Healing the Whole Person

The Importance of Combining Psychotherapeutic Modalities and Integrative Therapies – Sierra Tucson Gets It!

By Camille Drachman, LMSW, SEP, Manager of Integrative Therapies

In honor of September National Recovery Month, we celebrate people in recovery by increasing awareness and understanding of mental and substance use issues.  Sierra Tucson has long understood the importance of healing the whole person: body, mind, and spirit.  Sierra Tucson’s comprehensive program of healing and recovery provides each resident the combination of psychotherapeutic modalities with integrative therapies.  Many of the traditional therapies offered include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Family Systems Theory. These occur in both individual and group settings.  Also offered to every resident are the integrative modalities, both ancient and modern.  These integrative modalities are about healing the physiology, and among the many offered, residents can participate in acupuncture, naturopathic medicine, yoga, Chi Kung, cranial-sacral, Reiki, and several types of massage.  More modern and scientifically based modalities offered include Bio and Neurofeedback, EMDR, and Somatic Experiencing.  A comprehensive blend of modalities is what has always set Sierra Tucson apart.

Residents that admit to Sierra Tucson most often suffer from co-occurring disorders, or multiple issues.  Sierra Tucson understands the need to treat complex issues simultaneously with the body, mind and spirit approach. Within the specific programs at Sierra Tucson, residents will receive services based upon their presenting concerns.

All services at Sierra Tucson complement each other. Residents appear to gain more benefit, when they receive multiple services. Residents have reported, for example, that having a massage after an intense group or even acupuncture after Somatic Experiencing, significantly helped with stabilization and is helpful in reinforcing the practice of self-care in recovery.

A recent resident shared her perspective of how the integrative portion of the program at Sierra Tucson was not simply a separate aspect, but part of the whole. What made Sierra Tucson special was that the integrative modalities were as much of part of the healing process as any other facet.

“For years I have had lots of talk therapy and you guys have put it all together for me. You helped me learn about my physiology and how my brain and body works. You helped me to understand I am not just a crazy person.”  – Jane C.

Integrative therapies are about healing the physiology and residents are often provided with psycho-education as well.  It is helpful to understand that just as we will slam on the breaks in the car before we even think about doing it when someone pulls out in front of us, the physiology responds and is impacted by events before the mind is even aware. This is important information for the residents to understand, that the physiology is primarily impacted by life events and that healing and recovery are possible with the healing of the body.

Healing the body, mind, and spirit, is the foundation on which Sierra Tucson was built, and therefore the physiologically-based modalities are part of the main keys to the program overall.  Below are few of these integrative modalities that Sierra Tucson offers.

Acupuncture is provided in individual sessions and involves the insertion of thin needles through the skin at specific points on the body. According to Chinese medical theory, acupuncture points are located in the meridians through which chi vital energy runs. Acupuncture is used for chronic pain, and in a controlled study, acupuncture was shown to be effective in treating chronic stress suggesting a mode of action similar to that of anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication.

Naturopathic medicine addresses digestion, hormones, stressors and the nutritional status of an individual. Please review our most recent Spotlight article for a more comprehensive explanation of naturopathic medicine.

Yoga and Chi Kung are offered many times weekly, in the group setting, at Sierra Tucson. Here’s a more detailed description of each:

Chi Kung (Qigong) is made up of two words and Chi means the life force or vital energy that flows through all things in the universe. Kung means accomplishment or skill that is cultivated through steady practice. Chi Kung can be classified as martial, medical and spiritual and is a practice believed to reduce stress, build stamina, increase vitality and enhance the immune system. It has also been found to improve the cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic, and digestive systems.

Yoga has become increasingly popular over the years and has in fact been in use for several thousand years. In Sanskrit, Yoga means to add, to join, or to unite, and is said to be for the purpose of uniting the body, mind, and spirit. It is said that the ultimate goal of Yoga is to liberate. Infusion ideas are integrated with the poses in yoga sessions, and are intended to enrich the learning experience, making yoga a holistic activity. A standard finishing pose in yoga is considered a balancing pose, bringing balance to the whole body.

Biofeedback and Neurofeedback are modalities that allow individuals to be trained to improve their health by using signals from their own bodies. With Biofeedback, complex machines are used to detect electrical signals in the muscles and help with healing stress, pain, headaches, digestion disorders, blood pressure issues, cardiac arrhythmias, epilepsy, paralysis, and other disorders. The key component to biofeedback is to help individuals train themselves to relax and modify their behaviors.  Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback that uses real-time computer displays of brain activity to teach self-regulation and brain function.

EMDR means Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR has a direct effect on the way the brain processes information and is considered to help individuals desensitize their memories of difficult events and is specifically intended to address Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptomology. EMDR is a physiological-based therapy that assists in shifting disturbing material to a new and less distressing manner.  As described by an EMDR practitioner;  when a traumatic event or an adverse life experience occurs, the resulting physiological changes in the body cause the brain’s natural memory processing system to go “offline.” The memory is maladaptively stored in a separate memory network and, therefore, is not available to any future experiences which may allow the information to become integrated with positive memory networks. The bilateral stimulation, eye movements, tones, or tapping, acts as a form of “dual attention stimulus.” The client keeps “one foot in the present and one foot in the past” and that allows the trauma memory to link with more positive information the person has gained from other life experiences. Using the computer analogy, the old software gets updated. The client then is able to recall the memory from this new present-oriented perspective, such as, “It’s over” or “I did the best I could” or “I am a good person”, and the memory is no longer disturbing.

Somatic Experiencing is designed to resolve and relieve symptoms of PTSD and other mental and physical problems by focusing on the perceived body sensations.  This is based on the understanding that these symptoms are a result of the dysregulation of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and the ANS’s inherent capacity to self-regulate is challenged by difficult life events. The approach of Somatic Experiencing is based in the science that mammals automatically regulate survival responses from the primitive non-verbal brain controlled by the ANS. In the wild, animals in a threat response will spontaneously discharge this energy once they perceive they are safe.  Unlike animals, humans have the capacity to modulate emotions and will often suppress this natural ability to discharge threat energy.  Somatic Experiencing works toward restoring the inherent capacity of self-regulation and facilitates the release of stored energy and natural survival reactions.

These are just a few of the physiologically-based integrative modalities that Sierra Tucson offers to residents coming for treatment.  We help them to understand the need for healing the physiology, as well as addressing the mind and spirit. Sierra Tucson supports a holistic approach in order to achieve healing and healthy recovery, and therefore, this is the foundation upon which we are built. Sierra Tucson gets it!