Conventional psychiatric treatments are missing what might be a key component of mental health care: treating the body.
Mental health care has long focused on treating the mind with psychotherapy and medications. But what if we’re missing the bigger picture? A new philosophy on mental health care suggests the mind and body are intricately connected and we can’t properly heal conditions such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress without treating the body, too.
Jesse Hanson, doctoral candidate for clinical psychology and clinical director of Helix Healthcare Group in Toronto, explains that strides made in neuroscience over the past 20 years are helping to inform this new trend. “Up until recently, humans lacked the scientific understanding of how the brain and the body are connected,” he says.
Recent studies are teaching us how strategic deep breathing can aid in the treatment of anxiety disorders, how a healthful diet can reduce risk for depression and how exercise can help relieve mental health concerns. All of this research points to a much larger connection between mind and body, and therapists like Hanson are taking notice. “It’s like treating the whole person when you bring in the mind-body paradigm,” he says.
Hanson explains that conventional mental health treatments focus on treating the brain, specifically the left hemisphere, which focuses on logic, thinking and analysis. But we experience life with both sides of the brain, and addressing the right side—which is responsible for emotion, intuition and bodily sensation—is equally important.
At Helix, health practitioners use somatic psychotherapy—a body-centred approach in which therapists take into account patients’ experience of emotions through things like breathing, gestures and body awareness—in conjunction with other wellness techniques, such as:
Following up an intense therapy session with yoga or massage can help many people recover from the treatment and integrate the healing throughout their bodies. And sound therapy, which uses instruments tuned to specific vibrations, can help patients experience an inner calm.
“They’ve just gone through this whole process, and they’re kind of raw and vulnerable. So instead of saying, ‘OK, see you next week,’ they will go straight into yoga treatment or sound healing and the practitioner will be able to make them feel it’s OK. It’s a way of helping the body integrate the psychological work,” says Hanson. “We’ve found that, when there’s no love for the body, the person is much more likely to have negative symptoms arise.”
Techniques like mindfulness meditation, on the other hand, can help prepare people for more productive therapy sessions. “Mindfulness is really just the practice of being more aware and more present. If you don’t have mindfulness training, it’s going to be a lot harder to be present with your emotions,” explains Hanson.
Learn more about the benefits meditation can have on your mental health and learn how to start your own mindfulness meditation routine to benefit your mind and body.