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Types of Therapy
There are many different types of therapy, each of which uses a different method and has a different purpose. Some types of therapy focus on the mind, others on the body, and some on both. Therapy is very important to addiction recovery for many reasons. Various types of therapy help those in recovery understand and manage their substance use disorders, as well as any underlying mental health conditions and physical/mental damage caused by addiction.
Therapy for addiction can be split into two categories, evidence-based therapyies and alternative therapies. Evidence-based therapies are supported by research, while alternative therapies have some success in clinical settings but are not verified through research studies. A few common and beneficial evidence-based therapies include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing (MI), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Common alternative therapies include music and art therapy, acupuncture, yoga, and recreational therapy.
Psychotherapy is defined as a process whereby psychological problems or disorders are treated by a trained therapist with a background in psychological theories and methods. The goal of psychotherapy is to increase one’s overall mental health and well-being.
Biofeedback therapy focuses on the connection between the mind and body, most commonly the nervous system. Biofeedback therapy helps people learn to control various voluntary responses of the body, such as blood pressure and heart rate, to improve overall wellness. Biofeedback therapy helps people gain greater awareness of what is happening inside their bodies and how their thinking can impact these changes, as well as teaching them how to control how their bodies respond to certain stimuli.
This therapy doesn’t use any medication and is noninvasive. Instead, therapists measure skin temperature, muscle tension, and neurofeedback via a number of monitors attached to the patient. Through trial and error, a therapist coaches patients to perform minuscule, body adjustments that, in turn, change muscle tension, blood pressure, and/or heart rate. In time, a patient will be able to make these adjustments without direction. By making these adjustments, the individual will feel more relaxed and have a greater sense of overall wellness.
Generally, appointments last between 30 minutes and 1 hour and are scheduled regularly until patients have achieved their goals (i.e. pain relief). When combined with other therapies, biofeedback therapy may benefit people with stress, migraines, urinary incontinence, Raynaud’s disease, chronic constipation, ADHD, PTSD, chronic pain, anorexia nervosa, and motion sickness.
Some of the greatest benefits of biofeedback therapy include stress-relief and relief from stress-related mental health conditions, especially PTSD. It is also highly beneficial for increasing impulse control and reducing nervousness, anxiety, and panic attacks. Some physical and mental health professionals believe that with enough advancement and understanding of biofeedback therapy, people may eventually develop the ability to reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other related health concerns.
Psychotherapy, sometimes referred to as talk therapy, is a treatment method involving the application of one or more therapeutic interventions. Psychotherapy is defined as a process by which psychological problems or disorders are treated by a trained therapist with a background in psychological theories and methods. The goal of psychotherapy is to increase one’s overall mental health and well-being.
Three out of four people show improvement after psychotherapy. It is commonly combined with other forms of therapy or medication. Patients can further benefit in reaching improved overall wellness by making healthy lifestyle improvements, such as healthy sleep habits, nutrition, and regular exercise. Therapy typically lasts from a few months to years; individual sessions last 30 to 60 minutes. By identifying root problems and working through them through in-depth, analytical discussion can help change behaviors, including behaviors associated with substance abuse.
Types of psychotherapy include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Humanistic therapy
- Supportive therapy
The results of psychotherapy are similar to changes in the brain caused by some medications. While the use of medication in combination with psychotherapy has proven to be beneficial, psychotherapy can be so effective that some individuals do not need the added support of medication. Healthy lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise, good sleep, and proper nutrition can also make a positive impact on one’s overall health and wellness.
First practiced before 2500 BC in China, acupuncture is the practice of inserting thin, nearly-painless needles into the skin at certain points along the body to treat a range of health issues. The methodology relies on the belief that “Qi” and blood systems can be controlled through “meridians,” or rivers of energy. In total, there are 365 acupuncture points to harmonize and remove blockages from the yin and yang through the use of needles by the flow of the Qi.
Acupuncture, in combination with electrical stimulation, is now also used to treat the symptoms of Opioid withdrawal. It focuses on 6 spots around the body (4 on the body and 2 on the ears). The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association states that acupuncture can also prevent cravings and increase participation in long-term treatment programs. At the end of a session, acupuncture and electrical stimulation generally leave the patient feeling sore, numb, or heavy. This is a sign that treatment worked.
Yoga, a centuries-old meditation technique and religious discipline, has become almost ubiquitous with modern wellness practices. It is commonly recommended to individuals suffering from anxiety or stress, muscle tension, ADHD, and PTSD among other disorders. The practice of yoga involves a series of poses accompanied by controlled breathing techniques. On top of yoga’s proven mental benefits, 12-step programs emphasize the importance of physical health. This makes the low-intensity workout a perfect complement to addiction treatment.
Yoga may benefit individuals in recovery by changing the way the brain works. Yoga, like regular exercise, helps the body regulate stress hormones (e.g. cortisol and adrenaline) while releasing endorphins (chemicals that cause feelings of happiness). Yoga is also a great way to quiet the mind, maintain calmness, and regain feelings of control over one’s body.
Yoga effects the autonomic nervous system, which has two main divisions, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. Yoga primarily activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which results in slowing down the heart rate, reducing blood pressure and decreasing stress hormone levels. There are many yoga techniques which help the brain better process psychological stressors so that the sympathetic nervous system does not automatically jump into service, allowing the parasympathetic nervous system to take effect first.
For example, Savasana, which is the final pose of relaxation done at the end of yoga practice is especially healing to the brain. Deep breathing, called Pranayama, induces relaxation responses in the brain by stimulating the vagus nerve through rhythmic movement of the diaphragm. The brain is constantly regenerating and reconfiguring itself. Therefore, any repeated thought or action over time becomes rewired into the brain. Yoga can help generate positive changes in the way that one thinks and can improve one’s outlook on life. The more positive one’s outlook is on life is, the less influence everyday stressors will have on their brain and body, resulting in increased overall health and wellness.
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Massage therapy is often described by massage therapists as the opposite of talk therapy because the focus is on the body instead of the mind. However, the effects of massage therapy have been shown to improve physical as well as mental wellness. Described as the “manual manipulation of soft body tissues” (i.e. the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and skin), massage techniques generally fall into two categories:
- Rehabilitative massage – also called medical, clinical, or therapeutic massage. Hospitals, health clinics, and chiropractors use these.
- Relaxation massage – encompasses luxury massages like Swedish, hot stone, and aromatherapy massages. These can be found in spas and resorts.
People in recovery often feel uncomfortable; one symptom of withdrawal is a sharp decline in the release of dopamine or “happy” hormones. During a massage, the body releases fewer stress hormones and more dopamine and serotonin. This is why massage therapy is a valuable tool for treating general pain and anxiety.
The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami has conducted numerous studies concerning massage and mental health. The results include findings that massage therapy effectively reduces symptoms associated with:
- Anorexia nervosa
Chiropractic therapy, administered by a chiropractor, is the measured adjustment of the spine and peripheral parts of the body. Chiropractors may use additional methods (such as hot and cold therapy, massage, exercise, and diet) as part of treatment. Doctors often recommend patients to chiropractic therapy for pain relief and physical rehabilitation. Practiced since 1912, chiropractic therapy is considered a natural, drug-free therapy or “alternative medicine.” Still, practitioners must obtain a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree and usually have offices in clinics and hospitals.
Because of similar modalities, the benefits of chiropractic therapy are similar to those of massage therapy. Touch, movement, and stretching (with the end-goal of broadening range of motion) can reduce patients’ stress, tension, and pain and increase their overall feelings of well-being.
In the past, scientists believed the brain grew through adolescence and slowed to a halt as adulthood began. Now, new research shows that we can alter the structure of the brain and reap the benefits well into adulthood. Through meditation therapy (also commonly referred to as mindfulness meditation), people can retrain their brain. In fact, meditation and mindfulness strengthen certain pathways in the brain while weakening others that are rarely used, resulting in changes in thinking and behavior. This is especially helpful for those in recovery who want to quit bad habits, curb cravings, and maintain sobriety.
The more one practices mindfulness meditation that the brain becomes thicker in the mid-prefrontal cortex and the mid-insular region. Changes in thought processes can actually create changes in the brain. Research has found that even beginning meditators in their early twenties were able to achieve advanced states of concentration and insight equal to that of senior meditation practitioners. Intention and attention of focus were the keys to reaching these mental states. Regular mindfulness practice allows us to set aside distractions and enter the transformative state of open mind.
Meditation therapy works on the amygdala, two almond-sized areas of the brain devoted to regulating emotions, memory, and decision-making. When the amygdala is relaxed, as it is during meditation, the body begins processes that counteract anxiety (i.e. heart rate lowers, breathing slows, and cortisol and adrenaline release stops).
The act of meditation can vary from person to person. Some find it helpful to sit in small groups or alone on the floor and begin breathing deeply in a quiet, darkened room. However, an individual can meditate practically anywhere. Professionals in the field consider the inward focus practiced in meditation to be a learned skill, requiring continued training.
Many in recovery have discovered a new passion through art therapy. Not only does it allow individuals the opportunity to express unsaid emotions and indulge their creativity, it can be a distraction from old habits. Recent surveys show that about 37% of treatment programs offer art therapy; its use dates back to the 1950s. Most art therapy techniques center around the creation of art as a therapeutic exercise, though some have included the interpretation of famous pieces of art as well. Art therapy may include:
- Depicting events that took place during addiction
- Drawing emotions
- Painting to get through times of high emotional anxiety
Music therapy was first used in the 1970s to help patients express emotions they were otherwise unable to. Treatment providers soon discovered it was also a motivating factor for patients to continue treatment. The American Music Therapy Association encourages people in recovery to try music therapy, regardless of their musical background. Writing lyrics, playing an instrument, dancing, and listening to music are all therapeutic exercises in music therapy.
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Physical therapy is commonly prescribed to patients rehabilitating from injury or surgery but is a beneficial treatment option for any individual battling chronic, non-cancer pain. Sessions generally take place in a hospital or healthcare clinic under the direction of trained medical providers. Because of the benefits of physical exercise, physical therapy can also help those with mental health issues like stress and depression.
Group Therapy is a treatment method used by nearly all rehab facilities and addiction treatment centers because, simply, it works. Sharing experiences and commiserating with a group of similar individuals has a number of benefits for those in recovery. Group therapy removes feelings of isolation and lets people see the recovery process of others (their successes and failures). This creates a culture of recovery that encourages participants to stay sober. Relationships developed in group therapy can also be lifesavers in moments of relapse or crisis.
Family therapy is a combination of various clinical therapies used to rebuild relationships and improve communication. It differs from other types of therapy in that the focus isn’t solely on the individual suffering from addiction. Family dynamics may dictate that children or spouses require more attention during therapy sessions. Regardless, the ultimate goal is family harmony. Family therapy is distinct from family-involved therapy in the focus of treatment. The latter focuses analysis on the individual in recovery.
Sessions typically last between 30 minutes and an hour and most often take place in a therapist’s office or treatment center with a counseling professional. Faith-based family therapy may be conducted by a religious leader within a church, synagogue, or mosque.
The goal of most addiction therapy is to retrain the brain and body to function normally. Substance use disorders interfere with the reward center and the release of dopamine; fitness therapy can restore that balance. Fitness therapy is a common aspect of 12-step programs because of their emphasis on a healthy mind and body. Additionally, committing to a fitness routine can also prevent urges to use or relapse.
Most addiction treatment centers offer some form of fitness therapy. Popular types of fitness therapy include:
- Strength training
- Team sports
Find the Right Types of Therapy for You
Therapy has the ability to make detox and addiction treatment a more comfortable, and even more successful, experience. Many rehab centers will offer one or more types of therapy to its patients, so deciding which to choose can greatly impact your recovery. Talk with an addiction treatment provider today to discuss which types of therapy might be most beneficial to you.
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