How therapy can be more than talking.
PUBLISHED BY PSYCHOLOGY TODAY
Date: December 18, 2020
Source: Robin D. Stone LMHC
Today, more people are making psychotherapy a part of their self-care practice. In the same way, they have personal trainers, they are investing in therapists — and that’s a good thing. The benefits of therapy are vast, including having an objective perspective on happenings in your life, a sounding board for you to talk through options before taking action, a place where you can deepen self-awareness, access resources to support your growth and personal development, and much more.
But you may cringe at the idea of being up in an office talking through your feelings, and I get it! Sometimes, the couch may not be what you need at the time. Sometimes, you simply need to get out and about or explore your experiences in ways where words alone won’t do.
As a psychotherapist, I help clients get in touch with their emotions and change negative thinking and problematic behavior. I’ll sometimes encourage writing, moving, drawing, getting sunshine, and even deep breathing as a way to explore and express feelings, develop coping and relaxation strategies, support healthy relationships and manage conflicts.
When it comes to therapy, talking it through isn’t the only solution. Here are 10 ways to get off the couch and still find transformation and healing. While not all are therapy in the clinical sense, all can be therapeutic.
Move your body. Dancing around the kitchen to your favorite Beyoncé song can certainly be fun (been there, done that!), but there are many more benefits to moving than exercise and a good time. Dance and movement help you connect with your body and contribute to your brain’s health. Science shows that the mental benefits include improved memory and strengthened neural connections. Dance and movement therapy helps address issues such as poor self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and traumaticstress. In an article exploring dance and movement therapy in Scientific American magazine, Columbia University neuroscientist John Krakauer called synchronizing music and movement a “pleasure double play” because music stimulates the brain’s reward centers, while dance activates its “sensory and motor circuits.”
Take a hike. Because it tends to be a little bit more challenging than a casual stroll through the park, hiking can give you a cardiovascular boost as well. A Harvard University article noted that hiking — especially on uneven terrain — can engage your core and enhance your balance while relieving stress as well.
Get artsy. Regardless of whether you consider yourself creative, making art makes for potent therapy. A Michigan State University article describes the benefits of art therapy for people of all ages, suggesting that it helps “tap into your inner thoughts, feelings, and experiences through creative expression.” When combined with talk therapy, the article explains, art therapy can “help people deal with strong emotions, increase self-awareness and self-worth, and decrease stress and anxiety.” Art therapy can include drawing, painting, coloring, sculpting, and more.
Go outside and play. In New York City, we have the benefit of living and working among oases of green spaces. These beautiful parks — including Manhattan’s sprawling Central Park — were designed to provide relief and a sense of escape for the teeming masses living in close quarters and among dense buildings. Occasionally I’ve met clients in a park near my office, and the change in setting made a big difference in our dynamic and their mood. It’s not surprising: CNN recently cited a study of 20,000 people in England that showed that spending time in nature or green spaces can benefit your health and well-being. Even as little as 15 minutes in nature is said to help reduce stress and anxiety, boost happiness, and help with memory loss.
Sing a song. You may not be America’s next idol, but belting out your favorite song, even if off-key, can often be a great stress reliever. Up the fun quotient and meet a few friends for karaoke, where you can vibe with the music and be silly without judgment. In that vein, music therapy — engaging music to accomplish goals within a therapeutic relationship — can be a powerful option to consider. And you don’t need a musical background to experience the benefits of music therapy: a certified music therapist will design a program that’s suited for you.
Get to the beach. Sight, sound, smell — the ocean stimulates many of your senses and can help you to relax. This NBC news story explores the notion that simply lying on a towel on the beach and just listening to the sound of waves washing onto shore can soothe you. The article notes that a study in the American Association for the Advancement of Science found that even the ocean’s blue hue can boost your mood and enhance creativity. Skeptics might say that the beach is relaxing because we’ve been conditioned to think so, but if it works, it works.
Work it out. We know that regular exercise benefits your body, but rigorous movement boosts your brain as well. Working up a sweat not only releases endorphins — nature’s feel-good hormone (as in “runner’s high”) — but it also promotes better memory and thinking skills. A good aerobic workout can include anything that gets your heart rate up — from Zumba to bicycling to swimming to a 30-minute do-it-yourself boot camp in the comfort of your living room.
Write it out. Creative writing and poetry can act as a buffer, providing a safe distance to explore difficult or distressing parts of your life. Many people in creative endeavors swear by Morning Pages, a daily exercise that is the cornerstone of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, a guide to restoring or enhancing creativity. You write longhand — nonstop and no edits — filling three pages. In her book The Soul of the Full-Length Manuscript, novelist and expressive arts expert Zelda Lockhart encourages us to dive into detail “to express joy, complacency or satisfaction with as much fervor as we have learned in our lives to express pain.” Some therapists are specially trained to guide you in writing, offering prompts, and excerpts to help you safely explore areas of your life and process the writing you produce.
Act it out. Of course, you want to have as little drama in your life as possible. But drama therapy can prove helpful as an alternative or addition to talk therapy. In drama therapy, you might use theater games, storytelling, and enactment to help cope with grief and loss, isolation, and conflict. As the North American Drama Therapy Association explains, drama therapy can also promote positive changes in mood, insight, and empathy and facilitate healthy relationships.
Breathe with intention. Breathing with thoughtful intention can promote calm and ease, cultivate mindfulness, and help you become more grounded and aware of bodily sensations. Breath is often overlooked but is an important part of working through distressing experiences and making change. And whenever you exhale for longer than you inhale, you automatically engage your parasympathetic nervous system, which tells your body to rest and counteracts your sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your fight-or-flight response. Try this technique adapted from The Healing Power of the Breath by Richard P. Brown and Patricia L. Gerbarg: Slowly inhale for four counts, hold for four counts, slowly exhale for six counts, hold for two counts. Repeat a few times and note what you feel in your body.