Shifting from traditional rehab treatment to holistic – Does it make sense?

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The Holistic Sanctuary Baja California

Healthcare professionals have been debating whether addiction is a chronic disease for decades, while practitioners have been treating addiction as a chronic disease. The treatments have always had the goal to help a patient manage their symptoms, without aiming for true healing at any moment.

Holistic medicine has been slowly, but indeed, gaining the patients’ appreciation, and probably it’s because it aims at (and succeeds in) healing patients. For decades, the numbers speak, and the 12-step program, the no. 1 choice for people with addiction, is slowly losing to holistic treatments. The high rate of relapse, the inability to provide long-lasting results, or to adjust the treatment to every patient’s need or specifics could be the main reasons, and here’s why.

What is the traditional approach to addiction?

According to the  National Institute On Drug Abuse, numerous sorts of treatments for addiction are defined as traditional. Even if these therapies have limitations, patients still choose conventional treatments as they’re the easiest to access and to obtain. 

Healthcare professionals seem to agree, whether they’re on the traditional or holistic side of things, that individual programs are taking over and continuously change. It’s more challenging to define a program as conventional, mainly because so many approaches and terms have been developing. Complementary, alternative, integrative, or holistic approaches to addiction have become more common nowadays, even if traditional methods are part of these non-traditional therapies.

The most important characteristic of traditional addiction treatment comes from detox, which is medical detox. Patients can do it at home, on their own (if they can handle the adverse symptoms), or enroll in a rehab center. A team of trained healthcare professionals (typically, not enough staff for every patient, as the ratio staff-to-patient is relatively low in traditional treatment centers) will supervise and manage the withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal symptoms can be severe, which is why many patients avoid the treatment. Medical detox can also lead to addiction – some of the medication used is addictive, so patients switch from one addiction to another. This is all part of the traditional treatment that conventional rehab programs don’t talk about. 

Once the medical detox is over, the client may decide on the program to follow for recovery. Several years ago, 90% of patients would go with 12-step programs. The number has dropped to 80%, so patients are slowly reaching for the alternatives, with integrative medicine as the most important to name.

What are the fundamental characteristics of 12-step programs?

12-step programs have managed to give some hope to people with addictions for decades; there’s no denying in that. The program works (to some extent) because it provides the patient with the actual “steps” (12) to take for recovery (it’s never called ‘healing’).

Unlike what you may think, 12-step programs are nothing new. It was the end of the 30s when Alcoholics Anonymous went public with the original 12-step method of recovery from alcoholism. 

Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholismis where 12-step treatment for addiction was put together. Many of the latest treatments for various addictions have roots in this book and the 12-step principles. The program has been applied to patients with drug addiction, depression, compulsions, and similar. 

With 12-step drug treatment programs, recovery implies many talks about how addiction (physical, emotional, and mental) is affecting the lives, and outlines the specific actions to be taken. Two main aspects are fundamental with 12-step programs:

  • Sponsorship

The sponsor can be a former and experienced patient who will guide the new members, similar to a mentor. Another patient helps other patients recover, but the whole process is part of his recovery. “But can one help others if he/she is also trying to heal? Does he/she have the energy to help others?” Notes Kathrine Tate, a former patient and now a counselor at a holistic treatment center. She tried and failed to recover with 12-step programs, but she healed with holistic treatment, where the main and only focus on the patient’s addiction and journey. It’s only fair that we all have these questions, especially since the rate of success is so low with traditional treatment. 

  • The group setting

All the 12 steps of recovery are discussed over and over again and transformed in reality in a recovery group. The members of the group empathize with the problem they’re trying to overcome.

On the other hand, a new type of holistic rehab is emerging, where the focus is one-on-one sessions, be it therapies or counseling. Group sessions aren’t typical for this holistic treatment, as the focus is on the addiction and the healing from it. “Our patient has to concentrate exclusively on their addiction, find the deep causes of the abuse, solve the emotional traumas, and move away from it for healing. The process cannot happen if patients constantly shift their mental and emotional energy from their problems to other people’s dramas. We know that empathy is fundamental to healing. Still, we provide it through our empathic personnel, not through group sessions that make people lose focus from their journey,” says Johnny Tabaie, CEO and founder of the Holistic Sanctuary

The emphasis on a higher power is a big part of 12-step programs. However, “not everyone believes in a higher power. Also, a patient should admit his responsibility for the addiction. Once the person is aware that he/she is responsible for it, he/she becomes aware of his healing too,” continues Tabaie, who developed his system of treatment in order to rid himself of his own addiction. He uses a number of methods that includes coffee enemas, liver detox, HBOT therapy, or proprietary vitamin and NAD IV drips, with the stated goal to reset the brain to a “pre-addiction state”. In his center, the use of sacred plant medicine and non-punitive counseling is completely replacing group therapy and psychotherapy. 

Is a holistic approach more effective than traditional treatment?

It’s not for us to say if it’s better or not. In a holistic system, though, addiction treatment addresses the body, mind, and soul as a whole. They are all connected, and when one isn’t balanced, the others will suffer and show it.

The American Holistic Health Association highlights that a holistic approach to addiction therapy includes traditional and alternative healing therapies. It shouldn’t surprise you if the holistic treatment. With holistic medicine, methods are adjusted to every patient’s specifics, medical history, and even personal values. 

Another aspect that makes holistic treatment so different is the unique ability to adjust the treatment to every patient. It’s not something you’ll see in a traditional approach; a headache is just a headache, so the same pill should work for everybody. It’s not the same with holistic medicine, where your headache could be caused by the constant worry about someone you care about. Yoga, meditation, energy work, are methods that help patients alleviate their “headaches” of sorts.

“We can only heal patients who are willing to look deep within their soul, who dare to heal their brain from addiction and the strength to build new skills to deal with every day life’s many challenges,” says Mary, a counselor at a holistic rehab. And we couldn’t agree more.

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