9 Reasons Why People Seek Out Alternative Therapies

“I have been to so many different therapists, psychologists and helpers but I have not found what I need.”

“I haven’t found anyone that I can really connect with.”

“I need to connect with a real person, not a blank face.”

“I don’t feel like I can relate to my therapist.”

“I don’t want to blindly follow a conventional medicine model, but I also don’t want to ignore important medical advice.”

“Traditional therapy is just not working for me.”

“I am desperate for my mental health or my child’s mental health to improve, and nothing seems to be working.”

“I’ve tried everything.”

“Just simply talking isn’t helping me.”

These are some of the most common reasons my clients look for alternative therapies, and often why they come to me. I highly value the fields of psychology and psychiatry, which is why I work collaboratively with other professionals. However, traditional therapy approaches are not for everyone.

Sometimes, people need a different approach in order to feel seen and heard. The traditional therapy models tend to allow less transparency, real-ness and openness from the therapist, with the focus remaining exclusively on the client. This works really well for many people.

For others, the core element of safety in therapy can only be found in an imperfect, somewhat irreverent approach that allows relationship and connection to unfold between two real human beings. I bring a valuable expertise to the relationship pertaining to the areas of therapy and skills I offer; however, I am not an expert on life. This is a journey we undertake together. The relationship we form is the vehicle for growth and healing.

The integrative nature of this approach means that we may use talking, music, art, movement, trauma-informed yoga, breathwork, lifestyle modification, creative process, symbol work, nature, writing and/or mindfulness in a way that feels safe and appropriate for you.

I like to take 1 – 3 sessions to get to know you and to allow you to get to know me. From there, we can decide whether we would like to work together and if I could be helpful.

If you are interested in integrative therapy, an alternative approach, please contact Melissa by clicking here

16 week psychedelic assisted therapy program

This program is informed by the John’s Hopkins psychedelic research protocol. It also draws on tools from MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) and the Center for Psychedelic Research at the Imperial College London.

Week 1-8: weekly preparation sessions including assessment, verbal and non-verbal therapies, intention setting, examining our narrative, trauma-informed yoga therapy and implementation of tools and strategies for the process. Importantly, this preparatory period helps establish a trusting relationship, consistency and a safe space.

Week 9: day-long psychedelic experience including preparatory yoga, nature immersion, creative arts therapies, Hero’s Journey walkabout and individually curated music playlists. The journey is facilitated indoors with eyeshades.

Week 9-16: weekly integration sessions in order to extract the most meaning and insight from the process and connect it to daily life. Verbal and non-verbal, creative processing and re-storying.

Cost: R20 600 total

Preparation sessions: R850 (60-90 minutes)

Day long experiential session: R7000 (6-8 hours)

Integration sessions: R850 (60-90 minutes)

Payable weekly. Upfront payment discount offered.

Memories and psychedelic experiences

Some of us have had memories emerge during a challenging psychedelic experience, memories that weren’t there before. Often these are traumatic memories. What happened? Has something been unlocked? Is it fabrication?

There is no one size fits all approach to this problem. One important part of my approach is to address all feeling states as real – because they are – and to allow the actual memory material to slowly unfold, if it needs to.

Trauma is a physiological experience. If there is a trauma response to a memory experience when using psychedelics, that is an indication that there is unprocessed trauma stored in our body. The content of the imagery or memory material is not essential for healing. It is actually not necessary to ascertain the veracity of a memory in order to recognise trauma and to heal.

Psychedelic integration therapy is one avenue to healing. In this process, I use verbal and non-verbal therapies, such as trauma-informed yoga, movement and creative processing, to process material and to work toward integration.

Contact Melissa to book a session by clicking here

Small trauma-informed yoga groups: spaces available

Hi everyone 🙂

Because there has been such a keen interest in my trauma-informed yoga (TIY) classes, both individual and group, I am opening another small TIY group. The group is almost full, if you would like to reserve a place, please contact me directly.

The group will only facilitate a maximum of four people. Location is 3 Belsay Road, Kenilworth.

If the group is full by the time you contact me, I will waitlist you for the next group which should be opening soon.

Please note that because of the sensitive nature of this work, anyone joining a TIY group must have 1-3 individual assessment sessions with me first. Individual sessions can continue until the person is ready to join the group.

There are no strength, flexibility or fitness requirements. The classes are at your own pace. The TIY groups can be seen as a body-based version of group talk therapy. While we do not spend much – or any – time talking, we are learning to be with one another, to synchronise with our own bodies and the bodies of others, and to eventually feel more supported and calm in the presence of others. All this while exploring important aspects of ourselves in and through our bodies.

Cost:

Individual session: R790, hour long.

Group session: R350, hour long. (Group sessions can be discounted if paid upfront for the month. The cost for a month is R1000, one class per week, if paid upfront. However, I encourage each person to try a few classes until they feel ready to commit to the monthly payment.)

Contact by clicking here or Whatsapp 0834129768

It Begins With The Body

People who come into therapy have often (arguably always) been traumatised. This may be an overt traumatic incident or more subtle and complex traumas over a period of time. Often, the trauma is in childhood and possibly outside of our ability to recall or consciously work with. Sometimes, we repress traumatic memories, even in adulthood. Trauma blocks our connection with ourselves by disrupting the connection between our minds and bodies and disallowing connection between various parts of ourselves. This means fragmentation is always around the corner and estrangement from one’s own self may become a familiar experience.

The body is where we begin. The body holds an immense amount of knowledge and tries to communicate with us all the time. However, we are frequently so shut off to our body’s intelligence, that we live in a conceptual, intellectual, ego-consciousness state of being. As if everything that exists and is of import in our journey is upward of the neck. This is untrue.

Our bodies hold vast wisdom and memory, storing information from nourishing and meaningful events but also storing trauma, holding it for us until we can look at it. Until we are able to bring our mind and body together – to engage the trauma on a bodily level – trauma held in the body may manifest all kinds of symptoms such as diagnosable illness, inexplicable symptoms, depression, anxiety, rage, fear, tight muscles, postural difficulties, sexual problems, addictions, loss of confidence and more. So many people coming into body-based therapy cannot feel their bodies, and definitely cannot feel their feelings in their bodies.

This is a slow process of learning to reclaim the body, to become aware of it’s existence, what it actually is, and to form a relationship with it. To learn to listen to it and allow the inner dialogue between mind and body to continue unimpeded by blocks.

For individuals who have suffered trauma, the body can be a frightening place. A place to escape from – not to. The body may have let us down or even turned against us, and coming into relationship with it may be overwhelming. However, verbal dialogue without the complement of coming into one’s own body can stay simply conceptual. However, verbal psychotherapy with body-based, non-verbal therapies can also be of great assistance to those are are trying to come home to their bodies and take control – a way to conceptually and emotionally process the increasing awareness of the body.

Breathing, trauma-informed yoga, cold water therapy and similar practices, when facilitated professionally, are non-invasive yet powerful ways of coming into the body.

The body is where we begin. If you are interested in body-based therapy or body-based therapy complementing psychotherapy – a brilliant combination of processing styles – please click here.

Online Support During Lockdown

corona-online-support-mental-health

Self-isolation is difficult. For many, it brings financial hardship, relational difficulties, loneliness, lack of daily structure and routine, difficult emotions. You do not need to go through this or figure it out on your own. Online connection is certainly possible and incredibly valuable. Anyone, from anywhere in the world, can engage in online sessions. I am continuing supporting clients during periods of self-isolation owing to covid-19. Online sessions assist in managing self-isolation and working with other difficulties arising during this time.

Support systems like therapy, mentoring and coaching need not fall away during this stressful period. Creativity and self-exploration need not be neglected as we look after our collective health.

Contact me if you would like to begin online therapy or schedule a consultation. All you need is an internet connection and a device that allows for video or at least audio. Online consultations are offered internationally.


I often felt Melissa was sharing the language of my psyche on a collective consciousness or shared consciousness level. She would intuitively understand the role of a defense mechanism and would share in a very authentic way some of her own processes and struggles. This aided me in feeling I was in the presence of a kindred spirit and helped so much with feeling deep empathy from her to assist my healing. I believe this is truly one of her most special gifts for this kind of therapeutic work with clients.

– Client


A Brief Rationale for an Integrative Approach

Music therapist integrative therapy Cape Town  Melissa Ellse
Integrative Therapy in Cape Town with Melissa Ellse

We are all unique 🌟

An integrative therapeutic approach draws thoughtfully from various theories, methods and techniques based on the individual’s strengths, needs and concerns.


There is no one-size-fits-all. It simply does not exist. Every single encounter we have with one another is both meaningful and unique. This is because we are human and beautifully complex.


I’ve learned this first hand in my own therapeutic processes, which is why I strive to be integrative, intuitive and informed in my approach. And my approach will probably not work for everyone, because we are all unique 🌟 and that is truly wonderful.

To find out more, click here.

Are substance-free psychedelic experiences possible?

psychedelic experience guidance cape town south africa spiritual awakening music therapy

Short answer: yes.

Longer answer: I have encountered surprisingly many people (older, younger and from all walks of life) who want to experience something of the the mind-manifesting nature of psychedelics without taking a substance. Some people are averse to the idea of substance-induced altered states of consciousness from pre-conceived ideas about “drugs”, some cannot explore any mind altering substances because of medications or psychological predispositions. Some don’t want to get entangled in something that is not legal. Some simply don’t like the idea of ingesting anything that affects their consciousness so profoundly. Some prefer to be in control. Some are fearful. These are all valid concerns.

Yet still, such individuals seek a transcendent (possibly spiritual) encounter that is different to everyday, waking life and that offers up something deeper, possibly holding more meaning, truth and authenticity than their ‘ordinary’ reality. In my experience, these individuals are usually on a voyage of self-exploration, igniting creativity, navigating a life transition and/or discovering meaning in life. My hope-filled and honest response is always yes, there certainly are ways to enter altered states of consciousness without any substances or plant medicines.

Psychedelic literally means ‘mind-manifesting’ or ‘mind-expanding’, the Greek root is psyche (mind, soul) dêlos (manifest, visible). Meditation is one avenue to such experiences, yet this usually takes a great deal of practice before potentially experiencing anything of a psychedelic nature. Still, I highly recommend a steady meditation practice for many, many reasons which I won’t address here. To get started with a meditation practice, the following apps are very useful: https://wakingup.com/ or https://www.headspace.com/.

I work with music and deep relaxation into an altered state of consciousness, eliciting imagery in the mind’s eye that allows the ‘traveller’ transcendent, even psychedelic-type experiences. However, the ‘traveller’ also retains complete personal control and is able to effortlessly emerge from the experience at any point. No substances or plant medicines are used and they do not need to be in order for the process to be effective. Guided Imagery and Music is a technique developed by Helen Bonny after working alongside the renown psychedelic researcher Stanislov Grof in LSD trials of the sixties. Bonny developed a “non-drug, psychedelic technique of music-listening for psychotherapeutic ends.”

This music-listening technique takes place in a 1.5 hour session, the traveller comfortably lying on a couch in an undisturbed, safe and comfortable setting (such as a therapist’s room). During the session, the guide will talk with the client/traveller and work toward setting an intention for the journey. A specific music program that relates directly to the traveller’s mental set and intention – a music program designed to elicit imagery, emotions, memories and even sensations – is selected by the guide. The traveller is taken through a deepening relaxation induction and reminded of their intention. When the selected music plays, the traveller journeys with the music in this deepened, relaxed and in fact altered state of consciousness.

Imagery, storylines and emotions may appear, sometimes sensations and memories, all emerging from the unconscious mind and guided by the music. During this process, the traveller is always free to ‘come out’ of the experience, should they want to. This is unlike a substance-based psychedelic experience, such as a psilocybin journey, where one is locked into the journey until the substance/medicine wears off. The guide asks questions and helps to deepen and intensify the experience. Afterward, the traveller makes marks on paper (creates a mandala), which is a creative output that helps to solidify and integrate the journey and is used for verbally processing the experience.

Guided Imagery and Music sessions are usually conducted once a week over a period of time, as personal narratives, archetypal material and images from the unconscious are developed and worked with.

If you are interested in exploring your consciousness through an alternative, experiential and substance-free way, click here. Offered in Cape Town, South Africa.

Note: BMGIM guides require extensive and rigorous training. I am currently in advanced training in the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music.

Grinding Into The Pain

Embracing Pain

What happens when Pain visits a little too often, a little too long? Like an obnoxious guest who overstays her welcome, talking and talking without listening, eating and eating without offering. Well perhaps this is uncomfortable, but just bearable. After all, it is not all that uncommon. And then perhaps, what if Pain decides to visit a great deal too often and a great deal too long? What if the visitor decides not to leave? What if the talking and the eating just don’t stop – on and on and on. What are we to do then? What happens when we are held hostage?

Do we have any control over pain’s inevitable and suffocating visitations? According to the Stoic Epictetus,

Some things are in our control, while others are not. We control our opinion, choice, desire, aversion, and, in a word, everything of our own doing. We don’t control our body, property, reputation, position, and, in a word, everything not of our own doing. Even more, the things in our control are by nature free, unhindered and unobstructed, while those not in our control are weak, slavish, can be hindered, and are not our own.

Epictetus, Enchiridion, 1.1-2

The pain of loss, grief, depression, neurochemistry, external events such as motor car accidents and more – these are not in our control. This may be disheartening or even crushing when fully realised. Why am I forced to sit by while Pain visits the full reign of hell upon me? Why am I not allowed to eject Pain, to revoke visitation rights? How can I escape? Why am I not even permitted to escape my own home with what little I have left? This is a brutal invasion!

As the Stoic relates, the sense of control sought in our bitter fight against Pain is won in our thinking, our choices and our exposure to that which will help us reframe our attitude toward our relationship with pain. Ultimately, our gains are made in our own relationship with and to pain. To those experiencing true, unadulterated suffering, this idea may be received as trite or it may even be impossible to imagine. However, even where chronic mental, emotional or physical pain are involved, the ‘Enemy’ that is Pain can change into something new, something more approachable, something we can negotiate with and engage with in a more balanced relationship. Pain does not have to remain the Enemy, it can become the Teacher, the Healer, even the Beatific Vision. Never losing it’s identity as Pain, and never lessening or coming under our control, Pain’s visits – even those long, excruciating and seemingly never-ceasing visits, can be experienced differently, without fear and without loss of control. The transformation and growth, even healing, that Pain can bring – if we let it – is illustrated in the lines below.

What is pain but a reminder that we are

grinding into the ground

flung into the fight

grating against the wound

slicing into the light

walking the two worlds

lost in daylight, found in night

taking the clean medicine

gaining vision, losing sight.

There are practical steps to forging this new relationship with pain. These really depend on the individual, but in general it is not an overnight process. Meditative practices, including mindfulness techniques and yoga help many. Exercise and diet/nutrition – as insufficient as that seems in the face of enormous pain – can play a large role in re-negotiating your relationship with Pain. Broadly, relationships, spirituality, talking, creating, music, nature and stillness are all ways to explore this different way of relating to Pain.

I wish you well on your journey. For more information on renegotiating your relationship with Pain, contact me by clicking here.

Bipolar Lifestyle Support

“… despite how bipolar disorder may leave one feeling, there is realistic and attainable hope for balance, positivity, health and meaningful living.”

Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with bipolar disorder? Struggling with uncontrollable mood fluctuations, unpredictable energy levels and unpleasant medication side effects? Treatment options failing you?

Bipolar is a complex disorder. The medical model offers some assistance with various medications, but it often falls short of providing lasting relief. In order to survive and thrive in daily life, it is essential that a treatment is integrative and holistic, taking the entire person and their unique story, symptoms, strengths, needs and desires into account.

I help people establish and maintain healthy, positive lifestyles, manage symptoms and concerns as well as facilitate a deeper knowledge of the Self. ‘Lifestyle’ factors are far more important than they are often given credit for. Diet, exercise, sleep, mindset, daily structure and relationships are some examples of lifestyle factors that influence the progression of the disorder and maintenance of wellness.

Practical and experienced, empathic assistance is greatly beneficial for establishing and helping maintain positive lifestyle factors, managing symptoms and medical/non-medical treatment options, providing accountability, reality-checking and validation.

Along with receiving practical advice and lifestyle assistance (where necessary), my clients embark on a process of deeper engagement with the Self, wherein we utilise verbal dialogue and creative, symbolic work. It is a process of meaning-making. Together, we will trace your self-story (sometimes called a personal mythology), which is a meaningful, individualised life-narrative based on your particular experiences, beliefs, personal symbols and meaning-making process . We map this purposeful, unique and continuous self-story onto your current experiences and defining beliefs, as well as connecting the story with larger, archetypal (or universal) psychological and spiritual patterns. This provides us with a mythological or spiritual heritage, so to speak.

Essentially, this process elevates the struggle (depression, mania, psychosis, broken relationships, internal battles, self-harm, addiction, shame, intrusive thoughts etc.) and affirms the Self and it’s various, oft-unrecognised accomplishments.

You can discover meaning, transformation and different perspectives, behaviour change and a sense of your connectedness to a larger pattern or story. You can rediscover ownership of your experiences, your life narrative and the direction you choose to go. You can find hope and confidence for facing the future, or even the present.

Any teens or adults can engage in this process, no matter the current mood state.

Bipolar disorder is associated with a relatively high prevalence of suicide and should be taken very seriously. Besides the risk of suicide, the impact that various mood states can have on an individual’s relationships, commitments and self-worth may also be devastating. However, in spite of, or perhaps because of extreme mood states, individual’s have an unusually great opportunity for self-mastery, connection, creativity, awareness and self-knowledge, which in turn radiate outward in relationships and affect the world in positive ripples.

The message is this: despite how bipolar disorder may leave one feeling, there is realistic and attainable hope for balance, positivity, health and meaningful living. Accessing this knowledge is admittedly extremely difficult at times and experienced, empathic support can be invaluable to gaining greater traction on one’s life or maintaining wellness.

For more information on Bipolar Support, please click here.

~ Melissa McWalter Ellse, HPCSA registered arts therapist (AT 0001350)