Holistic refers to a “whole person” approach to health care interventions—a simultaneous focus on the mind and body for complete healing. Many treatment centers see holistic approaches as an opportunity for patients to better attend to both their psychological and physical needs. With holistic approaches such as yoga, meditation, massage therapy, and acupuncture, patients may see improvements not only in their rehabilitation but also in other parts of their daily life.
In general, rehab programs that incorporate holistic techniques carefully consider an integrated physical, mental, and spiritual model to build out a comprehensive treatment regimen for substance use disorders. Several of these techniques are also categorized as alternative or complementary treatments, some of which are based on practices that derive from cultural traditions. Examples of these include:
These are just some of the wide range of treatments described as holistic. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, about 4 out of 10 adults in the United States use some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), and the trend seems to be expanding. A key feature that runs throughout many of these techniques is that they are intended, at the root, to treat the whole person and improve overall well-being rather than target a single element of an individual’s symptoms or behaviors. With this in mind, a holistic approach to addiction treatment should ideally aim to not only curtail isolated addictive behaviors, but to adequately address a broad set of factors that play a role in the development of the addiction to begin with.
In some cases, holistic approaches are used to augment certain aspects of more standard recovery efforts. In doing so, these approaches may help with:
Some techniques, such as Reiki, aim to correct a theoretical energetic imbalance through body-energy manipulation.
Adherents of CAM practices advocate that they can improve chances of lasting recovery from substance use disorders. However, it is generally recommended that holistic therapies be used in combination with standard treatment efforts, and not as a replacement for more traditional, evidence-based approaches.
Those who are looking into holistic treatment programs may find it difficult to find research backing the efficacy of such treatments. Not a lot of research has been done on various holistic therapies, and the research that does exist is often inconclusive. For this reason, the effectiveness of the techniques in supporting lasting recovery from addiction is still largely unknown, and it is sometimes hotly argued.
In some cases, holistic treatments could attract people who might otherwise not be interested in conventional treatments, make them more comfortable with entering treatment, and may make them more willing to try other, research-based treatments that provide a greater likelihood of long-term recovery. In addition, the use of these therapies can help people feel more at ease, more productive in their treatment response, and generally better able to cope with the challenges of detox and rehab. For these reasons, holistic practices can be a positive complement to the more evidence-based modalities.
Most experts agree that conventional, research-based detox and treatment for addiction, provided through a residential program, is more likely to support an individual in maintaining recovery. The holistic label may indicate a wide range of complementary or alternative treatment offerings. When considering various rehabilitation centers, people may need to do some research into what each specific location advertises as holistic offerings. They may need to ask about the therapies offered, the training of the people providing the therapies, and the cost of care, for example.
Though many CAM treatments lack an evidence-base when it comes to their efficacy in addiction treatment, there is evidence that satisfaction with treatment is related to treatment retention and treatment completion measures, both of which may equate with more favorable treatment outcomes. It is reasonable to assume that certain holistic therapies, such as yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and massage, as used to augment more traditional addiction treatment therapies, like individual counseling, behavioral therapies, and medical detox, can add to such treatment satisfaction, in some instances.