What is Holistic Addiction Medicine? An INTERVIEW with Gateway Foundation

The main goal of any addiction treatment facility is to help people achieve balance in mind and body. In the last two decades, a new form of treatment has been rapidly expanding. Known as “holistic treatment”, this possible key to recovery success focuses on the mind, body, and spirit. What’s it really all about? We’ve asked a clinician who’s practicing holistic therapy to explain more in this exclusive digital interview.

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A Holistic Approach to Addiction

Many people who enter addiction treatment find themselves looking deeper into their personal story than ever before. And, it’s truly possible to discover a new side of yourself in the process.

Self-reports about the rehab experience include:

  • “I’ve been challenged to question my former beliefs about life.”
  • “Rehab has helped me re-discover my spiritual essence. “
  • “I feel much more clear that I have a mission in life.”

So, how do people get to this realization of self?

Everyone is different in this sense. You’ll read stories of people who find a love for nature and begin exploring hiking trails. Others realize they’ve let their gift for art waste away too many years and explore their innate creativity. And some people are motivated to throw themselves into new business ventures.

But what does a holistic approach to addiction treatment look like? What’s it all about? And are its claims wishy-washy or founded in science?

We’ve Asked the Experts

To answer these questions, we turn to the The Gateway Foundation in Caseyville and Swansea. The group offers people the opportunity to look into their spiritual side through holistic treatment. Patients are offered the chance to discover that inner part of them that’s been missing through addiction. And don’t these treatment modalities sound attractive?:

  • Acupuncture and acupressure
  • Biofeedback and neurofeedback
  • Herbal medicines
  • Massage
  • Nutritional Therapy
  • Reiki and other types of energy work
  • Yoga and meditation

But how well do these modalities work?

The Gateway Foundation’s Executive Director, Deacon Farrelly, is always looking for new and improved methods of helping those that enter his facilities. He’s told us, “Different things work for different people. It’s important that our Gateway Foundation programming reflects this difference.”

Let’s take a closer look at holistic addiction treatment now…and learn from The Gateway Foundation’s experience.

ADDICTION BLOG: Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us, Deacon! To begin, what are most patients seeking when they start the recovery process? Does spirituality come as a surprise to them?

DEACON FARRELLY: Most patients are looking to quit using drugs and alcohol. They report they are tired of “seeking the drug” and hurting their families and loved ones. A lot of them report they want to feel “normal” and live “normal” lives without drugs and alcohol.

Spirituality does not come to a majority of them as a surprise. Many of them enter into treatment with a sense of values and meanings by which they want to live. They often explain their values are still there, but the drugs and alcohol were “overshadowing” them.

ADDICTION BLOG: How were you introduced to holistic treatment and how would you define it to people who don’t know what it is?

DEACON FARRELLY: I think overall, healthier lifestyle choices are on the upswing with many people these days; so in many ways, introducing a holistic approach to the treatment of substance use disorders is a logical development.

Holistic rehab programs look at a combined physical, mental, and spiritual model for treating substance abuse and addiction. These techniques are also often referred to as complementary treatments, and they are often based on practices that are defined as being close to nature or derived from cultural traditions.

Examples of these include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Art
  • Yoga and meditation

** Swansea utilizes acupuncture, meditation and art. Caseyville utilizes Yoga, art and meditation techniques.

ADDICTION BLOG: How can holistic treatment help those struggling with addiction?

DEACON FARRELLY: Addiction treatment centers are gradually adopting holistic treatment for addiction recovery that addresses the whole person—body, mind and spirit. This combined approach includes evidence-based therapeutic techniques, such as counseling and behavioral therapy, with alternative therapies, such as art, meditation, and yoga to create a complete program that addresses addiction.

For the body, drug or alcohol abuse causes nutritional deficiencies and contributes to several medical conditions. Holistic treatment for addiction recovery programs combines a variety of therapies that allow the body to repair and restore itself. At our center we provide healthy meals to help clients keep their strength and energy levels high. We offer nutritional education that allows them to maintain a balanced diet after they complete treatment. Our center uses a dietician that also assists with a balanced healthy diet. Other components of holistic treatment that heal the body that our center utilizes are exercise and yoga. This therapeutic activity leaves clients feeling rejuvenated and balanced, and they help ward off feelings of depression and anxiety that can lead to a relapse.

For the mind, it’s important to explore the underlying issues that may have contributed to substance abuse and develop new ways to cope with difficult experiences or unpleasant feelings. Our treatment program includes both individual counseling and group therapy which can help clients achieve these goals. One-on-one time with a counselor helps clients learn new techniques to deal with their unique life situations and challenges, while group therapy sessions allow clients to share their experiences with like-minded members. In addition to these therapeutic techniques, our holistic approach offers meditation and other mindfulness exercises that benefit clients, providing them with powerful stress-reducing tools that they can depend on throughout their recovery. Research suggests that just eight weeks of regular mindfulness meditation can impact the brain’s neural pathways and lead to feelings of well-being.

For the spirit, our holistic approach includes a spiritual element. Many people who struggle with addiction describe feeling an inner void and attempting to fill that void through substance abuse. Our holistic approach works to remedy those feelings of emptiness and enable spiritual healing which allows clients to heal and renew their spirit through expressive therapies such as art and music therapy. Through these activities, clients can often release feelings that are too difficult or painful to put into words.

ADDICTION BLOG: Within the practice of holistic treatment, which therapies have you found to be the most effective?

DEACON FARRELLY: I think there are many approaches which have proven to be effective; the thing to remember is that not all approaches are equally successful for all people. One key element is helping people discover what it is that they most value or what motivates them. Many of our clients have expressed their love for exercise, art and music in residential treatment and art and acupuncture in outpatient treatment.

ADDICTION BLOG: What studies or research has been done to document the efficacy of these claims? What research might be done in the future? For example, how effective are different modalities in preventing cravings? What about relapse prevention?

DEACON FARRELLY: Check out these references

Psychlogy Today: How Mindfulness Aids Recovery

Forbes: Ways Meditation Can Change the Brain

ADDICTION BLOG: What would say are the success rates of those who undergo a holistic treatment in comparison to those who don’t?

DEACON FARRELLY: That’s a tricky one for two reasons. First, the lack of a long history means there isn’t ton of data yet on success rates. Second, remember that a holistic approach is not something that’s done ‘instead of’, but more often is an enhancement of treatment.

ADDICTION BLOG: Is holistic treatment applied simultaneously with the use of medications and/or talk therapy? Why or why not?

DEACON FARRELLY: Yes, at our treatment centers we like to use a combined physical, mental, and spiritual model for treating substance abuse and addiction which, in some cases, includes medication. Treating the “whole person” appears to be the most effective.

ADDICTION BLOG: Do you find people who explore their spiritual side to recover with a different timeframe than those who don’t?

DEACON FARRELLY: I guess I’d say that while spirituality is a key component for many who achieve success in their recovery; I don’t want to give the message that recovery cannot be achieve without it.

Again, one size does not fit all.

ADDICTION BLOG: Is holistic treatment something that can be practiced on your own? For example, if someone is recovering in a treatment facility that doesn’t offer it, are they able to perform the therapies on their own?


We also use Mindfulness Based Therapy at both our residential and outpatient facilities which incorporates mindfulness practices such as meditation and breathing exercises. Clients can be taught mindfulness exercises and breathing techniques that they can do on their own.

ADDICTION BLOG: Being that you’re a mental health expert by trade, do you think holistic treatment will be practiced more in the future as an option for people struggling with addiction and mental illness?


Technology consistently happens all around us; technology in treatment is no different. The current emphasis that holistic lifestyle choices have put on overall health is a welcome addition to the some of the more traditional treatment methods and I hope that it remains an integral part of substance use disorder treatment for many years to come.

ADDICTION BLOG: How scan people learn more about holistic treatment if they’re interested?

DEACON FARRELLY: I think the simplest answer is to simply do some research via the internet or library. And feel free to go to www.gatewayfoundation.org to learn more about us or call the Gateway site nearest you to get information.

ADDICTION BLOG: Is there anything else that you’d like to add for our readers?

DEACON FARRELLY: I often talk to people about the importance of getting information on and exposure to spirituality, meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy, education, exercise, support groups etc., as they work on their recovery and maintaining their sobriety.

The real key, however, is to make sure that learning about these different strategies is followed up with practice and repetition until they become integral parts of their daily lives.

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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