Unique Treatments for Anxiety and Depression

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In our last blog, we talked about the benefits of combining medications and therapy for mental health conditions when appropriate, which can lead to better treatment outcomes. We talked about situations where talk therapy and psychiatric medications can work together to produce stronger treatment effects than each approach does alone. Here we will explore some cutting-edge therapeutic modalities for anxiety and depression that might be helpful to those who either don’t respond well to medications or react to them in negative ways.

Biofeedback and Neurofeedback- With technological advances, we now have the ability to train our heart rate and our brain waves to improve health and mood! Biofeedback involves controlling your breathing while measuring your heart rate, and noticing the effects, and neurofeedback is similar, though measuring brain waves instead of heart rate. Both approaches show us that we can control our physiology and create immediate as well as long-term changes, regulating our heart rate pattern and brain wave patterns leading to better mood, better focus, and better physical feelings and performance.

Light and sound therapies- Stimulating the brain with light and/or sound can help with mood disorders. Similar to neurofeedback, these sensory experiences can train brain waves. These can stimulate activity in certain areas of the brain, using clicking lights or specific sounds/tones in headphones, that cause the brain to match to the frequencies. There is music that has been shown to help activate brain waves, referred to as brainwave music or binaural beats, by vibrating at a frequency similar to brainwaves that are calming (e.g. theta, alpha) or upbeat (beta). Our brain likes to match up with stimuli that it takes in, and this therapeutic modality, over time, can create significant changes in brain wave patterns.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation - TMS targets magnetic energy into the brain to stimulate nerve cells in mood-related areas, and has been approved for treatment-resistant depression. It is much more gentle, controlled, and comfortable than Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT). ECT is still used for severe depression, but TMS may produce similar results with less side-effects and a quicker, outpatient experience.

Psychedelic/ketamine therapies- Ketamine, initially used as an anesthetic medication and also gaining interest as a party drug, shows success in some cases of severe or treatment-resistant depression and helps lower suicidal ideation in some individuals. In small amounts, FDA approved in the form of a nasal spray, it can help people who have not had success with other treatments. They are monitored for 2 hours after administration, by a doctor. Psychedelic substances of other kinds (e.g. psilocybin) have gained similar attention for mental health treatment, including depression. They are administered by trained professionals and individuals are monitored. A therapist can talk with clients where they are in this mildly hallucinogenic state, which can potentially reach deeper than standard talk therapy.

We live in an incredible era for mental health -Western and Eastern methods are merging, technology is growing, and we are considering the brain and body as one, and treating mental health as health. We are fortunate to have options, although access can still be problematic. Having a wide range of treatment options offers the opportunity to customize treatment combinations for each individual’s unique needs! It’s also particularly useful if one “typical” treatment approach doesn’t have enough of an effect.

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