People today are becoming more aware and sensitised towards mental health-related issues. However, there is still very little awareness about alternative therapy methods that can aid conventional procedures that are used for the treatment of mental health conditions.
In December last year, President Ram Nath Kovind, while addressing the 22nd convocation of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), called for a national mission to make mental health facilities accessible to all.
The country also reports the highest number of adolescent suicide deaths in the world, which is a grave situation and requires immediate attention. A major problem is the tendency to undermine mental health issues by the majority of the population.
While India has a good number of facilities available for treating mental health conditions, with NIMHANS offering counselling and other services at affordable rates, it is the stigma and embarrassment associated with these conditions that are holding back people from seeking them.
With celebrities like Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma and Varun Dhawan opening up about their own struggles with mental health problems, it has helped reduce the stigma associated with it to an extent.
Deepika Padukone has also launched Live Love Laugh Foundation to raise awareness on such issues. But our country still has a long way to go in understanding mental health issues and identifying ways people can seek help. Many universities and professional workspaces today even have counsellors that people can approach.
While there can be no substitute for medication prescribed by professional psychiatrists for conditions such as clinical depression, conventional counselling can be supplemented with other lesser known forms of therapies. Creative movement therapy, visual arts therapy, music therapy, drama therapy and pet therapy are a few of those options to choose from.
Bengaluru offers a wide range of alternatives through organisations like Studio for Movement, Arts and Therapies (Smart Move), Snehadhara Foundation and Creative Therapy Movement Association of India (CMTAI). While Smart Move and Snehadhara Foundation offer various art-based therapies, CMTAI offers creative movement therapy.
Preethi Rajagopalan who works with CMTAI says, “After each session, which is usually centred around a theme, we have a verbal processing session. During this, people explain the emotions they have experienced through their physical movements. Many times, memories that they have repressed come back to them, which they talk about later.”
She further explains that patients slowly progress from just physical movements to using these movements to express their emotions.
During one of her sessions, we see people moving about freely and their movements are perhaps indicative of the ways in which their thoughts are being freed. There is soothing music to accompany these movements as patients explore themselves and their surroundings through individual, interactive and group dance movements. Preethi explains that the effortlessness in their movements is achieved only after a few sessions. Children are even given props to help them with the therapy.
Many people who offer such therapies are usually qualified counsellors themselves, one example being Brinda Jacob - Founder of Smart Move.
This organisation offers a 15-day program and various art forms are used for patients to delve into self-inquiry and acquire mindfulness. The patients are encouraged to explore their psychological responses while working with expressive arts, integral theatre and movement therapies.
They seek to achieve a mind-body-soul connection through such processes. The therapies are largely based on the works of Carl Jung. “We make peace with certain things that have happened in our past. Because we don't look further and explore what's under, which might be quite painful, these memories tend to stay repressed. Art does not allow us to stay stagnated. It directly touches upon that which is most alive in our psyche. Bringing the inner world to our conscious-level is in itself a process of healing. Our therapy sessions are focussed around this,” says Brinda.
There has also been a rise in the number of pet therapy initiatives in the city with many independent counsellors depending on it for their therapy sessions. Dr Srihari, who also conducts conventional counselling sessions, has seen first-hand improvement in his patients to such an extent that they have adopted these therapy dogs.
According to Dr Srihari, who conducts both conventional counselling sessions and pet therapy sessions in the city, therapists first observe a dog's temperament to detect if it is suitable to be a therapy dog. They then train these dogs to understand human emotions and how to comfort them.
The usefulness of dogs in therapy varies with breeds, with Golden Retrievers being highly preferred by therapists. Such therapies can be assist in the treatment of various mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and learning disabilities.
However, Dr Manish Tomar, a psychiatrist from NIMHANS adds that this cannot be the only source of help. “They are helpful as long as they are conducted by a trained psychiatrist who regularly monitors progress. If self-administered, their effect remains minimal,” he adds.