10 Types of Therapy You Didn't Know Existed

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While a lot of people still associate therapy with couches and ink blots, this only fits a fraction of what encompasses the expansive field in psychology. Therapeutic practices are subscribed to by most cultures around the world, and the therapeutic methods that have developed over the years differ as much as people do. Some involve animals, some use light boxes, and others use wilderness survival exercises.

Therapy has helped people overcome physical and psychological ailments for centuries, and it has slowly evolved out of various movements in psychology and biology. Many modern therapeutic methods are familiar to us and easy to identify, but others take a more unusual approach. Here are ten types of therapy that are strange yet effective.

1. Sand Play Therapy

Sand Play Therapy is a therapeutic practice that is primarily used with children, but it can also be beneficial for adults. This form of therapy utilizes a psychodynamic method that is heavily influenced by the work of the Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung. To carry out Sand Play, a licensed therapist gives the patient one or more sand boxes and a variety of trinkets.

The client chooses the objects and arranges them in the sand any way he or she likes. The therapist then asks some questions to get a better understanding of the client’s choices. Sand Play therapy has been particularly beneficial for children who have trouble communicating their feelings verbally and grants a trained specialist insight into the child’s issues in a non-invasive way.

2. Light Therapy

While some people can’t wait to kick up the leaves and jump into a pile of snow, others become deeply depressed during the fall and winter months. This is also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Light Therapy has successfully treated people with symptoms of SAD and MDD (Major Depressive Disorder).

Patients using Light Therapy sit near a light box, a special light emitting device that mimics summer sunlight, at the direction of their therapist. Consistent use of the light box along with other therapeutic methods have proven to be even more effective than antidepressants. As effective as it can be for people who suffer from depression, it is not recommended for bi-polar patients as it can trigger manic episodes and even suicidal behavior.

3. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy

As interesting as it sounds, some people use horses to cope with their symptoms of emotional trauma. This method, created by Liz Hartel, Florence Nightingale, Boris Levinson, and Leopold and Sonia Bellack, works to foster a healing relationship between human and animal in the hopes of bringing about total recovery.

Patients who interact with animals for therapeutic purposes have been able to lower their stress levels, reduce anger related problems, decrease aggressive behavior, and even improve high blood pressure. Patients also show an increase in self-esteem. Activities related to this form of therapy include grooming, feeding, walking, and playing games.

4. Play Therapy

This form of therapy is exclusively geared towards children and provides a world of make believe as a safe avenue of communication. Play Therapy exchanges toys and actions with words and helps the child communicate on their own terms. It’s particularly helpful for children who have suffered from abuse, neglect, and chronic illness.

This method is highly effective, with some research suggesting that up to 71% of participants show a positive change. Social scientists who study children have concluded that a child’s language development is slower than his or her cognitive development, making Play Therapy a good link to connecting with children.

5. Movie Therapy

Movie Therapy requires patients to view therapist-recommended films and is usually followed by reflective exercises. This form of treatment is effective for individuals and groups, and it has also been beneficial for couples. One survey revealed that 67% of therapists used movies in their clinical practices, proving the popularity of this method.

It is generally viewed as an outgrowth of Bibliotherapy, the assignment of books as part of a psychiatric treatment plan, and follows a similar model. Patients are asked to speak or write about their reactions to the film, which frequently touch upon themes that relate to their lives on a personal level.

6. Journal Therapy

Before the 1960s, people typically only used journals to log events. They rarely used them to describe feelings or personal progress as people do now. The Intensive Journal Method was first developed by Dr. Ira Progoff in the mid-nineteenth century and became so widespread that several training programs were established to train clinicians in the process.

The official term for integrating journaling into psychotherapy is “therapeutic journal writing”, which utilizes writing prompts and exercises in conjunction with other forms of therapy. What is often considered a solitary activity, journal therapy is also effective when applied in groups. The practice of keeping a journal is so effective that one New Zealand study revealed that medical patients who journaled healed faster than patients who didn’t.

7. Wilderness Therapy

Wilderness Therapy is helpful for young people who struggle with behavioral and mental health issues such as Major Depressive Disorder. This method takes patients on outdoor expeditions that apply survival and group exercises, offering self-esteem and confidence building opportunities. Like many great discoveries, Wilderness Therapy, or Outdoor Behavioral Health Care, got an accidental start.

When a Manhattan psychiatric ward became overcrowded in 1901, 40 patients were forced to move onto the lawns. The dramatic improvement in the patients’ behavior and health was linked to the transition to living outdoors. Soon after, an earthquake in San Francisco moved patients outdoors and produced the same results. A recent study that sent a group of students into the forest for two nights reinforced the benefits of Wilderness Therapy. The students emerged from the forest with lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, demonstrating the positive effects of being outside.

8. Existential Psychotherapy

While therapy gets a rep for delving into a patient’s past, this method is primarily focused on the present. This type of therapy has its roots in the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche and Soren Kierkegard and was later developed further by Viktor Frankl. Therapists who focus on this method work to resolve conflicts their patients may be having with conditions that are associated with human life.

These conditions are referred to as “givens”, and the most important four are freedom and responsibility, death, isolation, and meaninglessness. Confronting these givens can lead to what therapists call “existential anxiety”. Professionals work to create a balance and facilitate harmony within patients surrounding these anxiety provoking issues. The existential approach takes humans to a place where they can discover their own meaning of life and learn to live authentically.

9. Motivational Enhancement Therapy

People can’t change unless they want to change, and Motivational Enhancement Therapy focuses on getting people excited about improving their lives. Much of the time, those who need the most help are the most resistant to receiving it. People with addiction problems, for example, may recognize the issues addiction presents but are not willing to change their patterns of behavior due to their dependency on their addictions.

MET grants people another view of themselves and their behavior and gives them the chance to find incentive to change. Motivational Enhancement Therapy has been successfully applied to the treatment of patients with eating disorders, such as Anorexia nervosa and Bulimia, which resulted in decreased depressive symptoms and elevated self-esteem.

10. Brainspotting

Brainspotting may sound more like a side effect than a method of treatment, but it has become a relatively successful development in trauma therapy. First developed by David Grand while working with trauma survivors, it has effectively brought relief to patients with a variety of issues. Grand believes that the direction in which people look changes how they feel. He refers to eye positions that trigger painful memories as “brainspots”.

These brainspots help therapists gain better insight into how their patients feel and can aid them in releasing negative psychological symptoms. Evidence shows that this unique method works mostly on the patient’s limbic system, a network of brain nerves that influence mood. Grand is also famously recognized for applying his method to the treatment of more than 100 survivors of the 9/11 events. Due to its success, the National Institute for Heath and Care Excellence recommends this course of treatment for all people struggling with PTSD.

Which types did you already know about? Share with us in the comments below!


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