Alternative to therapy

Mar 7, 2023

Do you need an alternative to Therapy?


As a psychotherapist trained in many modalities, I have come to see that, for many people, being able to balance emotions is a long term struggle. Even many years of talking therapy can still find people struggling with emotional balance. The insight and wisdom gained in therapy has not delivered the emotional equilibrium they hoped for. Struggles with excessive stress reactivity and dysregulation such as anxiety, anger, depression and dissociation continue. Many people come to my office because they are looking for a viable alternative to therapy to help them regulate their nervous system and find emotional balance.

Understanding why an Alternative to Therapy is Needed


When it comes to the consequences of childhood adverse experiences or any significant period of time having to live with overwhelming stress, we have to think about how the body, mind and brain have calibrated themselves to become much more sensitive to threat and self protection. What this can look like is a body and emotional system that feels very reactionary and results in a brain and nervous system that have forgotten how to operate in a much more safe and balanced way. By safe and grounded I mean being able to go with the flow of life and to resiliently surmount challenges as they come, rather than to be on guard, scanning for and pre-empting threat as the norm in a fight for survival of the body or sense of self.

While the body/mind system does have the ability to heal and return to balanced functioning, it doesn’t seem to happen on its own accord. When the body and brain have been calibrated to be in survival for long periods of time, especially when a person’s identity has been caught up in that process, then coming out of survival doesn’t seem to readily happen without assistance. Much of our survival response is managed by the limbic system and, in order for this part of the brain to learn to regulate itself, we need methods that access this part of the brain. Talking does not help with this, so we need an alternative to therapy targeting deeper brain areas. Many of the assumptions of traditional psychotherapy are that through the therapeutic relationship, the person in therapy will learn to self regulate. Unfortunately with trauma and chronic burnout, this is often not the case.

Why Talking Isn’t Enough


How trauma experiences are stored is referred to as our implicit memory system. This part of the brain has no sense of time and cannot differentiate between people, time, and place. It gives people their sense of themselves and the world around them. Their feelings about the way things are, even if objectively they can see some evidence to the contrary. Implicit memories are non specific so cannot be accessed and resolved by talking about what occurred in the past. What it needed is a viable alternative to therapy methods that mainly use talking.

People will frequently discuss events that were very overwhelming and have little to no emotion as they talk about them. Some recognise their lack of emotion is out of place. Others believe these events had only minimal impact due to their lack of reaction to them. The absence of feeling is due to a process known as dissociation, which is an essential survival tactic driven by the brain.

Why any Alternative to Therapy Needs to Target the Brain

When our nervous system becomes overwhelmed, we either reach for safety, we fight or flee, or as a last resort go into a primitive freeze response/dissociation response. In early life, it doesn’t take much to trigger a freeze reaction and it can become a life long strategy. Our more primitive brain areas trigger a neurological response that cuts off from emotional and energetic overwhelm that would shatter the integrity of the emerging sense of self or psyche. This allows the brain and sense of self to adapt and survive, but at a cost. The body/mind system must now channel energy into keeping emotionally charged content out of consciousness and deny that person the ability to enjoy living fully and freely self expressed in the present. The version of them self that they experience will be enmeshed with their survival response.

Until recently, many therapeutic approaches were either very long term or focussed on symptom management through talking. Nowadays, with the advent of neuroscience and brain imaging studies, we have an alternative to therapy approaches of the past. Modern therapeutic interventions must also target the deeper structures of the brain in order to facilitate emotional regulation at a body and brain level. It isn’t enough to expect that cognitive processing and a therapy relationship with an empathic trained therapist is enough to change the functioning of the brain and nervous system in many circumstances. When it comes to trauma, burnout and breakdown, new, brain-based, approaches need to run alongside talking therapy so that body, mind and brain can change and learn to regulate as a unified whole.

This is a Book Everyone Should Read

A great resource if you would like to learn more about this subject is Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score. This will give you a much deeper understanding of the concepts I am discussing and act as a start point for suggested therapies that will help you feel better.

In my own search to find approaches that move beyond the traditional talking method, I have found that experiential, brain and nervous system based approaches help people move well beyond where talking alone has taken them. At the heart of my approach is NeurOptimal Neurofeedback  but I use other approaches as necessary alongside this to help people transform in new ways that represent a powerful and viable alternative to therapy. 

The Alternative to Therapy Approaches I use:

  • Neurofeedback – a brain training technology which help the brain effortlessly return to efficient self regulation
  • Breathwork – breathing exercises to help regulate the parasympathetic nervous system, vagus nerve and help us maintain mobility and good posture
  • Brainspotting – helping with deep brain processing of memories and emotions
  • Schema Therapy – an experiential psychotherapy to help with understanding internal organisation and differing parts of oneself

It takes much more than just talking about what happened to heal from it. It will take processing your memories (allowing your brain to helpfully file them away) and emotions related to these events.  It will also take techniques that help your brain and nervous system self regulate again as you return to the resilient and present moment focussed person you were born to be.