Modern life is full of potential sources of anxiety, stress and illness. Yet while more than one in four Americans suffer from some kind of mental condition, less than four percent regularly visit therapists to deal with their problems. Does alternative therapy offer the answer?
Many unconventional and often bizarre forms of therapy can be traced back to strange and mysterious traditions. But regardless of their origins, some of the methods seem like they might cause more problems than they alleviate. Still, if you want to know the supposed benefits of being put in a coffin or drinking your own urine, read on for the 10 most bizarre forms of therapy ever.
10. Grave Therapy
If you’re gravely depressed, why not try being depressed in a grave? In 2008, Pastor Thorsten Nolting from Düsseldorf, Germany developed his own one-man approach to driving home his parishioners’ mortality – by asking them to lie in an open grave. The idea was aimed at helping people to deal with the stresses of everyday life.
“I meant it as a meditative exercise,” explains Nolting. “I wanted people to think about what weighs them down in the darkness and gather the energy to resist it.”
Unfortunately, interfering journalists who had gathered to watch ruined the seriousness of the event. Nolting reported that the press members would not stop talking and wouldn’t leave when he asked them to, which put his therapy subjects off.
“It wasn’t silent, as it should have been. They ruined it,” said Nolting.
9. Coffin Therapy
In a similar vein, a Ukrainian coffin maker has developed a way to help people understand death. It costs the equivalent of $25 to lie in one of Stepan Piryanyk’s caskets for 15 minutes.
Customers can relax with the lid open or closed, depending on their preference. Piryanyk says he got the idea from a custom “coffin couch” that he made for his grandma, which he and other family members lay in to acclimatize themselves to the afterlife.
Piryanyk likens coffin therapy to confession. And to make things more comfortable, the caskets are lined with lace and silk pillows, while a soundtrack of birds singing plays as subjects relax.
“In principle, it’s a normal innovation. You need to get used to it anyway. Sooner or later, you’ll have to lay down in a coffin,” said 58-year-old local resident Anatoly Polishchuk.
8. Railway Track Therapy
All over Jakarta, poor Indonesians who are unable to afford medical care have been lying down on railway tracks. No, they’re not trying to end it all; rather, they believe that a mild electrical current that can cure ailments runs through the rails.
Unsurprisingly, this form of therapy has no proven healing power. Moreover, there’s no electrical current running through the tracks. The trend stems from the tale of a disabled Chinese man who tried to kill himself by lying down on the tracks but reported that he had been cured instead.
In the government’s view, the fad is more likely to cause harm than make people well. And to discourage the practice, authorities have posted signs and threatened people with fines.
7. Knife Massage
This dangerous sounding Chinese therapy involves applying knives and cleavers to the body in a chopping movement, thankfully without cutting the skin. Apparently, knife therapy dates back more than 2,000 years, and the practice has been kept alive by Buddhist monks.
It’s a form of therapy that aims to clear blocked energies, dissipate harmful toxins, and improve blood flow. And we’re pretty sure having all those sharp edges in such close proximity gets the adrenalin pumping as well! In Taipei, a 10-minute knife massage can cost just $3.
Apparently, the knife therapists’ motto is “Chop, chop, chop and the pain will go away.” Seriously, though, don’t try this at home.
6. Urine Therapy
This next somewhat disgusting sounding remedy can also be traced back to ancient medicine. Advocates say that urine can cure practically any ailment, from flu and broken bones to cancer and AIDS. Practices include rubbing the liquid into one’s hair, bathing in it, and even gargling or swallowing it (as long as it’s not the first, concentrated morning “flow”).
This bizarre cure-all practice seems to have originated from certain Hindu religious rites, although some believe that the Bible promotes it as well. Furthermore, according to some sources, 17th-century French women washed with urine to benefit their skin. And there’s also an old French custom that includes urinating on stockings and wrapping them around one’s neck to cure a sore throat.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s no scientific evidence that this treatment actually has any effect. Nevertheless, news reports suggest that three million Chinese people consume their own urine in the hope of becoming healthier.
5. Smoking Therapy
Smoking therapy is another bizarre therapy to come out of Indonesia. The Griya Balur clinic in Jakarta promotes tobacco as a cure for emphysema, cancer and autism, and treatments include smoke being blown into the ears, noses and mouths of patients.
The founder, Dr. Gretha Zahar, claims that the mercury in cigarettes can counteract serious diseases and reduce the effects of aging. Zahar relies on nano-technological pseudoscience to sell her cure, and it’s proven very successful – at least for her: she’s treated around 60,000 patients over the past 10 years. And incredibly, many of her patients already suffer from smoking-related illnesses.
This misguided form of therapy is reminiscent of the early days of smoking. In the 16th century, tobacco was utilized to cure colds, fevers and chills and to stop hunger and thirst – among a variety of other medicinal uses.
4. Sand Bathing
Sand bathing takes what seems like a cruel and torturous punishment – being buried up to the neck in hot sand and left in the scorching sun – and gives it a “therapeutic” spin. The practice is designed to trigger perspiration, which is in turn believed to increase circulation, metabolism and growth.
Sand baths are used to cure everything from aches and pains to skin diseases and sluggish circulation. And being surrounded by soft sand also holds in heat. Average treatments last between 20 and 30 minutes for adults. In Japan, Ibusuki, in Kagoshima Prefecture, is famous for its natural sand baths, and people flock to the area to take advantage of them.
Hijama is a form of traditional Arabic medicine that involves removing blood from the skin using vacuum-sealed cups. As a treatment specifically encouraged by the prophet Muhammad, it’s widely practiced throughout the Islamic world.
Traditionally, the gruesome-seeming process involves placing a cup on the area to be treated. A piece of cotton or paper is burnt at the top of the cup to make it attach to the skin due to the vacuum created. When a blister forms, the cup is lifted off, a pair of incisions is made in the blister, and the cup is then replaced to catch the drained blood.
The treatment is supposed to remove “harmful” blood from nearby organs and improve health. This definitely isn’t for the squeamish, though. And like most forms of bloodletting, hijama has never been proven to have any positive effects on the body whatsoever.
2. Slapping Therapy
Chinese writer Xiao Hongci has sold over half a million copies of his book, which promotes smacking certain parts of the body until they turn red, in order to cure ailments.
Hongci says that his unusual treatment is “100 percent effective for diabetes.” And according to him, it can cure heart disease and high blood pressure as well. Predictably, medical evidence to back up his claims has not been forthcoming.
Another promoter of slapping therapy is Rassameesaitarn “Tata” Wongsirodkul, a Thai natural health practitioner who uses it as a beauty treatment for customers in her San Francisco salon.
Tata claims to be the first therapist of this kind in the West and charges as much as $350 for a 15-minute slapping session. The treatment is supposed to reduce wrinkles, tighten skin and make pores smaller, thus making her patients appear younger (assuming they can handle being treated like punch bags!).
1. Tickle Therapy
Most cultures believe that laughing does you good, but this last treatment type uses the notion as the basis for a rather bizarre seeming form of therapy. The Cosquillarte spa in Madrid, Spain, whose name can be translated as “tickle yourself,” or “tickle art,” is described as the world’s first tickle spa. It offers 30-minute to one-hour therapy sessions.
Generally, recipients lie face down on a bed and get tickled, with the therapist using a variety of strokes, depending on how sensitive their patients are. Some clients describe the effect as removing all tension from their bodies, which baffles neuroscientists like Robert R. Provine, who points out that tickling is usually stimulating rather than calming. To be honest, we think it sounds more like torture than therapy!
That said, tickle therapy is apparently gaining popularity. Cosquillarte founder Isabel Aires has received requests from as far off as South America and Russia and is currently in the process of turning her business into a franchise.