In general, the problem ZenerTree is trying to solve is that when it comes to mental well-being we are not doing enough. One of the primary goals of mental health treatment is to bring about symptom relief. Research has shown that most psychotropic medication, including anti-depressants perform no better than placebo with such little benefit that results from many clinical trials are not even found to be clinically significant (Lake, 2009). This means they basically demonstrated no clinical benefit. For instance, many antipsychotic medications used to treatment schizophrenia have been found to have limited effectiveness, with most patients continuing to experience persistent functional impairments while taking the medications (Lake, 2009). When it comes to depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, and anxiety, many studies have found psychotherapeutic approaches (i.e., cognitive behavioral therapy) to be more effective than medications. For depression, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works better than antidepressants (Lake, 2009). This is startling considering the amount of medications being prescribed every year (approximately 400 million prescriptions).
Not only are we not effectively relieving symptoms but the rate of mental illness has continued to increase even while the rate of prescribing psychotropic medications has increased. Even worse, in some cases we are causing new symptoms due to the toxicity of many psychotropic medications. In fact, many patients will discontinue use of psychotropic medications due to unpleasant adverse effects such as weight gain, loss of sexual drive, increased depression and suicidal ideation, confusion, and emotional blunting to name a few. Even worse, many patients experience serious side effects from taking psychotropic medications such as neurological disturbances, brain shrinkage, hallucinations, panic, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, delusions, suicidal thoughts/behavior, mania, psychosis, anxiety, hysteria, depression, and violent behavior (Lake, 2009). These medications are so toxic that they even lead to death in some cases with an estimated 100,000 deaths annually from medications administered for appropriate reasons at indicated doses (Lake, 2009).
Another problem with mental health care is the focus on illness as opposed to wellness. Traditional methods of mental health treatment seek to relieve symptoms not necessarily improve quality of life. Having worked in an inpatient psychiatric setting I have witnessed many patients who are just surviving. This can be difficult to witness. They are disconnected from their families, they have no goals and little motivation, and they are basically just waiting for their next meal. Even in outpatient settings in which mental health symptoms are significantly less severe we provide patients with medications and coping skills to reduce symptoms, but we do not necessarily address the underlying causes of symptoms. Many of these patients will report problems with autoimmune disorders, diabetes, chronic sleep disturbances, high blood pressure, and a host of other medical problems which all lead to chronic states of not feeling well. In addition, many experts hypothesize that our modern and fast paced lives are one of the major contributing factors to the rise in mental health symptoms. This is supported by the fact that mental illness rates are rising the fastest in young adults and adolescents who have been impacted by the changes in modern technology and lack of connection with the natural world the most. In fact, the rate of major depression among adolescents has increased 52% from 2005 to 2017 and 63% in young adults ages 18 to 25 from 2009 to 2017.
Bottom line is it is hard to get excited about life, focus on goals, or get involved with community activities when you are just making it through each day. We need to address the whole person and heal people from the inside out to improve their quality of life. Based upon the current state of mental health care it has become clear that we need a better system of treating mental health conditions, one that moves beyond the medical model that is currently being used.
ZenerTree intends to solve the problem of ineffective and incomplete mental health treatment by adopting an integrative approach to wellness. The integrative approach uses traditional treatment modalities in addition to complimentary therapies such as mindfulness, movement, nature, nutrition, and energy therapies to address both symptoms of root causes of mental health problems. This allows for treatment of the whole person and greater relief of symptoms. We have developed a unique program in which we will guide people along the pathway toward better mental health. Our treatment and coaching manuals have been developed by a team of experts in both traditional and nontraditional wellness therapies. Clients can choose to use our guide and videos on their own and utilize assistance from our therapists and health coaches to help walk them through the process and modify their plans as needed to achieve maximum benefit.
Our coaching and therapy programs will provide clients with the tools to harness positive energy, increase hope, and develop goals to improve their overall motivation. At the core of our program is our self-regulation model of change that utilizes skills and strategies from cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectal behavioral therapy, positive psychology, and mindfulness based therapies. To increase the effectiveness of these traditional therapies, we will incorporate evidenced based alternative therapies to address underlying issues that may be contributing to poor mental health, fatigue, and discontent. Alternative therapies include nutritional optimization, mindfulness and spiritual based practices, movement therapies, nature therapy, and energy and sensory based therapies. We have carefully chosen these therapies due to the vast research that demonstrates their efficacy in improving mood, decreasing stress, increasing energy, and helping client achieve greater focus. For instance, there is significant research demonstrating the effects of diet on mental well-being. In today’s fast-paced world people have increasingly turned to convenience foods full of processed ingredients to fuel their bodies. Unfortunately, these processed ingredients are setting the stage for depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, autism, ADHD, and mood swings. Gluten intolerance has been correlated with many of these disorders and large consumption of sugar causes insulin resistance and cortisol spikes linked with both depressive symptoms as well as symptoms of anxiety. It is very difficult to treat mental health symptoms through therapy and medications when poor diet is undermining any positive effects that may result from these therapies. The International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research noted that “nutrition and nutraceuticals” should be considered first line treatments for mental health symptoms and should be considered a mainstream element of mental health treatment.
Complimentary therapies have also demonstrated increasing efficacy in reducing unwanted mental health symptoms and improving overall well-being. For instance, have been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and improve overall feelings of well-being and reiki (a form of energy healing) has demonstrated improved mood in individuals with depression and decreased feelings of anxiousness in those diagnosed with anxiety disorders (Lake, 2009). Biofeedback is another complimentary therapy that has demonstrated significant efficacy in addressing mental health symptoms, particularly symptoms of generalized anxiety and depression with regular weekly biofeedback training sessions being shown to be as effective as antianxiety medications in reducing symptoms of anxiety (Lake, 2009). Biofeedback has also been found to be effective in treating symptoms of ADHD and improving cognitive functioning. Other scientifically validated complimentary therapies include bright light exposure and sound therapy (Lake, 2009).
Finally, there is a significant amount of research demonstrating the efficacy of exercise and nature, particularly when combined, in reducing depression and anxiety and improving overall mood and well-being. For instance, Lake (2009) reported that regular exercise is as effective as antidepressants and cognitive therapy in treating depressive symptoms and that regular practice of yoga has been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, insomnia, and substance abuse. With regards to nature, researchers at the University of Essex reported that taking a walk in nature significantly reduced ratings of depression in 71 percent of the participants in their study (Selhub & Logan, 2012). Researchers in Denmark reported that those who lived in closer proximity to green space had significant reductions in the rate of depression and anxiety than those who lived further away (Selhub & Logan, 2012). Finally, researchers in both California and Japan found that immersion in natural settings significantly increased feelings of pleasure, and happiness resulting from increased activation of opioid receptors in the brain and decreased levels of cortisol in the body (Selhub & Logan, 2012; Sorgen, 2013).
Each of our programs are designed address the whole person and the root causes of their symptoms. We are not just seeking to put a bandage on symptoms that will allow the client to hobble through life, we intend to increase their overall well-being that encompasses quality of life, self-acceptance, purpose, autonomy, strong personal relationships, social contribution, personal meaning, and a sense of belonging.
Lake, J. (2009). Integrative Mental Health Care: A Therapist’s Handbook. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Selhub, E.M., & Logan, A.C. (2012). Your Brain on Nature: The Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Health, Happiness, and Vitality. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: HarperCollins Canada.
Sorgen, C. (2013). Do you need a nature prescription? WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/nature-therapy-ecotherapy#4