Wraparound Blog

Beyond Psychotherapy and Medication: Wellness, Wellbeing and Fun Interventions

April 20, 2023 | Janet Walker

A new research review from Pathways RTC has information with important implications and reminders for young people, families and providers involved in Wraparound. The review is entitled Beyond Psychotherapy and Medication: Wellness, Wellbeing and Fun Interventions Should be Part of Robust Systems of Care for Youth and Young Adults.

The title captures the general argument of the review, which covers key portions of the vast research literature that demonstrates positive impacts on mental health from interventions that directly promote wellness, wellbeing and fun. The review highlights findings showing mental health impacts among young people experiencing anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions. These interventions run the gamut from aerobic exercise, resistance training, dance, hiking and surfing; to yoga, meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing and participation in music and the arts. There is also promising evidence from a systematic review of “behavioral activation” interventions, which promote participation in pleasurable activities generally.

Some of the studies covered in the review included qualitative findings showing that youth and young adults had strong preferences for these kinds of interventions as compared with traditional mental health therapies or medication.

Just to be clear, these activities are not add-ons to more traditional mental health interventions, they are mental health interventions. In many cases, these interventions had similar or even greater positive effects than mental health treatments like psychotherapy and medication. What is more, these are interventions that can be delivered by “lay” providers or peers, which is an advantage given the current acute shortage of mental health providers.

When implemented well, Wraparound provides a mandate and the resources to support youth and family participation in community-based recreational and social activity. And yet, as compared to the effort expended on organizing more traditional forms of therapy, only a relatively tiny proportion of a Wraparound team’s time and attention is typically focused on promoting engagement in recreation or the arts, or activities focused on wellness, wellbeing or fun. Plans that do address recreational or social needs often have what appear to be perfunctory, off-the-shelf goals and strategies, like purchasing a family gym membership or providing vouchers for movie tickets.

What if, instead, Wraparound teams devoted more significant amounts of time, effort and creativity to planning for ongoing involvement in community-based activities that young people and families look forward to, and that deliver wellbeing and joy? The principles of Wraparound certainly support this, and it is clear from research that it would contribute meaningfully to more positive outcomes for youth and families.