What is the difference between traditional therapies, complementary therapies, and alternative mental health therapies?

Several types of traditional therapies exist for a variety of mental health conditions. They include individual, couples, family or group psychotherapy (talk therapy), or counseling; prescription medication such as antidepressants; and intensive outpatient, hospital or residential treatment programs, among others.1 While traditional medical and therapeutic methods have improved over the years with scientific advancements, they don’t always lessen or eliminate symptoms of mental illness. (See What is treatment resistance?) Therefore, many people turn to complementary and alternative methods to help them achieve their mental health goals.2

Complementary methods are where non-traditional treatments are given in addition to standard medical procedures.3 Alternative therapy is used in place of established traditional medical treatments.4 Complementary and alternative therapies include, but are not limited to:5, 6

  • Psychedelics
  • Acupuncture
  • Hypnosis
  • Massage
  • Reflexology
  • Biofeedback
  • Creative outlets (art, music, dance)
  • Yoga
  • Tai-chi
  • Imagery
  • Energy healing (reiki and therapeutic touch)
  • Ayurvedic medicine
  • Naturopathic medicine
  • Chiropractic manipulation
  • Mediation
  • Dietary supplements
  • And more


1. Editorial Staff (2022, September). Different Types of Mental Health Treatments. Familydoctor.org. https://familydoctor.org/different-types-mental-health-treatment/ 

2. National Alliance on Mental Illness (n.d.). Complementary Health Approaches. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/16883-complementary-therapy 

3. Cleveland Clinic (2021, September 15). Complementary Medicine. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/16883-complementary-therapy

4. Cleveland Clinic (2021, September 15). Complementary Medicine. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/16883-complementary-therapy

5.  Lowe, et al (2022, April 7). Psychedelics: Alternative and Potential Therapeutic Options for Treating Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Molecules. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9025549/

6. National Cancer Institute (2022, March 21). Complementary and Alternative Medicine. https://www.cancer.gov/