Understanding Complementary TherapiesDownload this book (pdf, 985.59 kb)
Mind-body techniques are based on the belief that what we think and feel can affect our physical and mental wellbeing.
Mind-body techniques may also be called psychological techniques, emotional therapies or spiritual healing.
Relaxation and meditation
What they are: Relaxation usually includes slow breathing and muscle-loosening exercises to physically and mentally relax the body. Meditation is an ancient practice that involves holding your attention on a subject such as breathing. There are many different types of meditation. Mindfulness meditation means being aware and present in each moment. Guided imagery, or visualisation, uses your imagination to create healing thoughts.
Why use them: Relaxation and meditation may help to release muscle tension, and reduce stress and anxiety.
What to expect: Lying or sitting in a comfortable position, you are led through a series of exercises that focus on breath work and calming the mind. Often, serene music is played to create a peaceful environment. After a period of relaxation, you will usually be prompted to stay awake to enjoy your relaxed feeling.
Evidence: Many clinical studies have shown that people having chemotherapy, radiotherapy and other cancer treatments benefit from relaxation. It can help reduce anxiety, stress, pain and depression. Studies on meditation have shown it helps people with cancer feel more positive, and can reduce anxiety and nausea.
What they are: Organised groups where people with cancer and their families can meet other people going through a similar experience.
Why use them: Getting in touch with other people living with cancer can be very beneficial. Groups offer practical and emotional support and can be helpful at all stages of cancer.
What to expect: In these support settings, most people feel they can speak openly and share their experiences with others.
Evidence: There is strong evidence that cancer support groups improve quality of life. Cancer Council's research found joining a group helps reduce distress, depression and anxiety. Recently, other studies have shown people using online health forums also benefit.
What it is: Through discussions with a counsellor or psychologist, you can identify problems and explore ways of resolving negative thoughts and feelings that impact on your health and day-to-day life.
Why use it: Counselling allows you to express your emotions in a safe, objective environment, helping to improve self-esteem, communication, relationships and specific difficulties.
What to expect: Consultations are usually face to face, but if you live remotely or require crisis counselling, you may be able to talk with your therapist over the phone.
A counsellor will ask questions about the problems you are facing and will help you to clarify your thoughts so you can work out how to resolve these challenges yourself. Sometimes a counsellor will simply provide a non-judgemental, listening ear to allow you to talk through events that have caused you confusion, grief, anger, anxiety, guilt or conflicting emotions.
Evidence: There is long-established evidence of the benefits of counselling, however, it is important people find a suitably qualified therapist they feel comfortable talking with. To find a therapist, speak to your GP.
What it is: Deep relaxation is used to help people become more aware of their inner thoughts. This can help them overcome mental blocks that have previously stopped them from dealing with anxiety, fear, low self-esteem, pain, insomnia and unwanted habits.
Why use it: Hypnotherapy can improve mental wellbeing and quality of life.
What to expect: Your therapist will take a case history and then lead you into a deeply relaxed state, known as an altered state of consciousness. Being in a relaxed state allows your subconscious to focus on your treatment goals, which then become more achievable for your conscious mind.
Evidence: Hypnotherapy has been clinically tested with good results for helping people cope with pain and anxiety. Some studies show promising results for women who had a brief session before surgery, helping them cope with pain and nausea after surgery.
What it is: It is a way of using visual art to express feelings. An art therapist helps you explore the images you have created to encourage understanding of your emotions and concerns.
Why use it: You can work through issues that surface from your art. Other benefits include solving problems, improved mood and stress reduction.
What to expect: Art therapy may be done individually or in groups; some hospitals run programs. You do not need artistic talent to participate or benefit - the emphasis is in the production of a work, not the end result. Your art may be created any way: drawing, painting, collage, sculpture or digitally. You will have an opportunity to discuss the work with the therapist - either the process of producing it or what the end result means to you.
Evidence: Anecdotal evidence suggests art therapy improves coping, emotional wellbeing and quality of life.
What it is: It uses music to improve health and wellbeing. A music therapist helps people engage with different aspects of music.
Evidence: Some studies show that music therapy can help people with cancer improve their quality of life by making them feel better and by reducing side effects of treatment such as anxiety and nausea.
What it is: Life coaching is about helping people develop their personal, spiritual, physical and professional lives. It encourages people to live enjoyable lives, and is focused on finding solutions and getting results.
Why use it: Life coaching allows people to make positive changes for their future.
What to expect: Your life coach will help you clarify your thoughts about what you want in life, and to reassess your beliefs, values and rules that may have prevented you from experiencing fulfilment in the past. Sessions can be face to face, over the phone or over the internet.
Evidence: There is limited clinical evidence available about the benefits of life coaching. However exploratory studies have shown that people using life coaching can have a better quality of life.
What it is: Spirituality is a very individual concept. For some, it may mean being part of an organised religion such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam or Buddhism. For others, spirituality may reflect their own individual beliefs about the universe and their place in it, or a search for meaning and purpose to their lives. Often when people are diagnosed with cancer, this aspect of their lives becomes more important.
Why use it: People often find comfort in prayer, meditation or quiet contemplation. Receiving pastoral care from a religious or spiritual adviser or a hospital chaplain can often help people, even if they are not part of an organised religion.
What to expect: If you are part of a spiritual or religious community, you may benefit from:
- prayer or meditation groups
- a feeling of unity from the congregation
- healing services for the sick
- practical and spiritual support offered by members of your religious community.
Evidence: There is growing scientific evidence of a positive link between spirituality and health.