Alternative therapies


Alternative therapies to help boost mental health

20 June 2024

If we you’re struggling with your mental health, you’ll likely seek help from a psychologist or counsellor. Depending on the issue, they might recommend one or some of the many traditional treatment options on offer, such as:

  • guided self-help, where a therapist helps you complete a course in your own time
  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), to help you challenge unhelpful thoughts or behaviours
  • one-to-one or group counselling sessions to discuss problems and their origins
  • interpersonal therapy (IPT), which looks at the link between your problems and your relationships.

But there are other options outside of mainstream healthcare, which you may have heard about or considered.

These fall under the umbrella of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).1 There is no universally agreed definition of CAM, but an approach is ‘complementary’ if it’s used alongside more conventional methods and ‘alternative’ if it’s used instead.

When it comes to mental health, there are plenty of CAM options available. Some are more reputable than others, and many are dismissed by the medical community as being ineffective, untested or unsafe.

Let’s take a look at some of these alternative therapies and examine their efficacy and ethicality.

Why are these therapies ‘alternative’?

The reason most alternative therapies aren’t offered by mainstream medicine is that there’s often a lack of strong scientific evidence that they work.2 However, a lot of people have said they find these kinds of therapies to be effective and, other than safety, that’s the most important thing.

Keep in mind that not all alternative therapies are regulated, but many have their own professional bodies. In terms of safety, it’s important to find a reputable practitioner, but a lot of these alternative therapies have been used for many years – in some cases, for centuries.

If you do decide to pursue this route, ask your GP for initial advice, check that your chosen practitioner has relevant insurance and good reviews. And compare costs to make sure you’re not being overcharged.

So, what are the alternatives?


An ancient Chinese treatment in which small needles are inserted into your skin. It’s more commonly used for physical rather than mental conditions but can release endorphins which are the body’s natural painkiller and create a general feeling of wellbeing.

Arts and creative therapies

This uses art to help express complex thoughts and feelings, often following traumatic experiences that may be hard to talk about. 


An ancient Indian system that typically involves a purification process, herbal remedies, special diets, yoga, massage, and meditation. It has been shown to help with osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes and colitis.3


A formal therapeutic treatment that involves doing outdoor activities in nature.

Guided imagery

Often used as a relaxation technique, this involves sitting quietly, imagining yourself in a peaceful setting and visualising a goal that helps deal with a specific health problem.

Herbal medicine

Plant-based treatments that come in many forms – tea, pills, lotions and more. Although many conventional medicines are made with plant-sourced products, care should be taken with herbal therapies. Always inform your doctor before taking them.


A controversial approach that uses highly diluted substances in an attempt to help the body heal itself. The NHS no longer funds homeopathy because of the lack of evidence of its effectiveness.


A treatment in which you enter a trance-like state and the therapist makes suggestions to help achieve a stated goal. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggests that hypnotherapy may help with irritable bowel syndrome, so it may be available on the NHS in some areas. Hypnotherapy is not suitable for those who experience psychosis or certain personality disorders.

Light therapy

Exposure to light during winter months to replace the UV that may be in shorter supply. By increasing the production of serotonin and decreasing melatonin, it aims to lessen the effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), although NICE suggests there’s no clear evidence that it works.


Designed to aid with relaxation and help with pain, which can help improve your mood and overall health.


A long-established practice of relaxation and focus, meditation is related to mindfulness. NICE recommends a combination of mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) – to help people with a history of depression.


An ancient touch therapy that works on the theory that points on the feet, lower leg, hands, face or ears correspond with different areas of the body.


A Japanese therapy based on the belief that a life force energy flows through the body. The practitioner lays hands on different parts of the body to influence that flow.


Working on flexibility, strength and breathing techniques, yoga aims to improve physical and mental wellbeing and help with issues such as depression and stress.

>Read more on what yoga is

This is just a selection of alternative therapies that you might consider trying. Some may require a degree of open-mindedness, but it’s important to remember that different things work for different people.

Finding something that helps is always a good thing, as long as it’s safe and done correctly. Always take medical advice before you begin and try to find a practitioner affiliated to a recognised body.


  1. Complementary and alternative medicine - NHS
  2. Complementary and alternative treatments for mental health - Rethink Mental Illness
  3. What Are Alternative Therapies? - VeryWellMind