More and more people are using alternative therapies to complement Western medicine for all sorts of health issues. Do alternative therapies have any benefits for people with bipolar disorder and other mental health issues? As someone who works in holistic health as a massage therapist, I think they do.
I can’t say much about managing bipolar disorder using only eastern medicine or alternative therapies. My experiences and successes are limited to using alternative therapies alongside traditional psychiatry, talk therapy, and Western medicine. I don’t recommend starting any kind of alternative health regimen without consulting your psychiatrist, especially when it comes to supplements or herbs that may interact with psych meds, and I don’t condone stopping medications without guidance from a doctor, as I know firsthand that it can have dangerous physical and mental consequences.
In conjunction with psychiatric care, these are some alternative therapies that have helped me.
Let’s start with massage. I know massage best because I’ve done it for so long. Emotional release–crying, laughter, etc.–is well documented in bodywork; there is definitely a relationship between the stress we carry in our muscles and our emotional state. There are not a lot of conclusive studies about massage and mental health, but the idea of using massage as a supportive treatment for mental illness is gaining attention. The American Massage Therapy Association magazine has written a few articles about massage and depression in the last year. There are even psychologists who are performing or having a massage therapist perform massage on their clients during talk therapy sessions, with noticeable results in the amount of emotional breakthroughs their clients are having. While our knowledge of massage’s effects on emotional well-being is still limited at this time, we do know that the relaxing effects of massage can ease anxiety, emotional tension, and depression.
Acupuncture works on the basis, core to Chinese medicine, that everything in our body, our emotional and physical well-being, is connected. The energy and health of our body can be thrown out of whack by imbalance in one area or the other. Under that premise, anger from a situation in our life can affect us physically, while a bout of illness can make us depressed or anxious. Acupuncture promotes healing and balance in all areas of the body. Acupuncture has been more widely studied than massage in regards to its affect on mental health, especially with depression. Studies show that it can be as affective as antidepressants, and it’s also helpful in relieving side effects from psychiatric medications. This study examines the effects of antidepressants, counseling, and acupuncture. My own experience with acupuncture surprised me because it is so relaxing and not at all painful like I expected. I usually fall asleep during sessions, and I do notice that my moods are more stable in the weeks following a treatment. Acupuncture has also helped relieve some of the physical ailments, such as headaches and gastrointestinal issues, that have a profound effect on my moods.
Supplements and herbs should only be taken with the approval of a medical professional. All mine were recommended by a doctor or my acupuncturist. I have had success relieving anxiety with supplements, and, like acupuncture, they have helped with physical problems that affect my emotional state. I take mine in conjunction with my psychiatric medications, and have also been able to have some relief from side effects through dietary supplements.