Treatment for alcohol or substance abuse focusing entirely on addiction doesn’t include the whole person. A holistic approach to addiction treatment—including mind, body, and soul—is gaining popularity. The standard care for addiction therapy combined with a comprehensive approach addresses addictions, the behaviors of the addict, and biological findings. Research shows that standard care combined with holistic modes of therapy can be very effective as it includes strategies focused on the mind, body, and spirit.
Dictionary.com defines holistic as “the idea that the whole is more than merely the sum of its parts, in theory, or practice.” Therefore, holistic treatment is the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just symptoms of the disease. Holistic treatment is effective because alcohol or substance addiction doesn’t exist as a lone part of our personality.
Our experiences and genes form our ability to respond to treatment. By integrating various types of therapy, alcohol and substance addiction can be addressed as a symptom of our whole being. Different holistic activities include yoga, meditation, massage therapy, and equine therapy. Let’s look at each of these therapies individually to understand better how they affect treatment.
Yoga began in India centuries ago. It combines breath and body movement creating awareness of how the body and breath work together to strengthen the body and focus the mind. As a person flows through various poses and stretches, the body is relieved of pain, tightness, and discomfort. Releasing these feelings helps the practitioner release feelings of sadness, stress, depression, and anxiety.
The release of emotions is essential because it helps shift attention away from stress-related situations, depression, and anxiety. Alcohol and substances mask these feelings and create a cycle of denial, pain, guilt, and shame. Yoga helps ground people while they let go of negative feelings.
Researchers have found that yoga regulates the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol and adrenaline are the way bodies respond to feelings of stress. The regulation of these hormones decreases perceived feelings of pressure resulting in lower stress. A decrease in stress lessens the need to self-medicate by drinking or using substances. Yoga increases a sense of calmness and positivity.
The popularity of meditation is increasing. Meditation, like yoga, involves the practice of “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by being aware of the present while calmly processing and accepting thoughts, emotions, and body. The process of meditation encourages a person to turn off their thoughts and focus their attention on their body. Meditation requires a person to seek answers inside of their mind and body. There is a need to loosen the grip used to control or hide feelings.
The act of meditation is difficult at first because it requires the mind to stop thinking and start relaxing. During a guided meditation, the instructor will begin by asking her/his students to get comfortable. Becoming comfortable includes lying down, seated, or resting in a relaxing position. The instructor then guides students through different steps including:
- Slowing down the breath
- Closing eyes
- Releasing feelings of stress, sadness, guilt, anxiety, and depression
- Focusing on the breath
- Thinking of something that the student wants to work on
- Envisioning how to make changes in their lives
Identifying places of tension
Meditation teaches a person to slow down, recognize their feelings, and let go of what troubles them. According to a Harvard study, meditation improves brain health. The study results show how roughly 30 minutes of meditation every day provides numerous benefits for your brain. A few of the benefits are: increased memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. Focusing on slowing down is essential for those in early recovery, as their brains are often healing from drugs and alcohol.
Researchers from the 1950s discovered Art therapy, especially in early recovery, has many therapeutic benefits. The US News and World Report discusses the power of arts in health and healing and lists some of the benefits of Art therapy. These include:
- Reducing denial and opposition to treatment
- Providing a healthy outlet for communication and expression of one’s feelings
- Decreasing stigma-related shame
- Motivating positive behavioral change
- Facilitating group discussions and relational connections
The benefits of Art therapy provide a creative release. Art doesn’t need to be perfect; art is a way to express feelings, including those buried deep inside.
Massage therapy is another form of treatment that is currently gaining popularity. People crave the feeling of being touched. Many addicts shy away from being touched or isolate themselves from others, leaving them with no one to hug or touch them. Positive care shown through touch increases feeling good about yourself and happiness.
Touch stimulates the release of serotonin and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters that regulate positive moods. Massage therapy does the same thing. Being massaged by a therapist soothes your mind allowing the feeling of relaxation to take over and releasing stress from the body. In early recovery, the body is withdrawing from alcohol or drugs; massages ease the physical pain a person may feel as a result of the withdrawal process.
Patients who are able to access equine therapy learn to take the time with the horse to “get out of their heads.” Horses can sense the emotions of humans and respond to those emotions by mirroring them. Patients are then able to access hidden or dormant emotions. Reconnecting with unexpressed feelings help patients heal.
Holistic treatment, which addresses the mind, body, and soul, is beneficial to treatment and recovery. Integrating various therapies to address past experiences, buried emotions, and latent thoughts help round out therapy. While in therapy, a counselor or therapist can use what is learned through holistic therapy sessions to build a better understanding of triggers, emotions, and strengths. Comprehensive treatment is an important part of healing and creating a strong foundation for the future. Often, holistic therapies are offered on an individual basis in order to recognize, acknowledge, and process painful feelings. Another benefit of individual sessions is the ability to find the type of therapy that fits your needs. You may find one type of therapy feels better and/or respond more positively to therapy in a safe, private setting versus a group setting. The option to receive private care is offered at Achieve Medical Center. Achieve Medical Center’s website and helpline provide answers to your questions. Contact Achieve Medical Center today at (858) 221-0344.