Holistic therapy is what it sounds like: an approach that treats symptoms in relation to the whole-person wellness of a patient. Once pushed to the margins in the addiction treatment community, holisitc therapy for addiction has–due to its evidenced-based positive results–entered the mainstream world of treatment. Holistic therapy is not a substitute for traditional recovery therapeutics, but rather, holistic therapy augments the counseling, detoxification and other familiar components of the rehabilitation process.
Holistic therapy has many components and can take a variety of forms. Uniting the various facets of holistic therapy is its emphasis on “healing that addresses the whole person-mind, body and spirit-the practice of holistic medicine integrates conventional and alternative therapies to prevent and treat disease and most importantly, promote optimal health” (“Principles of Holistic Medicine,” The Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine).
What this means is that, under a regimen of holistic-therapeutics, a provider does not isolate a single symptom or event, but rather seeks the root of the disease. It sees the disease as an outgrowth of personal dysfunction that cannot be remedied without understanding and treating the underlying issues.
So what forms can holistic therapy take for those in recovery?
First, there is the widely recognized concept of “mindfulness.” Cultivated through the practice of yoga and meditation, mindfulness allows one to observe present experience rather than react to present experience. Studies of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) show that they have a positive effect on neurological reward processing and neurological self regulation. This means lessened cravings and a lower chance of relapse into substance misuse by the patient.
Second, there is nutritional and vitamin therapy. Those entering rehab often do so in a state of malnourishment that results from the altered eating patterns and metabolic processes caused by alcoholism and addiction. This is a severe condition that produces a host of side effects. Nutritional and vitamin therapy restores the body to a well-nourished condition and sets the stage for a successful recovery.
There is also acupuncture therapy: proven to relieve stress and anxiety–both triggers for craving and substance misuse–and recognized by the WHO as an effective supplemental therapy in the recovery process. This ancient Chinese practice is increasingly recognized as a powerful tool in the recovery process. It operates by aligning a patient’s “Qi,” via the manipulation of energy points identified by practitioners, in order to bring the body’s process into healthier rhythms.
Equine therapy is another excellent tool in the holistic kit. As the name implies, this is a form of Animal Assisted Therapy that puts patients in direct contact with horses. Horses are pack animals, which makes them especially attuned to the emotions of the beings around them. This allows the patient to see their own emotions reflected in another being, yet one that is non-judgmental. The patient may then take the attitudes learned in their relationship with the animal and apply it to human relationships. Moreover, patients who find it difficult to open up in group therapy may be more comfortable expressing themselves to their self or therapist in the presence of the horse.
Lastly, art-based therapy is one of the older methods of holistic healing during recovery. Dating back to the 1950s, art therapy serves as a creative outlet for patients in recovery. The importance of this cannot be underestimated: art therapy has been proven to provide an effective outlet for communication, reduce patients’ denial of their conditions and motivate change.
In short, the above holistic treatments are all valuable arrows in the quiver of addiction therapists. These supplemental therapies elevate quality of patient life, improve chances of successful recovery and allow for personal growth.