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Top 4 Alternative Treatments: Are They Right For You?

Top 4 Alternative Treatments: Are They Right For You?Psychologists are increasingly integrating alternative and complementary treatments into their work with clients, according to a recent article in Monitor on Psychology.

So what is alternative treatment? You may already have some experience with the most popular, according to the Monitor on Psychology. Meditation, biofeedback, hypnosis and progressive muscle relaxation are all popular complementary or alternative psychological treatments. 

Although you may be familiar with the most popular, there are dozens of alternative and complementary treatments, which typically fall into four categories:  mind-body medicine, biologically-based practices, manipulative and body-based practices and energy medicine.

The Monitor article reports that, although these, and many other, alternative and complementary treatments have been around for thousands of years, the National Institute of Health (NIH) has been studying their usefulness, safety and role in improving health and health care for only a little more than a decade.

But many people embrace these treatments and are visiting alternative medicine practitioners more frequently than they visit their primary care doctors.  And these treatments are big business. A 2007 study found that $34 billion is spent each year on products and services for alternative and complementary medicines.

Continued research on the effectiveness of these treatments is ongoing and crucial.  However, current research suggests that many are effective for treating a wide range of problems, ailments and disorders.

There are too many to document in one post, but the following are the top 4 according to frequency of use, as reported in the Monitor.

1. Dietary Supplements.

Dietary supplements are used to promote general health, as well as to improve depression and anxiety and to decrease pain.  Common supplements reported in the Monitor include ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort and vitamin supplements.  Although regulated by the FDA, they are held to very different quality standards than more conventional medicines.

  • Caution: The FDA does not review the safety and effectiveness of any supplement before it is sold to consumers.  Supplements can vary widely from brand to brand and may interact with other medications. They should not be used without the knowledge of a physician.

2. Meditation.

Meditation is a process in which people learn to focus their attention in a particular way and on purpose.  It is used to treat a variety of symptoms, including high blood pressure, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, stress and insomnia.  It is also used to promote general health and well-being.

Meditation is integrated into many psychological treatments and practices with positive results; however, there are no formal qualifications necessary to practice it.  It is important that those who use this method receive appropriate training.

3. Chiropractic.

Chiropractic physicians use noninvasive treatments, such as spinal manipulations or chiropractic adjustments, with the aim of improving nerve and organ functioning by aligning spinal vertebrae.  These treatments are used to treat an array of ailments, from pain and headaches to stress and ADHD, among others.

Becoming a chiropractic physician requires several years of graduate work.  Most psychologists are unlikely to hold a chiropractic degree and, if they did, it would not be appropriate to serve as both a psychologist and chiropractor for the same client.

4. Aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy uses smells and aromas naturally extracted from plants to balance, harmonize and promote health of mind, body and spirit.  It is used clinically to relieve symptoms typically addressed in psychotherapy; holistically, to improve overall well-being; and aesthetically, in various oils and skin care products.

The Monitor cites recent research that indicates that aromatherapy can help treat pain, anxiety and agitation specific to dementia.  However, while certification is not required, it is recommended.  There are also risks related to toxicity, skin irritation and dosing regulations that require a competent professional to oversee, the article states.


Barnett, J.E., Shale, A.J.,(2013). Alternative Techniques.  Monitor on Psychology, 44(4).

Top 4 Alternative Treatments: Are They Right For You?

Christy Matta, MA

Christy Matta M.A. is a trainer, consultant and writer. She is the author of "The Stress Response: How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Can Free You from Needless Anxiety, Worry, Anger, and Other Symptoms of Stress."

Christy has worked in mental health since 1994, is intensively trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy(DBT) and has extensive training in Mindfulness. She is an experienced group leader and trainer in both Mindfulness and DBT Skills Groups. Christy blogs regularly for Psych Central at Dialectical Behavior Therapy Understood.

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APA Reference
Matta, C. (2018). Top 4 Alternative Treatments: Are They Right For You?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 7 Apr 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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