What is Holistic Therapy & Holistic Addiction Treatment?

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What is a Holistic Recovery Center?

Addiction affects every aspect of a person, from emotions to cognitive abilities to organ functions.


But more often than not, the physical side of addiction takes center stage in traditional treatment. You get asked questions like, “How much are you drinking a day?” or “What are your withdrawal symptoms?” While these are important questions, they alone will not help someone recover fully. 


At a holistic recovery center, the focus is on healing the whole person. This healing is typically broken down into three categories: mental, physical, and spiritual. 


By taking this holistic approach, a person is no longer just their addiction or their symptoms. Now, their passions, their emotions, and their beliefs are all included in their healing process.


This broader scope offers a person more opportunities to find a healthy coping mechanism that works for them – whether it be yoga, acupuncture, adventure therapy, balanced nutrition, or a combination of all of them.

What is holistic therapy? soul, body, mind

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Why Choose Holistic Recovery?

A personalized approach to creating balance in your life 


Look at how many things we do in our life to create a healthy lifestyle. There are the obvious ones, like eating right and exercising. 


But what about the ones you may not consider “healthy”? How do you feel after having dinner with an old friend? Or after finishing a project in your backyard? Or even after watching a new episode of your favorite show?


Connection, fulfillment, hobbies – all of these are vital in having a balanced life.  


Balance is what a holistic recovery center helps their clients achieve. And “balance” looks different for different folks.


  • For Jane, it can mean introducing daily painting sessions when she would normally sit home alone drinking.
  • For Henry, it can mean taking nutrient supplements and getting fully detoxed from the opioids he originally started taking for back pain.
  • For Sophie, it can mean getting regular acupuncture treatments to help with her anxiety.


The great part about holistic care is that it’s personalized to you and your body. You get to decide what’s going to be most healing for you. 


A more natural approach


You’ll also note how most of the holistic services are natural – holistic care often strives to create change through non-invasive means. 


Though many holistic recovery centers do provide medical care, some centers may be more keen on recommending nutritional supplements and physical therapies rather than prescribe a client more medications. 

Are All Holistic Recovery Centers the Same?

While one holistic recovery center can offer similar services to another, the amount of holistic options can differ drastically. 


Some centers truly offer a combination of physical, emotional and mental, and spiritual activities.


Others may only offer one or two holistic services, like massage and acupuncture. They then fill out the rest of one’s treatment with more “traditional” treatment, like 12 Step meetings.


When looking into treatment, we recommend making a list of the most important aspects you’re looking for in treatment. Below are a few to work off of:


  • Do they have a registered dietician on staff?
  • Do they offer experiential therapies to help you get to the underlying reasons behind your addiction?
  • How many yoga sessions are offered per week?
  • Do they have therapists who specialize in helping you resolve trauma in a nonjudgmental way? 


By keeping these points in mind, you’ll be able to find the right treatment for you.

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The Three Sides of Holistic Addiction Treatment

1) Mind-focused holistic services

Let’s first focus on the crux of any addiction: one’s mind. 


The mind, of course, includes any mental and emotional issues that are driving the addiction. From trauma to mental health disorders, this area of healing is perhaps the most difficult to define due to the number of possibilities.


A holistic recovery center can be known to offer alternative kinds of therapy in addition to the standard cognitive behavioral therapy model. 


Below are a few holistic services you can use to work on those deeply-seeded mental and emotional issues. 

Holistic health - the mind

Emotional Intelligence Tools

Emotional intelligence is a game changer when it comes to resolving addictive behaviors. 


Most people do not know that our feelings are one of the highest forms of intelligence we possess when it comes to mental health.


Too many of us have been conditioned to repress our emotions. Growing up we hear things like “Don’t be such a cry baby” or “Don’t you use that tone of voice with me”. 


So we change our emotional expression to make other people more comfortable around us. We stuff our feelings, or end up believing that they’re bad. (Or even worse, that WE are bad for feeling them.)


When we learn the skills of emotional intelligence, we come to understand that feelings are neither good nor bad. Feelings are an early warning system that something is off somewhere. They act like a smoke detector, alerting us that there is a fire we need to attend to. Perhaps we’re angry because some boundary is being violated. Or we’re sad because our hearts are closed down.


As we get more skilled with tracking our feelings, they can alert us to problems with our own thinking and beliefs. Anxiety might mean we’re feeling unsafe because there’s danger in the environment. Or it might mean that we’re being attacked by our own thoughts.


Instead of trying to suppress that anxiety with substances, we can explore where it comes from. We might discover a loop of negative self-judgments that we can gently pull apart, feel and release.

Equine therapy for holistic therapy

Equine Therapy

As any pet owner will tell you, animals can have a wonderful effect on our mental health. 


While there are various kind of animal therapies available, equine therapy has gained popularity due to the unique advantages that come from working with a horse:


A sense of responsibility

You tend to forget how big a really horse is until you stand next to it. Weighing up to 2,000 pounds, time spent with a horse isn’t something you can take lightly. This offers a sense of responsibility, and often fulfillment, after a person has completed a session of equine therapy.


Impulse control

When trotting along on top of this creature, you can’t afford to get distracted and yank the reins one way (unless you want a mouthful of dirt). Because of this, you’re learning to better focus and control your impulses.



How many of us lost trust in ourselves a long time ago? After we promised ourselves we wouldn’t drink or use again… but did. 


This trust isn’t something we can easily get back. But when you’re working with a horse, you find yourself in a position where you have to trust yourself. If you second guess yourself, you might go the wrong way or scare the horse. You gradually lean back into that trust, which you can continue to develop after your equine therapy is done.

Experiential Therapy

Experiential therapy is more of a category than a kind of therapy itself. 


Essentially, experiential therapy involves hands-on forms of learning about yourself and how you can cope with various situations in a healthy way. 


In adventure therapy, for example, the participants often take on a challenging activity that is outside their comfort zone. This can include anything from a hike, to a rope’s course, or even surfing. While engaged in these real-life activities, you have to regulate any anxiety you may be feeling and move forward. (Mental health professionals are there to assist with this.)


Art or music therapy, on the other hand, allows someone to use creativity to explore their emotions or preconceived ideas. 


Experiential Engagement Therapy (EET) uses practical tools to navigate real-life situations. It follows the principles of the old adage, “You can’t learn how to ride a bike without getting on it.” By getting “out of” your head, you can begin to develop healthy coping mechanisms. 

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85% of our worried thoughts never come true

Mindful Inquiry Skills

Most of us don’t realize that our minds are usually on auto-pilot. There’s a stream-of-consciousness narration that just… happens. We listen to it, but rarely direct it.


Our thoughts lead us into all kinds of trouble. Byron Katie says, “I love my thoughts, but I’m never tempted to believe them”. This is good advice because 85% of our worried thoughts never come true. That is a lot of wasted energy and suffering.  


Learning the skills of Mindful Inquiry snaps you out of the monologue. You learn how to challenge each thought, ask if it’s really true, and update your beliefs.


Why is this important? Most thinking isn’t even OURS. It’s mostly random bits and pieces picked up from other people, conversations, media, ads, or beliefs we repeat until they seem true. 


Unfortunately, we tend to remember negative thoughts longer than positive thoughts. So our inner monologue is often self-defeating and shame-based. This produces an enormous amount of distress in the body. 


And then we try to manage that distress and self-sabotage by drinking or using drugs.


When we practice the skills of mindful inquiry, we learn how to rewrite that negative programming, change our core beliefs, and feel genuinely free.

2) Body-focused holistic services

A holistic recovery center understands that another hurdle to overcome is physically-based. For someone who has become physically dependent on a drug, it’s not comfortable to stop taking it (hence why it’s so hard to stop on our own). 


But holistic programs offer many more ways to deal with the physical effects of addiction than traditional rehabs do.


Below are a few of the many body-centered services offered at holistic centers.

Holistic health - the body

woman getting acupuncture

Acupuncture & Acupressure

While the sheer mention of “needles” is enough to scare some away, acupuncture’s benefits can far outweigh any pinch you feel (though you often can’t feel the needles at all.)


Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine, and traditional Chinese practitioners believe acupuncture helps balance the life force (chi) that flows through all of us. 


Western medicine also agrees that acupuncture can do wonders, but they believe it has more to do with choosing pressure points that stimulate nerves and muscles


How Does Acupuncture Help with Recovery?

Acupuncture can reduce cravings, withdrawal symptoms, physical pain, and anxiety and stress. Many people have called it a miracle treatment for helping them regulate their sleep. 


Acupuncture is also a fairly easy treatment. You don’t have to take any medicine or pump drugs into your body. There aren’t any annoying side-effects. You go into the acupuncturist’s office for a 30 minute or hour appointment, and you’re done!


And it’s not just holistic recovery centers administering acupuncture. There are 250 hospitals in the U.S. and U.K. that practice acupuncture on their patients. 


*If you really don’t like needles, practitioners can often offer a similar treatment that uses physical pressure rather than needles. 


Sounds very scientific, right? Essentially, biofeedback helps you learn how to better control some of your body’s functions. 


You do this by connecting electrodes to your skin. The electrodes are able to measure a variety of health markers, including your heart rate, breathing rate, how much you’re sweating, and your temperature (which often drops when you’re stressed.)


With a monitor in front of you giving you real-time data, you can now see how your body is physically responding to a number of scenarios. By seeing when you’re anxious, for example, you can work on different stress relief techniques to see which one works the best for you.

Nutritional food for holistic health

Nutritional Therapy

Balanced, healthy meals have become an increasingly important component of addiction treatment. 


When you’ve been struggling with addiction for several years, there are some common vitamins and nutrients that you are likely low in (people who have an alcohol addiction, for example, often have folic acid, vitamin B6, and thiamine deficiencies.)


Holistic treatment can address this issue and provide an appropriate nutritional response. This can range from a balanced meal plan to getting your blood tested and having a dietician recommend specific supplements. 


Actually, the level of nutritional therapy overall really depends on the program. Some centers will have private chefs prepare customized meals. Others may offer more of a buffet-like style. 


If you do have any special dietary needs, make sure to ask about this before choosing a program. Sure, the center may have gluten-free options, but what are they? Are you going to be stuck eating rice and soup for your 30-day stay? 


*Nutrition and Eating Disorders

Nutrition can be a tricky topic to tackle with someone who is struggling with an eating disorder or food addiction. (Unlike most drugs, you can’t just abstain from eating food.)


For these people, a holistic treatment approach is perhaps even more important. In many holistic centers, they already have a dietician on staff, who can assist with the delicate food planning process. 


Since these centers are also already taking a holistic approach to recovery, they will be equipped to help you look at the underlying reasons for your relationship with food. 


Reiki is a type of energy healing. Much like acupuncture, reiki began in Japan as a way to help remove any energy blocks in one’s body and help reinstill the natural flow of energy.  


While the science behind reiki is hard to prove, there are millions of devoted followers throughout the world. One recurring benefit that many people speak to is the absolute relaxation that comes from a reiki session. 


Other studies have found that reiki can also help release pain, anxiety, and be effective in helping to reduce fatigue. 


If you’re curious what a reiki session is like, imagine when you get a massage. The environment is very similar – calm music is playing while you lie down on a table. However, with reiki, the practitioner will slowly move their hands over you (sometimes lightly touching you). All the while they’re treating any problem areas you mentioned. 

3) Spirituality-focused holistic services

Spirituality can be a tough subject in today’s world. For some, it’s an integral part of their recovery. For others, it’s not even considered. 


When speaking of spirituality, we don’t mean religion. In fact, we want you to name it whatever feels right to you. Maybe it’s your soul. Or your essence. 


The name doesn’t matter so much as what this mindset is trying to achieve: a sense of peace and calm. There are a few different ways to incorporate this idea into a holistic recovery program. 

Holistic therapy - the soul element

Conscious Breathing Techniques

Researchers have found that when a person is triggered into a fight-or-flight response, their cognitive ability goes out the window. Literally, the brain shuts off the neocortex (where our rational thinking occurs). What lights up are our primal survival centers. All attention goes to eliminating the danger.


And what eliminates that stress and anxiety faster than our drug of choice? 


Well, surprisingly, conscious breathing techniques are actually quicker than that!


Polyvagal theory shows that it’s possible to change our emotional state, and the biochemicals that create it, by changing the rhythm and speed of our breathing.


Immediate relief can kick in with three deep breaths, and we can shift our sympathetic nervous system out of panic within a few minutes. To get this kind of impact, you may need to learn new styles of breathing. And of course, practice them until they come naturally.


Conscious breathing techniques have a second major benefit. Yes, they work after the brain has kicked into fight/flight. But they can also work BEFORE that.


Most people do not understand the root cause of their urge to use.


Conscious breathing helps us slow down the speed of our thinking. We can then observe our thoughts, and learn to identify when we’re starting to slide off the rails. What’s the first thought in that chain reaction? By breathing slowly and consciously, we can catch it. When there’s breathing space between our thoughts and reactions, we’re no longer a victim of our habits. We can literally choose a different thought.


With conscious breathing, we can rise above the typical conditioned and programmed mindset that so easily leads to substance abuse.

Holistic therapy element - yoga


Yoga’s popularity has exploded in the past few decades, for good reason. While it boasts many physical benefits (like increased flexibility and strength), many “yogis” speak more to the deep relaxation and oftentimes spiritual experiences they have while practicing yoga. 


When you go into a yoga session with a spiritual intention, your primary goal is to attain a sense of peace and clarity of your mind. Any movement (or trying to perfect your pose) comes second to this. 


By practicing with this spiritual outlook in mind, you open the doors to realizing your own potential, and how you can share your gifts with the world. 


Specifically for addiction treatment, yoga has been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can help reduce our cravings. Consistent practice has even led to a disruption of neural pathways that may reinforce drug use


One of the biggest fears people with addiction cite is that they can’t change. “I’ve always been this way. How could I change now?”


Meditation can be an effective solution for these people. At its core, meditation is about simply observing one’s thoughts without judgment. When you’re meditating, you’re not actively thinking, “Change! I want to change!” You’re simply becoming more aware of the way you operate. 


By creating this awareness and practicing mindfulness regularly, you can actually change your brain. From creating new neural pathways to your mid-prefrontal cortex becoming thicker, you’re able to create measurable change in how you perceive your own well-being and the possibilities around you. 


Meditation can mean whatever you want it to – while some people want to connect the experience to a higher power, others simply focus on themselves. There’s no right or wrong way to meditate!

two people kayaking

Nature Excursions

Picture your favorite natural scene. Maybe that’s a white sand beach, or a dense evergreen forest, or a babbling stream.


What’s the feeling you have when you’re here? 


Nature has a unique way of calming us on an instinctual level. And there’s science to back this idea up. 


Studies have shown that even seeing greenery can help reduce cravings and increase mental health. Countries like Japan and South Korea have spent millions implementing more green spaces in an effort to support their citizens. 


When a holistic recovery center offers trips to the beach or hikes in the mountains, there’s more of a healing intention behind it than most people realize. 

Is a Holistic Recovery Center For You?

There you have it. You’re now equipped with the knowledge of what you can expect from a holistic recovery center. Hopefully you can feel more confident in choosing your treatment option. 


As you navigate this decision, just remember that so many people never even get to this step of research – so give yourself some credit where it’s deserved.