Health treatments: what’s the alternative?

Do you want to beat the blues? Don’t just accept low mood, depleted energy or restless nights as your lot in life – take action! In my opinion, there are many ways to combat the stresses and strains of modern life and different approaches work for different people.

While pressured GPs may hand out anti-depressants like sweeties, guidance from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends “talking therapies” – counselling and cognitive behavioural treatments – for mild and moderate cases of depression.

But all-too often people are sent on their way with a prescription without being talked through their options. This week, a review by Mind highlighted a range of difficulties patients face getting help from community crisis teams and hospitals due to a lack of resources.

Care Services Minister Paul Burstow told the BBC that the report had shone a light on “bad and unacceptable” care. Patients interviewed complained of a lack of access to talking therapies while staff said they were “stressed and overstretched”. One psychiatrist said the problems meant some patients ended up deteriorating so much that they ended up killing themselves.

About a third of Britons will experience mental health problems every year, and stress can take may forms. Postnatal depression, insomnia, panic attacks and anxiety could affect you, or someone you love, at any time.

While I accept that anti-depressants can save lives, especially in extreme cases, I have seen first-hand how the side-effects of unsuitable medication can ruin lives. Mostly the side-effects ease off in the first two weeks but for some people, anti-depressants can actually cause insomnia, night terrors, weight gain, panic attacks and sleepwalking – too high a price to pay to treat mild depression. Anti-depressants have also been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, the UK’s biggest killer.

So what’s the alternative? Beyond potentially expensive counselling, there are several options in terms of complimentary therapy that may help alongside or even instead of medication. According to the NHSTA, with growing demand for complimentary therapy, more than half of GP surgeries in the UK offer some form of CBT, hypnotherapy, acupuncture, even reiki. No therapy has a one-size-fits-all approach however, depending on the causes of your low mood, even one session could provide the breakthrough you need.

Here are three options, with my personal experiences of each.


What is it? Reiki (pronounced ‘Ray Key’) is a popular Japanese treatment that can help with a variety of health conditions. Like many alternative therapies, it is based on the principle of energy, and the practitioner uses their hands to draw energy through the body to release blockages.

During the treatment the practitioner places his/her hands on or over you at various parts of the body. Some people feel heat or a tingling sensation. Generally, you will feel relaxed and a little drowsy.

Reiki is commonly used to treat aches and pains, stress, anxiety and so on. It is also recommended for cancer patients to complement other treatment, thought to speed up the healing process and help the patient deal with pain and discomfort. It is also used for insomnia,toothache, migraines, back problems, sciatica, muscle strain and arthritis.

Expert view: “Reiki can be an intense and very personal experience,” said Honor Ballantyne, a complimentary therapy practitioner based at Cedar Falls Health Farm, Somerset.

“Some people get quite emotional as when energy is blocked, you can feel a rather overwhelming sense of release after the treatment. My belief is in treating the person as a whole; working to find a balance of mind, body and spirit to bring a feeling of wellbeing and contentment within.”

My view: I have had Reiki three times and each time the experience has been different. The most recent treatment, with Honor at Cedar Falls, was also the most effective. Only minutes into the treatment, I felt like I ‘let go’ and almost dropped into a dream-like trance. Immediately after the treatment, I felt energised. For two weeks afterwards, I slept well but also felt calm and thoughtful, like I was processing the thoughts in my brain that had been making me feel ill-at-ease. It was very much like a blockage had been cleared and I could think clearly to deal with everyday commitments without getting overwhelmed.

More info: Cedar Falls offers a wide range of spa day packages from £75, or book a one-night taster break from £180.


What is it? Hypnotherapy is often used to tackle bad health habits. The success rates speak for themselves. A study by the University of Washington School of Medicine found 90.6% of smokers managed to quit the habit and stay smoke-free for three years after hypnotherapy.

Expert view: “Hypnosis is not a school of therapy and does not provide a theory of personality or behaviour change,” said Avy Joseph, who specialises in Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy, which can be used to tackle stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia or other nervous disorders.

“Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness. It is a ‘state’ under which you can use any type of therapy or psychotherapeutic framework.”

Hypnosis can be used to induce deep relaxation. The client can learn self hypnosis to produce similar relaxation.

My view: I found hypnotherapy relaxing and interesting but it didn’t help me break any bad habits. Specifically, I asked the practitioner to focus on my tendency to binge-eat while stressed and I think he focused more on building will-power than dealing with the underlying anxiety that causes me to over-eat. But hypnotherapy clearly works for some people.


What is it? Acupuncture works by boosting energy levels, working with points of the body that relate to specific organs. It can be used alongside traditional medicine to tackle anxiety, arthritis, back pain, depression, insomnia, fertility issues, menstrual problems, migraines and other reoccurring illnesses.

Expert view: “Acupuncture is safe and gentle and works on two levels, tackling the physical and the emotional to restore the body’s balance,” says Stella Byrne, of Acupuncture for Bournemouth. “I recommend people come and see me for a health MOT and it can be preventative, too, tackling low blood pressure and strengthening the immune system.

“Through regular acupuncture treatments you will begin to see which of these energies relates most to how you see yourself and live your life.”

My view: I’ve always had insomnia on and off and during a particularly stressful week personally, a five-day bout was really affecting me. But, like with Reiki, just one session was enough to soothe my jangled nerves and get me a good night’s sleep. I’m now considering a course to improve my energy levels overall.

More info: Contact Stella Byrne on 07947 586302. To find a practitioner in your area call the British Acupuncture Council on 020 8735 0400 or visit www.acupuncture.org.uk

While I don’t want to encourage hypochondria symptoms, I do believe a pro-active approach to health can help catch physical and mental wellbeing issues before they get out of hand. For example, had I not tackled my insomnia with just one acupuncture session in August, it would have had a knock-on effect at home and at work and led to all sorts of stress-related side effects.

A lot of alternative treatments tap into the power of the mind and a little positive thinking goes a long way. As with any sort of new treatment, your first port of call should be your GP. Discuss your options and find an approach that suits you.

NEXT WEEK: Bowen Therapy, meditation, hot stone massage



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Editor in chief Suzi Dixon studied at Bournemouth university, went away for a while to work at The Daily Telegraph, then moved back to the sunny South coast for a quiet (er) life. Bournemouth News & Info is her website and she is assisted by the fabulous Fred From France in all things geeky and technical. Hire us to make your website, too, if you like.

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