Holistic Therapies in Treatment
There is debate in the US as to the true efficacy of complementary medicine, but ultimately, the type of treatment a person seeks is a matter of personal choice. There is less of a debate around holistic therapies as they are intended to be supplemental rather than to replace the prevailing medical treatments in any given area, such as addiction treatment.
Types of Holistic Therapy Available in Drug Rehab Centers
While state and local governmental authorities may require a drug rehab center in its jurisdiction to be properly licensed, the rehab center itself sets its programming. Each rehab center has its own treatment philosophy, though there may be a lot of overlap in primary treatment options as most centers aim to offer clients research-based services. Again, holistic therapies are supplemental to the primary treatment services, such as medical detox and various therapies (individual and group). As such, the type of holistic therapies available at any given rehab center may rely on funding as much as the center’s treatment philosophy.
Typically, a person will select a rehab program based on its credentials, reputations, and suite of primary services. But provided all the basics of standard care are offered, a person may consider the type of holistic therapies that are available and opt for a program that offers one that is particularly attractive, such as equine-assisted therapy.
In other instances, a person may select a rehab program without a thought about the holistic therapies available and then find that some are proving instrumental to the recovery process. For instance, a person may be transformed by the power of yoga and maintain the practice after rehab completion, maybe even becoming a yoga instructor one day. Yoga Journal, a well-regarded magazine in the yoga world, has published the inspirational story of five yoga instructors who overcame addiction and credit their yoga practice with being a main contributor to their recovery.
An article published by the The Fix, a drug abuse and recovery informational website, provides helpful information on a host of possible holistic therapies a person in recovery may find at their rehab center. The following is a selection of holistic therapies:
- Animal therapy
- Art therapy
Research supports that meditation has numerous health benefits, including lowering the levels of cortisol in the brain (the stress hormone), improving the immune system, improving mood, and helping the body to detoxify itself. The practice of meditation is known to improve mindfulness, and this potentially has incalculable benefits in the recovery process. This practice has its origins in the East, and it is a staple of Buddhism. When a person practices mindfulness, they have thoughts about thoughts. Many drug addiction treatment therapies, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), use mindfulness techniques to intervene on a person’s thought process. Meditation, like CBT, provides a pathway to mindfulness.
It is particularly helpful for a recovering person to learn how to meditate because mindfulness can interrupt compulsive thoughts. For instance, a person who is in recovery from an alcohol use disorder may experience an alcohol use cue, such as passing a bar. Cravings may rise up and feel quite intense. If a person automatically responded to the cue and craving, alcohol use would most likely follow. But mindfulness can be like a mental pause button. The person can seize control from the impulse to drink and evaluate that urge. For instance, the person might think, “I am not my thoughts. I am thinking about drinking, but I don’t have to drink. I can call my sponsor, go to the gym, or watch my favorite TV show. I have options, I’m not required to drink just because I have the thought to drink.” Thinking about drinking can stop drinking, which is a demonstration of the power of thoughts over actions.
One of the greatest benefits of meditation is its accessibility. A person may first learn meditation techniques in a drug recovery program, but meditation can be practiced in local meditation groups (yoga studios may have group meetings) or one one’s own. A person could even start a meditation group at work or home and invite others. As there are different meditation techniques, a person will be able to see what works best. Like all forms of self-help, the meditation process tends to become more profound and beneficial over time.
Yoga instruction is not only a holistic service, but yoga can be viewed as a way of life. In the East, yoga is not limited to the postures (called asanas) that people perform in the US. Rather, yoga is one practice among several, which help a person to get in touch with a higher power (or the higher self). In fact, yoga is considered a way of preparing the body for meditation. By relaxing and quieting the body, the person is in an optimal state to meditate. In sum, in the East, yoga is not about fitness or exercise; it’s part of a larger program designed to help practitioners live a healthy and well-balanced life.
Irrespective of how a person thinks about yoga, the practice of yoga has several health benefits. Yoga has been shown to:
- Increase brain functioning
- Relieve stress and anxiety
- Improve circulations
- Lower blood pressure
- Decrease the risk a person will experience heart disease
- Improve the functioning of the lungs
- Help with weight loss and weight maintenance
- Improve working memory
A person may start and develop a yoga practice while in a drug rehab program but can continue it for a lifetime. Today, yoga studios abound. Even public libraries sometimes offer weekly classes. One of the benefits of yoga being so popular today is that it is widely available. After graduation from a drug rehab, a person may continue their yoga practice in a local studio, community venue, or even at home. There are numerous free or low-cost yoga programs. For example, yoga instructors post many free instructional videos online, asking for nothing in return, though it’s helpful for a regular user to subscribe to the instructor’s channel. The point is, anyone who has a desire to practice yoga will find instruction is readily available. Further, seasoned practitioners and yoga instructors often don’t need continual guidance. They have internalized different yoga routines and can do them from memory.
Acupuncture has been proven to relieve some symptoms of addiction, pain in different areas of the body, anxiety, depression, and a host of additional mental health disorders and physical ailments. As Medical News Today notes, the following are some of the key health benefits associated with acupuncture:
- It is a safe process.
- The benefits outweigh the risks as there are few side effects after treatment.
- When used in combination with standard medical treatment, it is very effective.
- Acupuncture can effectively control different types of pain.
- When a patient does not respond to a medication, acupuncture may be helpful.
- Acupuncture can be a helpful alternative for individuals who want treatment that does involve medications.
Zeroing in on addiction treatment, there are different acupuncture models available. One example is the Acu-Detox method, also known as the National Detoxification Association (NADA) protocol. In the 1970s, acupuncturist Michael Smith (affiliated with Lincoln Hospital in New York) created a five-point protocol that targeted nerves in the ear. This acupuncture treatment has been proven to reduce cravings during opioid withdrawal. While acupuncturists may be trained in different protocols, the protocols that are used in a rehab center will depend on the director and staff members’ expertise, experience, and treatment philosophy. In other words, if a specific treatment is not available, it may not be a statement about the treatment’s effectiveness as much as a reflection of what the rehab center can and cannot provide to clients for practical reasons.
In addition to research on specific acupuncture protocols, studies also show that acupuncture, as a general treatment, has health benefits. For instance, one large study called for more research on the benefits of acupuncture in the addiction treatment context after acupuncture treatments were shown to confer a therapeutic benefit for alcohol dependence, during detoxification, and in the treatment of cocaine, heroin, and tobacco abuse. Anecdotal evidence of the merits of acupuncture abounds.
Research shows that humans don’t just like taking care of pets, but that doing so may reflect an earlier time in our development history. Just as people do well as collaborators for survival, helping and bonding with animals may have helped the species survive, prosper, and grow. That tingly, happy feeling a person gets from feeding an animal may reflect part of the human neurobiological structure; it can feel rewarding to help an animal because doing so triggers activity in the brain’s reward system.
Studies support that spending time with animals, within the drug rehab and other contexts, can reduce pain, lower stress levels, decrease anxiety and depression, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and improve self-esteem. In addition, interacting with an animal can help a person build trust and improve communicative abilities. These improved skills can then be transferred to human relationships. It may not be immediately obvious to people (unless they have a history of caring for a pet) but animals can make wonderful teachers. One reason is that animals do not have the cognitive capacity to adapt to humans; they obviously can’t talk, but they do communicate. In order to understand an animal, the human has to listen (other than with ears) and adapt. These skills are similar to those that go into being a good listener and caregiver in human relationships.
A form of activity-based therapy, art therapy is expansive and can include art, music, and other expressive mediums. If a person has not yet developed the communicative tools to express a thought or emotion, art therapy can draw that internal experience out into the safe and compassionate context of drug rehab. Art therapy has been show to improve confidence, self-esteem, and self-appreciation. Studies show that art therapy may be able to decrease the relapse rate for different psychiatric disorders that have symptoms such as anger, stress, anxiety, and depression (within and outside of the drug rehab treatment context). It is no surprise that art therapy is a staple of many rehab programs that take a holistic approach to helping people recover from drug abuse.
Speaking broadly, holistic therapy seeks to treat the entire person, not just symptoms or disease (although these types of treatments can help to relieve specific symptoms, such as anxiety associated with drug withdrawal). In the West, medicine focuses on treating disease, so it’s a reactive form of treatment. Holistic therapy can also be reactive, but at its core, it seeks to help people prevent the onset of illness by guiding a person on how to have a healthy and balanced life. The therapies discussed above are only a sample of the available holistic treatments. If addiction has the effect of separating a person’s body from the mind and spirt, holistic treatments can be seen as restoring the interrelationship between body, spirit, and mind.