Meditation and Other Non-Pharmacological Therapies

· June 18, 2017

If you’re going through a period of crisis, there are different techniques that can improve your quality of life, whether you’re sick or healthy. These techniques can be the perfect complement to pharmacological treatment if you’re sick, or simply give you a new zest for life. They all fall under the category of non-pharmacological therapies and include meditation, reiki, music therapy, and more.

So let’s take a little journey and define these therapies and the impact they have on our physical and psychological well-being. In addition, we’ll have to define what well-being means and how it differs from the concept of health.

What are non-pharmacological therapies?

Illnesses are traditionally approached through a pharmacological point of view. That is, crises, distress, and illnesses are solved with pills. Fortunately, this way of thinking has evolved, and it is now believed that pharmacological treatment is necessary in many cases, but it’s not sufficient or optimal for improving the patient’s quality of life. On the contrary, practices like meditation are being utilized more and more as a complement to pharmacological treatment.

“He’s the best physician that knows the worthlessness of the most medicines.”

-Benjamin Franklin-

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It’s important to ask how other non-pharmacological techniques can influence the patient’s quality of life or perception of their own well-being, as well as their physical health through the impact that they have on the immune system. And on top about that, we should also inquire about their possible implementation in specific health centers and inclusion in current therapeutic programs.

“Health isn’t everything, but without it, everything else is nothing.”

-A. Shopenhauer-

Although research on these techniques is relatively new, in 1977, Engel had already proposed the need for a biopsychosocial medical model. In it, he proposed that biological, psychological, and social aspects are all involved in overall health.

What is well-being?

We can conceptualize well-being as a set of attitudes and behaviors that improve one’s quality of life and help to achieve an optimal state of health (Donatelle, Snow & Wilcox, 1999). In other words, it’s an active process directed towards the improvement of one’s life in all aspects. 

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”


-World Health Organization, 1948-

This is where non-pharmacological therapies come into play, as they allow the individual to be the main actor in their own health. This can be achieved through healthy habits that result from the proper adaptation and integration of physical, mental, social, spiritual, and emotional factors in any level of health or illness. Therefore, you can experience well-being whether you’re sick or healthy.

“There’s no medicine that can cure anything happiness can’t cure.”

-Gabriel García Márquez-

therapist and patient

These findings are hugely important both for clinicians and for regular people, because they lead us to new paths, offering the possibility to use psychological treatment as a form of illness prevention. 

“It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.”

-Hippocrates-

How does stress affect us?

One’s personality and emotional experiences influence their health and are an important link between illness and psychological stress. Psychological stress affects the immune response and the illnesses mediated by it.

“The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.”

-William Osler-

Stressful situations like traumatic experiences and divorce can generate negative feelings like depression, fear, and hopelessness. These situations activate the central nervous system (CNS) and the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and produce alterations in immune reactivity, which is a blow to the body’s defenses.

There are many strategies that can be used to manage stress, and there are various studies on alternative therapies that minimize the effect of stress and increase people’s feeling of well-being. These include music therapy, meditation, reiki, yoga, visualization, physical activity, psychotherapy, etc.

woman running

Connect with your inner self through meditation

Do you meditate? Do you doubt its effectiveness? Would you like to know what studies have been done on it? Before I answer these questions, I should mention that there are many other techniques that I won’t include here. For now, we’ll focus on reiki, music therapy, meditation, acupuncture, and laughter therapy.

“Laughter is the only medicine without side effects.”

-Shannon L. Alder-

Today, Eastern practices like meditation and yoga have become a lot more popular. A study was conducted on 86 patients with chronic illnesses in which all participants followed an intervention program based on yoga, group discussions, and information about stress management. The studies showed a reduction in cortisol levels, an increase in beta-endorphins, and a reduction in interleukins and tumor necrosis factor after 10 days of intervention.

After interpreting the results of various studies, we can conclude the following:

  • Non-pharmacological therapies show an increase in immunoglobulins, which influence the well-being of the patient, whether it’s the main intervention or a complement to pharmacological treatment.
  • It’s also been shown that non-pharmacological therapies reduce stress levels due to a decrease in cortisol levels.
  • However, there are limitations to this new field of research, and it’s important to note individual differences between patients and different types of illnesses in order to properly apply these techniques. This is why there still isn’t much material to refer to when doing a new study.
  • For this reason, the results of studies on non-pharmacological techniques can be confused with a placebo effect generated by the therapist’s positive expectations for healing the patient.

Finally, we’ll leave you with a link to a project in the UK that creates playlists for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s as a new type of memory therapy: