Talk therapy not your thing? Here are some other ways to help your mental health

For a range of reasons, psychotherapy or counselling might not be working for you. Here are some talk therapy alternatives that can help mental health.

It was during Covid that Joanne* discovered how well walking therapy worked for her teenage daughter Elle*.

“It’s a form of therapy that combines movement, the outdoors and psychology,” Joanne says.

“We stumbled across it because of the need for physical distancing during the pandemic.

“For Elle, it was perfect – it meant she could continue with her treatment for anxiety but she was outside, which seemed to make it easier for her, and moving around, which also seemed to help.”

Walking therapy is just one of the many talk therapy alternatives being embraced these days.

Why traditional talk therapy might not suit you

Clinical psychologist Donna Stambulich says traditional psychology and psychotherapy are “certainly effective and beneficial in many ways to many people”.

But, she notes, the reality is that for lots of reasons they don’t work for everyone.

“Some people are treatment-resistant, or not ready to talk, or they might be matched to the wrong therapist,” Donna says.

“And there’s also the current climate of long waitlists and shortages of psychologists.”

Why alternatives to talk therapy might help

Psychologist and Headspace App mental health expert Carly Dober encourages people to explore different forms of therapy.

“Try new and different things – it’s very beneficial to brain health,” Carly says.

“Particularly for young people after the pandemic, whose confidence was so impacted, there’s no harm at all in trying new things and finding different approaches which work for them.”

Carly says it’s important for people to have “a rich tapestry of interests and hobbies in their lives” that could be part of therapy.

“While maybe mindfulness, meditation, dancing or yoga may not have worked for you five years ago, there’s no harm in trying it again at different stages in your life,” she says.

Popular talk therapy alternatives for mental health conditions

Expressive arts therapy

This includes creative outlets such as painting, drawing, dance and music.

Donna says expressive arts therapy can be a “great tool” for people who are stuck in their own head or are chronic overthinkers.

“When the hand is engaged (creating art, for example), the talk or stream of consciousness opens up and communication starts to flow,” she says.

Poetry and writing therapy

Writing poetry or expressive writing has been found to be an effective form of treatment.

Carly describes writing as “a unique and therapeutic form of expression and creativity that in itself can be very calming”.

Animal-assisted therapy

Studies show that working with different animals, such as dogs, horses or birds, is a good choice for some people.

By interacting with a friendly animal, people are able to build strong bonds that help in reducing stress and introducing a state of calm.

Dance (or other movement) therapy

Research suggests this type of therapy decreases depression and anxiety and increases confidence and cognitive skills.

“You’re releasing endorphins – brain chemicals that can improve your mood and leave you with a greater sense of wellbeing – whether it’s dancing or something like yoga,” Carly says.

Gardening therapy

Turns out gardening is good for more than just home-grown vegies and a nice- looking front yard – it can improve mental health too.

Not only is it soothing, studies show therapeutic gardening can help reduce stress and improve attention, particularly among older patients.

The benefit of including talk therapy alternatives in your treatment

Donna says using a combination of therapies may help people get “unstuck”.

“(And then) they’re able to come back into a therapeutic setting and make real, long-term tangible change,” she says.

She advocates doing what feels best for you.

“I’m in the business of helping people with their mental health and if that means that equine therapy or reiki is providing relief, I’m all for it,” she says.

“Whatever is working for you, keep doing that!”

Words by Liz McGrath

*Names changed at interviewees request.