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The role of complementary therapies in addiction treatment

By Nicole Miller, Addictions Therapist at Priory Hospital Hayes Grove – Nicole has extensive experience and a keen interest in using complementary therapies as part of addiction treatment.

The use of complementary therapies is an innovative and creative approach to assist in the treatment of addiction. Complementary therapies use a holistic approach to help people focus on both mind and body, and their connection to each other. The skills and practices learnt in complementary therapies can help people to overcome their addiction and focus on long-term recovery.

Complementary therapy is an integral part of our wider Addiction Treatment Programme at Priory Hospital Hayes Grove, working alongside our more traditional individual and group therapies that are offered by our therapists and counsellors. We offer various complementary therapies to develop the mind-body connection, including mindfulness, art therapy and yoga, which have shown to be popular therapies amongst our patients.

What is involved in complementary therapies? A guide to mindfulness, art therapy and yoga for GPs and their patients with addiction concerns:


Mindfulness is a practice based on directing attention to present moment experiences in order to disengage from habitual thinking, and to build tolerance to emotional reactions that create stress.

Mindfulness has been adapted to work with individuals in recovery from addiction, to assist them in decreasing stress that is related to triggers, urges, and cravings, and to teach emotional tolerance (Bowen, Chawla & Witkiewitz, 2014).

At Hayes Grove we integrate mindfulness techniques such as the body scan, which develops body awareness to increase control over stress and urges, as well as breathing meditation to assist in decreasing emotional reactions. Such tools assist patients to build new skills that are necessary to avoid relapse and to support long-term recovery.

Art therapy

Art therapy is a method used to identify thoughts and feelings that can motivate patients into action. It is highly compatible with evidenced-based therapies such as motivational interviewing (Holt & Kaiser, 2009).

At Hayes Grove, we incorporate art therapy into our programme through the use of the artistic collage. Through the artistic collage, our patients explore topics related to recovery, identify thoughts and feelings related to substance use and express their creativity. This in turn builds the self-awareness necessary to change behaviours for the long term.

Patients report that this group is therapeutic as it allows them to explore and heal from their addiction and it gives them hope for the future.  


We encourage our patients to engage in additional activities outside of the daily programme, to help them cope with stress and maintain their wellbeing. One activity we encourage is yoga.  Yoga is a mind-body therapy that uses breathing, postures, relaxation techniques and motivational philosophies to assist in daily living.

Yoga has been found to be the equivalent of psychodynamic group therapy in its effectiveness to reduce methadone use. It has also been found to increase mood and psychological wellbeing for those undergoing detoxification from heroin and has been shown to reduce the use of alcohol (Hallgreen, Romberg, Bakshi & Andreasson, 2014; Shaffer, LaSalvia, & Stein, 1997; Zhuang, An & Zhao, 2013).

Yoga also assists in building tolerance to negative emotions and is a complement to the spiritual teachings of the 12-Step Fellowship Programme (Miller, 2017). Yoga is offered five times a week at Hayes Grove.


  • Bowen, S., Chawla, N., & Witkiewitz, K. (2014). Mindfulness-based relapse prevention for addictive behaviors. In Mindfulness-Based Treatment Approaches (Second Edition) (pp. 141-157).
  • Hallgren, M., Romberg, K., Bakshi, A. S., & Andréasson, S. (2014). Yoga as an adjunct treatment for alcohol dependence: a pilot study. Complementary therapies in medicine, 22(3), 441-445.
  • Holt, E., & Kaiser, D. H. (2009). The First Step Series: Art therapy for early substance abuse treatment. The arts in psychotherapy, 36(4), 245-250.
  • Miller. N., (2017). The use of Yoga for addiction treatment. (Masters thesis). Middlesex University, London UK.
  • Shaffer, H. J., LaSalvia, T. A., & Stein, J. (1997). Comparing Hatha yoga with dynamic group psychotherapy for enhancing methadone maintenance treatment: a randomized clinical trial. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 3, 57-67.
  • Zhuang, S. M., An, S. H., & Zhao, Y. (2013). Yoga effects on mood and quality of life in Chinese women undergoing heroin detoxification: a randomized controlled trial. Nursing research, 62(4), 260-268.
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