Holistic Health & Healing


Complementary and Alternative Medicine

What Is Holistic Health & Healing?

 Addiction and alcoholism are complex diseases that affect the body, mind and spirit, often causing a separation between these parts of you.   Recovery from drugs and alcohol depends on reconnecting and strengthening these aspects  of self.

Abstinence from drugs and alcohol is only the first step in recovery; being able to maintain abstinence-gaining the knowledge, motivation, strength and total mind, body and spirit health- is the essence of recovery.

Holistic health and healing are methods that focus on the person as a whole, rather than just treating addiction alone.  The Holistic practitioners’ goal is to prevent health issues from recurring  by incorporating the health of the body, mind, and spirit.

What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is a group of diverse medical and health practices that fall outside the scope of conventional medicine. The demand for CAM by the general public is increasing despite the fact that its use is largely paid out of pocket by the individual who doesn’t have complementary therapy coverage by third-party payers.  CAM interventions are most often used in holistic treatment centers.

Some Holistic health practices and CAM intterventions are:

  • chiropractic
  • Herbalism (herbal medicines)
  • massage & deep tissue massage
  • energy work (reiki)
  • biofeedback & neurofeedback
  • animal therapy
  • yoga & meditation
  • acupuncture & acupressure
  • physical therapy
  • nutrition
  • personal training
  • naturopathy
  • hypnotherapy (CAM)

The roots of these techniques (just a few are listed here) are intended to treat the whole person and improve overall well-being rather than target a single element of symptoms or behaviors.    In addiction and alcoholism, a holistic approach aims to not only diminish addictive behaviors, but to properly address the many factors that played a role in the development of the addiction or alcoholism.

Complementary, Alternative, or Integrative Health: What’s In a Name?

We’ve all seen the words “complementary,” “alternative,” and “integrative,” but what do they really mean?

This fact sheet looks into these terms to help you understand them better and gives you a brief picture of the mission and role of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) in this area of research. The terms “complementary,” “alternative,” and “integrative” are continually evolving, along with the field, but the descriptions of these terms below are how we at the National Institutes of Health currently define them.

Complementary Versus Alternative

According to a 2012 national survey, many Americans—more than 30 percent of adults and about 12 percent of children—use health care approaches that are not typically part of conventional medical care or that may have origins outside of usual Western practice.   When describing these approaches, people often use “alternative” and “complementary” interchangeably, but the two terms refer to different concepts:

  • If a non-mainstream approach is used together with conventional medicine, it’s considered “complementary.”
  • If a non-mainstream approach is used in place of conventional medicine, it’s considered “alternative.”
  • Most people who use non-mainstream approaches also use conventional health care.

In addition to the terms complementary and alternative, you may also hear the term “functional medicine.” This term sometimes refers to a concept similar to integrative health (described below), but it may also refer to an approach that more closely resembles naturopathy (a medical system that has evolved from a combination of traditional practices and health care approaches popular in Europe during the 19th century).

Integrative Health

Integrative health brings conventional and complementary approaches together in a coordinated way. Integrative health also emphasizes multimodal interventions, which are two or more interventions such as conventional medicine, lifestyle changes, physical rehabilitation, psychotherapy, and complementary health approaches in various combinations, with an emphasis on treating the whole person rather than, for example, one organ system. Integrative health aims for well-coordinated care among different providers and institutions by bringing conventional and complementary approaches together to care for the whole person.

The use of integrative approaches to health and wellness has grown within care settings across the United States. Researchers are currently exploring the potential benefits of integrative health in a variety of situations, including pain management for military personnel and veterans, relief of symptoms in cancer patients and survivors, and programs to promote healthy behaviors.


What is Whole Person Health?

Whole person health refers to helping individuals improve and restore their health in multiple interconnected domains—biological, behavioral, social, environmental—rather than just treating disease. Research on whole person health includes expanding the understanding of the connections between these various aspects of health, including connections between organs and body systems.

Integrative Approaches for Symptom Management in Cancer Patients and Survivors

Cancer treatment centers with integrative health care programs may offer services such as acupuncture and meditation to help manage symptoms and side effects for patients who are receiving conventional cancer treatment. Although research on the potential value of these integrative programs is in its early stages, some studies have had promising results. For example, NCCIH-funded research has suggested that:

  • Massage therapy may lead to short-term improvements in pain and mood in patients with advanced cancer.
  • Yoga may relieve the persistent fatigue
  • Tai chi or qi gong have shown promise for managing symptoms such as fatigue, sleep difficulty, and depression 

Complementary Health Approaches

  • Complementary approaches can be classified by their primary therapeutic input (how the therapy is taken in or delivered), which may be:
    • Nutritional (e.g., special diets, dietary supplements, herbs, probiotics, and microbial-based therapies).
    • Psychological (e.g., meditation, hypnosis, music therapies, relaxation therapies).
    • Physical (e.g., acupuncture, massage, spinal manipulation).
    • Combinations such as psychological and physical (e.g., yoga, tai chi, dance therapies, some forms of art therapy) or psychological and nutritional (e.g., mindful eating).
    • Nutritional approaches include what NCCIH previously categorized as natural products, whereas psychological and/or physical approaches include what was referred to as mind and body practices.
    • Examples of complementary health approaches that fall within the categories:
      • Psychological
      • Physical, and
      • Nutritional

This graphic shows the primary therapeutic input of approaches that may be studied within the NCCIH portfolio. The specific modalities are meant to be illustrative of the types of approaches that fall within these categories.

Nutritional Approaches

These approaches include a variety of products, such as herbs (also known as botanicals), vitamins and minerals, and probiotics. They are widely marketed, readily available to consumers, and often sold as dietary supplements.


Psychological and Physical Approaches

Complementary physical and/or psychological approaches include 

  • tai chi
  • yoga
  • acupuncture
  • massage therapy
  • spinal manipulation
  • art therapy
  • music therapy
  • dance
  • mindfulness-based stress reduction, and many others. 

These approaches are often administered or taught by a trained practitioner or teacher. 

Other psychological and physical approaches include 

  • relaxation techniques (such as breathing exercises and guided imagery)
  • qi gong
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Feldenkrais method
  • Alexander technique
  • Pilates
  • Rolfing Structural Integration, and
  • Trager psychophysical integration.

Other Complementary Health Approaches

Some complementary approaches may not neatly fit into either of these groups—for example, the practices of traditional healers, Ayurvedic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy, and functional medicine.


Website: https://nccih.nih.gov/  Email: info@nccih.nih.gov(link sends email)

This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.

NCCIH has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your healthcare provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your healthcare provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCIH.

Last Updated: April 2021


Meditative Yoga

Yoga helps you learn to be kinder to your body. It may also reduce anxiety and help you navigate difficult emotions. Finding new ways to manage these experiences may reduce the risk of relapse.

Yoga stretches and strengthens the body through three core components:

  • Movements through different postures
  • Breathing in specific sequences
  • Meditation

These practices help center the mind and body in the present moment. Some addiction treatment programs offer yoga as a complementary holistic method.

Mindful Meditation

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. Meditation originally was meant to help deepen understanding of the sacred and mystical forces of life. These days, meditation is commonly used for relaxation and stress reduction.  It is considered a type of mind-body holistic medicine. Meditation can produce a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind.

During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing anxiety and stress. This process may result in enhanced physical and emotional well-being.


Acupuncture is a  widely used practice in Chinese medicine. Acupuncturists use the technique to change the flow of energy or chi through the body. It is believed that pain, illness, and even addiction is a sign of a blockage in the flow of energy. By inserting small, sterile needles into certain points on the body, you can redirect the energy into a positive flow.

When the blockage is freed, pain and other ailments can feel much-needed relief. In terms of Western medicine, doctors and acupuncturists use the technique to increase blood flow and stimulate nerves. This can trigger endorphins, relax muscles, calm nerves, and boost your immune system.


Acupressure is an ancient Chinese healing method that involves applying pressure to certain meridian points on the body to relieve pain. The human body has fourteen “meridians” that carry energy throughout the body. These meridians start at the fingertips, connect to the brain, and then connect to the organ associated with the specific meridian.

Acupuncture and Acupressure use the same points, but acupuncture uses needles, while Acupressure uses the gentle but firm pressure of hands. There is a massive amount of scientific data that demonstrates why and how acupuncture is effective.

Meditative Movements

Often called mind, body and spirit practices, Tai Chi and Qi Gong are systems of coordinated body-posture and movement, breathing, and meditation used for the purposes of health, spirituality.  Based on martial arts training and meditation practices, these activities encompass a wide variety of techniques. The result is a form of mindful movement that is suitable for people of all ages and skill sets.

Feldenkrais Method

The Feldenkrais Method is a somatic, or body-oriented, intervention designed to help people reconnect with their bodies and learn ways to move with greater efficiency. It may help a person increase vitality, coordination, and achieve overall improved well-being.

Though this approach is primarily physical in nature, bodily changes such as improvement in function are likely to have a positive impact on all areas of a person’s life. People seeking treatment for a range of mental health concerns may find the Feldenkrais Method a beneficial complementary approach.  

Alexander Technique

The Alexander technique addresses the many bad habits of posture and movement we have picked up over our lifetime.  This technique helps us to develop an even distribution of muscle tone, neither sloppily relaxed nor over tense. The philosophy of ‘good use’ means using and moving the body lightly, with a minimum of interference in the interrelationship of neck, head and back. The Alexander technique is a process of re-education, not a ‘quick fix’ solution. Over time, you will find that you function better in almost every way.

Rolfing Integration

Treating chronic pain, defined as pain lasting 12 weeks or longer, depends on the underlying cause.   For many people, taking prescription drugs long-term may not be the best option to treat pain. 

Rolfing Structural Integration is one technique people who live with daily pain might not have explored yet. Developed in the 1960s, Rolfing is increasing in popularity again in the alternative health community.

Trager Psychophysical Method

Trager induces deep relaxation and can help to resolve physical imbalances. As a mind-body re-education it may be part of a rehabilitation program for injuries or can help to enhance sports or singing performance. It is an experience and learning process that progressively and effortlessly transforms our body and movement perception through new positive sensations. 

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