an intermediary between the world of the living and the world of Spirit channeled through the filter of his or her own waking consciousness or “Higher Self”.

PLEASE NOTE: The contents of this article are for informational purposes only. The information is not intended to be used in place of a visit or consultation with a healthcare professional. Always seek out a practitioner that is licensed, certified or otherwise professionally qualified to conduct a selected treatment, as appropriate.

Karen L. Smith, MSS, LCSW, is director of Full Living: a Psychotherapy Practice, which serves the greater Philadelphia area.

Rebecca Antsis is a Pennsylvania-based writer, multimedia performer and editorial associate for Natural Awakenings BuxMont. Connect at [email protected].

Karen G. Meshkov is the publisher of Natural Awakenings of Bucks and Montgomery Counties. Connect at [email protected].

December 2016