My patients said floating in a sensory deprivation tank was healing. So I tried it.

In mental health care, it's not uncommon for patients to pursue complementary therapies to manage mental illness. As a psychiatrist, I've seen patients who take dozens of daily vitamin supplements. Some try acupuncture or massage. Others swear by light therapy or Reiki.

But there was one therapy that caught my attention after a few patients brought it up: floating.

Floating — more formally known as flotation restricted environmental stimulation therapy — involves a person lying down in a "sensory deprivation tank." The tanks are usually closed containers that block out light or sounds. Many floaters wear nothing other than earplugs. The water is skin-temperature and filled with Epsom salts so you float at the surface.

During my medical training, I learned how sensory deprivation can be harmful to patients. In the hospital, patients can fall apart from a psychiatric standpoint when left in seclusion . For inmates in correctional settings, solitary confinement can cause profound mental health issues, including hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. So I was intrigued to hear that some patients were using sensory deprivation as a way to heal.

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