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Published on June 24, 2015

Alternative Therapies: Caring for Body, Mind and Spirit

June 24, 2015

Ben, a St. Bernard, is a Healing Paws dog at Kishwaukee HospitalAlternative therapies, including music therapy and animal-assisted therapy, play an important role in the treatment of serious illnesses and injuries by boosting patients’ spirits and offering non-medical ways to alleviate and cope with pain and anxiety.

While music therapy, animal-assisted therapy and other forms of alternative therapy are not replacements for traditional medical care, they serve as helpful adjuncts in the management of cancer, traumatic injuries, dementia and developmental disorders, such as autism.

The Healing Power of Music

During a typical music therapy session, certified therapists work one-on-one with patients to develop individualized plans that may include singing, playing or listening to music. According to the American Cancer Society, music therapy has been linked to reduced pain and less nausea and vomiting following chemotherapy. Music therapy is also helpful for individuals who have trouble verbally expressing themselves. The American Music Therapy Association lists working with older adults to reduce dementia, working with autistic children to improve verbal communication, and even working with premature infants to help with weight gain and sleep-pattern regulation as among music therapy’s common uses.

Find out more about the Music Therapy program.

Pets’ Therapeutic Role

A growing body of research dating as early as 1980 indicates that spending time with and petting animals not only boosts mood, but may also lower blood pressure and anxiety levels.

Therapy animals are used in a variety of settings, including schools, libraries and healthcare facilities. In healthcare facilities, animal-assisted therapy typically involves bringing animals bedside. Most commonly, volunteers bring their dogs to visit with patients after the volunteer has completed a training program and received therapy certification for their pet. Outside of the clinical setting, therapeutic horseback riding is also shown to benefit children with autism by helping them forge emotional bonds and improve communication and motor skills, according to the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation.

Find out more about the Healing Paws program.

Easing Pain Through Guided Imagery

Guided imagery is a technique where individuals, with the assistance of an experienced guide, mentally visualize images and scenes. Many use guided imagery to minimize pain from childbirth, cancer or medical procedures. Guided imagery is also helpful in reducing blood pressure and stress levels, improving sleep habits, and easing depression and anxiety, according to Cleveland Clinic research.

While guided imagery is similar to hypnosis, it has some differences. According to the Academy for Guided Imagery, individuals under hypnosis enter a state of mind where they are guided to ideas by hypnotists who interactively make suggestions, but successful guided imagery doesn’t always rely on this guide-patient interaction. Guided imagery is also limited to images, while hypnosis may include thoughts without images.

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