More and more commonly, holistic therapy is being integrated into addiction treatment services, and for a good reason. Holistic therapy focuses on the connection between mental health and the human body. Since most substance abuse cases stem from, or along with, mental health issues, using holistic therapy treatments in drug and alcohol rehabilitation allows for deeper and more thorough healing.

What is Holistic Therapy?

Holistic therapy embodies the idea of interconnectedness and that a person should be treated as a whole – body, mind, and spirit. In order to address an issue or disorder, you need to find the root of the problem and then find proper balance by healing all areas concurrently. That’s because a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being are all contributing factors to their overall health and wellness.

silhouette of woman standing in a field with sun glowing behind her.

Holistic therapy is a “whole person” approach to health care interventions.

History of Holistic Therapy

The term “holistic” can actually be traced back 2500 years to the time of Hippocrates. Hippocrates believed that a person was made up of many parts that were all connected and in order to treat a person, you couldn’t look at a singular component, but instead needed to look at them as a whole.

Despite this, health care continued to be seen as two separate fields throughout most of the 20th century. Mental issues were treated with talk therapy while physical issues were treated with medicines and surgeries. It wasn’t until the 70s that the two fields began to explore the idea that the two components of a person were connected. In 1975 the first national conference on holistic health took place and sparked a combined engagement from both the medical and psychological fields.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Holistic medicine is the guiding philosophy behind Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). Though the term seems as if it refers to one concept, it actually describes two entirely different approaches to holistic treatment.

Complementary therapies are used along with conventional medicine. While alternative therapies are used in place of conventional medicine. Most times, practitioners or facilities that embody a holistic approach to treatment will use complementary therapy along with conventional medicine.

Categories of Holistic Therapy

One of the most widely used classification structures was created by The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), They group complementary and alternative medicines into 5 general categories:

  • Alternative Medical Systems – these are all-inclusive healing practices that were developed separately from conventional medicine such as homeopathy, naturopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, and Ayurveda (from India.)
  • Mind-Body Interventions – these practices focus on enhancing the mind and thereby improving physical health. They include a variety of forms such as yoga, meditation, biofeedback, and hypnosis.
  • Biologically Based Therapies – these therapies rely on plants, biological materials and specialized diets and include aromatherapy, herbal medicine and dietary supplements.
  • Manipulative and Body-Based Methods – therapies in this category focus on movement and the physical body, such as in massage therapy and chiropractic.
  • Energy Therapies – these therapies stem from the idea that a person’s health can be affected by manipulating the energies that exist within and around them. Reiki and qigong and the most common forms.

How Do Holistic Therapy Treatments Work

Holistic therapy is centered on the idea that an issue in one area will be connected to a root cause in another area and likely also create symptoms in the third area. For example, if you are experiencing physical pain, it could be related to a psychological reason. The psychological issue coupled with the chronic pain could then be causing a negative effect on your morale and overall self. With holistic therapy, you’ll work in all three areas – body, mind, and spirit.

A holistic therapist does not see you as a disorder that needs to be fixed. It is not about simply alleviating the symptoms. Holistic therapists focus on building your self-awareness and confidence. Once you are able to see and accept your situation, you can take charge of your own healing.

Therapies are often experiential in nature, meaning that you are learning through experiences and more specifically, learning by reflecting on those experiences. Holistic therapies are most often used in tandem with conventional therapies and are typically individualized to the person’s specific needs.

Types of Holistic Therapies

Complementary and alternative therapies generally help to address the body-mind-spirit by reducing anxiety and stress, enhancing mood, training you to focus and be present, and building your confidence and self-esteem. There are many different types of holistic treatments including:

  • Neurointegration Therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Chiropractic
  • Exercise
  • Nutritional Therapy
  • Aromatherapy
  • Reflexology
  • Reiki
  • Hypnosis
  • Art Therapy
  • Music Therapy
  • Equine Therapy
  • Animal-assisted Therapy
  • Adventure Therapy
  • Tai Chi
person walking into sand formation on edge of ocean cliff.

Many forms of holistic therapies can be integrated into addiction treatment.

Criticism of Holistic Therapy

Some of these holistic practices have been proven effective through research and studies. However, others do not have enough research yet, or may show similar results between the actual therapy and a placebo. Because of this, there has been some criticism of the field.

Reagrdless, holistic techniques still contribute to the idea of a balanced “whole” and offer tremendous benefits on an individual’s physical and mental health such as positive engagement, building confidence, teaching relaxation techniques and thereby decreasing stress. Combined with traditional medicine and wellness practices, holistic therapy is a beneficial tool that can be integrated into the recovery community.

Proven Forms of Holistic Alternative Therapies

Some of the most common, and proven, forms of holistic therapy include yoga, meditation, and nature therapy. These holistic techniques promote wellness, deeper understanding of self, and reduce certain health conditions.

Yoga

Yoga is similar to meditation in that it involves focus and getting into a quiet headspace. However with yoga, the focus is specifically on your breathing while you move through various poses. There are a variety of styles and intensities of yoga making it a great therapy option for beginner to advanced levels.

Studies have proven mental benefits such as reducing stress and anxiety and enhancing mood. But there are also many physical benefits of yoga such as building strength, flexibility, and improving balance as well as reducing heart rate and blood pressure.

Meditation

The purpose of meditation is to help you focus your attention and allow yourself to be fully present and aware of the here and now. Meditation has been proven to decrease stress and pain, lessen anxiety and help you feel calm. It can also help improve sleep, attention span and regulate emotions.

Some forms of meditation use sounds, words, or phrases to help you focus such as Mantra Meditation. Focus Meditation uses your senses to help you gain focus. Yet other forms use movement to help you focus on the deliberate actions your body is taking. Movement Meditation is particularly useful for those who have trouble sitting still as it can be practiced while doing any form of contemplative, deliberate movement such as nature hiking, stretching, qigong or even gardening.

Nature Therapy

Nature therapy is based on the idea that people are connected to, and impacted by, nature. It is also known as Ecotherapy or Green Therapy. Nature therapy is an umbrella term that covers different types of therapies that typically occur in, you guessed it, nature. These include nature meditation, animal-assisted therapy, horticulture therapy, and adventure therapy.

Nature therapy has been shown to improve mental clarity and decrease stress, anxiety, anger and depression, and even reduce symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD.)

group of people hiking up mountain.

Alternative treatments show many benefits for addiction recovery.

Holistic Therapy in Substance Use Rehabilitation

Holistic therapy in drug rehabilitation makes complete and utter sense. Majority of the time, addiction and substance use disorder stem from underlying unresolved issues. More importantly, most of those suffering from a SUD cannot simply be convinced or forced to overcome their addiction and stay sober. They must want to change and have the right tools to help them do that. This is why so many individuals with a SUD bounce around from one facility to the next. Because the only thing that they’re getting is a band-aid for their boo-boo.

But you may have noticed, holistic therapy is popping up more often at substance use facilities because it is so patient-focused. It is not simply about treating an addiction and then moving on to the next. It’s about seeing a whole person who is struggling, helping them take back control of their lives and become a better version of themselves. It’s about helping that person gain the confidence and strength to persevere when they face obstacles in the future and maintain their sobriety.

Finding a Holistic Rehab That is Right for You

If you’re looking for a holistic treatment center for your drug ior alcohol addiction, you’ll want to consider a couple factors when making your decision:

  • What therapies are offered? Is there a good variety?
  • Are care plans individualized to your needs or is it a “one-size-fits-all” approach?
  • Is the admissions coordinator asking questions about you; do you get the sense that they actually care?

At St. John’s Recovery Place we use a holistic approach to substance abuse recovery. In addition, we recognize that each client comes to us with their own circumstances and needs, and that’s why we offer individualized care plans. Our primary goal is to give you the best possible chances of recovery success. Our sympathetic and attentive staff will be here for you every step of the way and beyond (ask around, we become like a second family!)

Call our office today at 833-397-3422 to find out more about our holistic approaches and discuss specific treatments so that you can get started on your recovery journey!

SOURCES

Bertone, Holly J., CNHP, PMP. Which Type of Meditation is Right for Me? Healthline. October 2, 2020. Retrieved March 25, 2021.

Good Therapy. Holistic Psychotherapy. April 11, 2017. Accessed April 12, 2021.

Good Therapy. Ecotherapy / Nature Therapy. April 11, 2017. Accessed April 13, 2021.

Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on the Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine by the American Public. Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2005. 1, Introduction. Accessed April 12, 2021.

Urban, Lauren. 5 Holistic Therapy Techniques You Should Try Today. The Well by Northwell. Northwell Health. April 3, 2018. Accessed April 12, 2021.

Wong, Cathy. Overview of Holistic Health. Holistic Health. Verywell health. August 25, 2020. Accessed April 12, 2021.

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