Holistic therapy is a therapeutic modality based on a therapist viewing a client as a whole person in body, mind, and spirit. This is opposed to cognitive therapies that focus primarily on altering a client's cognition, or way of thinking. Instead of viewing mental health as solely mental, holistic therapy sees the person as one integrated being.
It has been proven that holistic therapy and other forms of body-based therapy produce better results when combined with a cognitive modality, and that cognitive modalities produce better results when combined with body-based therapies.
What is holistic therapy?
Holistic therapy is a widely used therapeutic modality used to treat a number of emotional and psychological issues, including substance abuse.
Holistic therapy explores a client's issues from a framework of a "whole person" model. Many therapies focus on left brain strategies that emphasize thought, and can tend to ignore the body. Holistic therapies help bring a person into their right brain, where healing can take place on a somatic, or body, level.
A few commonly recognized holistic therapies are: yoga, acupuncture, massage therapy, Rolfing and meditation. Therapies like this are still considered "alternative" in certain communities, but are becoming more widely accepted as valid therapeutic techniques all over the globe.
What does holistic therapy treat?
- Drug and alcohol addiction
- Substance abuse
- Behavioral addictions like eating disorders, sex addiction, and gambling addiction
- Mental health disorders like depression and anxiety
- Emotional and psychological issues like anger, sexual and relationship problems
- Chronic pain
- Sleep issues
- Abuse and trauma, including sexual trauma
- Somatic (body) complaints
How does holistic therapy work?
It is estimated that 25-75% of people who suffer from drug and alcohol addictions have survived some kind of abuse and/or violent trauma. Recovery is easier, smoother, and has a better chance of lasting when someone is able to address the root cause of the addiction (the trauma).
According to holistic therapy, the body is a storehouse for emotions, many of which occur and get trapped when trauma happens. When a person experiences trauma, they often hold onto an emotion associated with it (such as pain, fear, rage, overwhelm, or helplessness). Sometimes they don't even recognize they are holding onto anything. Holistic therapy holds that when emotions are stuffed down or unexpressed, they become trapped. The body then stores this trauma and unresolved emotion, which often results in both physical and emotional pain.
As some form of bodywork is done with holistic therapy, these areas of physical and emotional tension are focused on or brought to attention. The purpose is for clients to be able to release the tension or reintegrate trapped emotions into a whole sense of self.
For example, yoga is a popular holistic therapy utilized in recovery from substance abuse. If a client were performing a hip-opening or heart-opening pose in yoga, they could experience a rush of emotions. While in this pose, previously locked up sadness or grief could well up and come to the surface. At this point, a client could cry, which would be considered a release of this emotional tension. Yoga is also used assist people in becoming more present to the moment and their own bodies and feelings, which substance addiction can often numb or disconnect people from.
In holistic therapy, it's not always important for the client to be able to talk about what's happening, but simply to experience the emotion fully, expressing and releasing it. The more old emotions are processed, the freer it leaves the client to live in the present and not repeat unwanted patterns like drug and alcohol addiction.
What is a session like?
Because there are many forms of holistic therapy, sessions range depending on the modality. In general, a session lasts for about an hour and involves some form of bodywork, whether by the client (as in yoga) or from the practitioner (such as in massage therapy).
Holistic therapy is less about mind intervention and more about connection to the body, or bridging the gap between the mind and body. In holistic therapy the mind and body are not considered separate from each other, but seen as entities that work together directly to achieve full body healing and health.
Used in conjunction with a cognitive form of therapy, holistic therapy has been found to add immense value and can often speed up healing time.
What are the advantages of holistic therapy?
When physical body tension is brought up and released, emotions often follow. When appropriate, a holistic therapist can then help the client explore such emotions, holding through with them instead of suppressing them. When the client can face emotion and experience it, it can then be cleared and reintegrated into a person's healthy sense of self.
A vital part of recovery is learning to taking care of oneself and learning to manage stress and emotions. Holistic therapy teaches clients that treating themselves as a whole being has a greater healing effect on each of their parts, and that there's nothing wrong with emotion. Holistic tools and practices help clients to improve the connection to their own bodies and the present moment, which has a direct result in allowing clients to relax and let go of fears.
In holistic therapy, the goal is less about changing or altering the self as it is for present moment awareness and acceptance. When a person understands themselves as a whole, it leads to greater self-awareness, self-esteem, and acceptance of both themself and others. And when clients feel good about themselves, they not only feel more hopeful, but they're inspired toward positive feelings and self-love, which often prompts positive change, such as leaving substance abuse behind, firmly in the past.