What Is Complementary Therapy?

Complementary therapy is an alternative treatment technique used to improve a person’s physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. It is widely used in addiction treatment as well as other medical scenarios. They are also recommended as a part of continuing care following a formal rehabilitation programme.

Some examples of complementary therapies include aromatherapy, acupuncture, massage, meditation, yoga, and creative writing. Many of these can be enjoyable and double as a distraction from daily stress.

Complementary therapies are meant to “complement” a medical treatment. If used as a substitution for conventional treatment, it is referred to as alternative therapy. “Holistic therapy” can also describe certain complementary techniques.

What Are the Benefits of Complementary Therapies?

Complementary therapy can relieve stress and anxiety by helping a person get in touch with their thoughts and emotions. Depending on the technique, it can help with a variety of ailments. Most notably, however, it pairs well with psychotherapy, thus facilitating the recovery process during addiction and mental health treatment.

Not only can complementary therapies make a person feel better, but they are also useful as a coping mechanism and for relapse prevention.

Each type of complementary therapy has its own specific benefits. For example, acupuncture can relieve physical symptoms, such as nausea, while hyperbaric oxygen treatment can ease withdrawal. Other methods have psychological benefits. For example, EMDR is used for the treatment of PTSD and trauma.

Castle Health takes pride in having a wide range of alternative techniques, including experiential and other complementary therapies. In over 30 years of experience, we’ve found that combining these techniques with our standard treatment programme greatly improves the chances of recovery. Some of the therapies offered at our facilities include:

  • Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy
  • Aromatherapy
  • Art Group Therapy
  • Creative Writing Therapy
  • Drumming Therapy
  • Exercise
  • EMDR
  • Acupuncture
  • Mindfulness Meditation
  • Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

What Complementary Therapies Are Offered At Castle Health?

Our range of complementary therapies varies by location and changes according to patient needs. Our Scottish and Irish residential rehabs, feature the majority of the following complementary therapies on a regular basis.

Equine-Facilitated Psychotherapy

Animals are found to be very beneficial and are integrated into many therapies these days – not just addiction treatment. At Castle Health, we use equine therapy, which has patients interact with horses. 

This experiential form of complementary therapy can help people in their recovery journey. It is recommended for anyone who is dealing with emotional trauma, low self-esteem, and other dual diagnoses.

Those suffering from addiction reported feeling relief after interacting with horses.

The patients at the rehab centre are responsible for caring for, feeding, and grooming the horses. Working with horses helps people with addiction develop empathy and trust.

Patients learn the skills necessary for developing such a relationship with the animal. These skills are also useful in day-to-day interaction with other people. These skills include:

  • Balancing the feelings
  • Learning non-verbal communication skills
  • Improving self-esteem and assertiveness
  • Feeling connected and needed
  • Releasing negative emotions
  • Developing positive emotional growth
  • Fostering understanding of boundaries
  • Becoming more resilient and focused
  • Relaxing and being present in the moment

Equine therapy is beneficial to those patients with addiction suffering from a lack of confidence and having the tendency to isolate themselves. Working with horses can help them understand how to express their emotions and control their impulse. 

This therapy can also help with co-occurring conditions such as:

  • Relationship problems
  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Communication issues
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Behavioural issues (aggressive behaviour)
  • Eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia)


Aromatherapy uses the sense of smell to induce relaxation, improve sleep, and ease anxiety. The therapy is performed with essential oils, which are either inhaled or applied directly to the skin. 

Aromatherapy has become part of many rehab treatments and helps heal the mind, body, and spirit. More and more people get treated with this type of therapy. 

Smells can have profound effects on memory and emotions, making aromatherapy a widely used complementary technique. Our patients found this therapy very enjoyable and reported noticeable improvement in their well-being.

Here are a few health benefits of aromatherapy:

Aches and pains: During rehab, recovering users may also experience physical symptoms like muscle tension, headaches, and nausea. These oils may help ease physical discomfort:

  • Clove
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary

Relaxation: Aromatherapy can help during rehab with the emotional rollercoaster having soothing and relaxing effects. These oils can offer support to people recovering from addiction during difficult emotional episodes:

  • Citrus oils (lime, orange, lemon grapefruit)
  • Eucalyptus
  • Ylang Ylang
  • Lavender
  • Chamomile

Mental clarity: During the early phase of the recovery process people may experience mental confusion, difficulties in making decisions and lack of concentration. Some essential oils may successfully reduce brain fog. Oils associated with better mental clarity are:

  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Ginger

Mindfulness: Staying in the present moment or mindfulness is a practice that helps patients during their recovery process. Mindfulness will help you feel more mental clarity to make wiser decisions and restore your emotional balance. These oils may help:

  • Eucalyptus
  • Sandalwood
  • Cedarwood

Art Group Therapy

Art is very useful in addiction treatment as it allows patients to express their thoughts and emotions when discussing them is too difficult. Being a creative activity, it allows patients to take their mind off the stress they may be facing. By sharing their creations with the group, this therapeutic technique is also helpful for connecting with other group members. Art group therapy facilitates a creative outlet for patients’ emotions. Patients cope better with their withdrawal symptoms while resolving emotional conflicts.

Art therapy for substance abuse has various benefits:

  • Promoting self-awareness
  • Reducing anxiety and stress
  • Resolving emotional conflicts
  • Building self-esteem
  • Developing social skills
  • Exploring difficult feelings
  • Improve reality orientation

Art therapy allows the patients to release their fears in a safe space, at their own pace. It provides a sense of control that many patients need as they explore and solve their issues. When performed in a group, art therapy can improve social skills, allowing trust to grow. This type of activity encourages authentic bonding with other members of the group. 

Art therapy may treat various conditions such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and addiction. 

It also offers support during substance abuse recovery in many ways. It can decrease the patient’s denial of addiction while increasing the motivation to change. 

Creative Writing Therapy

Like art groups, creative writing is useful for expressing and understanding one’s own feelings. Creative writing may improve the way a patient handles stress during unpleasant situations. Practising self-awareness is a way to encourage mindfulness techniques as well.

Writing down one’s thoughts helps a person see, organise, and process internal issues. Poetry especially has proven to benefit in this regard.

Drumming Therapy

Drumming has long been part of many cultures for thousands of years. As a therapeutic technique, it works akin to meditation, helping a person relax and focus their mind. It releases blocked feelings and relieves stress. Patients learn to listen to one another and work as a group through rhythm.

According to research, drumming can produce numerous benefits including lowering blood pressure, boosting the immune system, increasing confidence, and reducing stress. Not to mention, it’s fun.


Physical activity is not just good for general health. Alongside addiction treatment, exercise is known to facilitate the recovery process in many ways. Among other benefits, physical exercise boosts one’s energy levels, reduces mood swings, lowers cravings, and improves self-esteem. 

For this reason, all of our residential centres feature a fully equipped gym and regular fitness sessions. Our Irish centres also includes an on-site swimming pool. Our fitness facilities are always staffed with qualified staff, who can create a personalised exercise programme. 

In addition, we also host weekly yoga sessions, stretching classes, and outdoor activities for our residential patients. As both of our residential rehabs are located on private grounds, we also encourage patients to enjoy walks in the area.


Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) is an alternative therapeutic technique implemented in the treatment of PTSD. It is useful for patients who may be suppressing memories or emotions after a traumatic event. Over time, it is known to reduce or even remove the distress caused by past events.

EMDR therapy can be complicated and upsetting, which is why at Castle Health, it is offered only by our specialised trauma counsellors, who are experienced in the practice.


Originating from Asia, acupuncture is now a popular alternative medical technique all around the world. It involves piercing the skin with tiny needles at key points. Doing so stimulates various functions in the body.

Acupuncture may restore energy and heal the body.

In rehab facilities, therapists use acupuncture by stimulating five specific points on the body to reduce anxiety and induce relaxation:

  • Autonomic Point. Helps with relaxation and slowing the nervous system.
  • Liver Point. Detoxifies and purifies the blood. It also reduces anger.
  • Shen Men: This is called the “spirit gate”. It helps the recovering patient by reducing feelings of nervousness and anxiety.
  • Kidney Point. It has a calming effect, releases fear and heals internal organs.
  • Lung Point. It is excellent for reducing grief.

Acupuncture sessions can last from 30 minutes to an hour. After the therapist applies the needles, patients are encouraged to sleep for profound relaxation of the entire system. Acupuncture helps with reducing withdrawal symptoms linked with alcohol abuse. 

Acupuncture can reduce certain physical symptoms that come with withdrawal, such as pain, nausea, and vomiting. It can also ease stress, improve sleep, and reduce anxiety.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness is a core part of therapy in general and can help with any of life’s stressors. It is also one of the main focus points of DBT. Castle Health programmes hold regular mindfulness meditation sessions which teach our patients to focus on the present. 

Rather than being distracted by past mistakes or the uncertainty of tomorrow, mindfulness teaches a person to mentally reside in the here and now. This is important for long-term recovery. Mindfulness is highly recommended for anyone suffering from PTSD or other trauma. 

Mindfulness and meditation can also reduce withdrawal symptoms. Practising mindfulness and meditation may reduce the consumption of alcohol and drugs. Mindfulness techniques can reduce the risk of relapse, as the user starts learning healthy coping skills to ease cravings.

Drug and alcohol addiction can push a recovering patient into relapsing as common triggers such as poor sleep, pain, anxiety, stress, substance cravings start to reappear. People manage to better readjust to life without substances when they practice mindful meditation. They may feel less bothered by unpleasant situations, more aware of their thoughts, and better equipped to manage their emotions.

Meditation is exercising the mind. Most patients who practice mindful meditation can cope better with stress and cravings and can make decisions easier than before.

Incorporating meditation into daily life can help a person with addiction during and after the recovery process. Practising meditation for recovery means to:

  • Sign up for a yoga or meditation class.
  • Download a meditation app.
  • Breathe profoundly.
  • Observe the sensations you experience within the body.
  • Focus on positive thoughts.
  • Take a relaxing walk.
  • Pray.
  • Concentrate on gratitude, love, and happiness.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Also referred to as HBOT or HBO2T for short, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a complementary treatment technique offered at our residential locations. Our primary centre, Castle Craig Hospital, was the first alcohol and drug rehab clinic in the UK to provide this service as part of an addiction treatment programme. Treatment involves regular sessions of sitting in a pressurised chamber while breathing pure oxygen. 

HBOT can benefit anyone with severe withdrawal symptoms and/or with damage from long-term substance abuse. HBOT can help regenerate the liver, pancreas, and brain cells, as well as other organs in the body. It can also be utilised to ease other medical conditions.

Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy has several benefits:

  • decreases inflammation;
  • assists the detox process in brain cells;
  • increases circulation in damaged areas;
  • improves sleep;
  • supports damaged pancreas, liver, and brain healing process;
  • regenerates tissues;
  • assists the detox process in body cells;
  • regularize enzyme systems in the organism;
  • reduce cravings;
  • stimulate appetite.

When substance users quit consuming alcohol or drugs, they deal with withdrawal symptoms. The most common addiction withdrawal symptoms include:

  • anxiety
  • constipation
  • vomiting
  • craving
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irascibility
  • restlessness
  • body aches and pains
  • changes in heart rate
  • weight gain or weight loss

During the detox process, the patient can experience relapse as withdrawal symptoms are getting more intense. Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy may increase the chances of success and decrease the risk of relapse by reducing the cravings and repairing damaged cells and tissues.

What Complementary Therapy is Best for Addiction Treatment?

Each type of complementary therapy has its benefits and can be useful in many scenarios. When it comes to addiction treatment, there is no “best” answer as every person is different.

The Castle Health team will conduct a careful assessment prior to admission to one of our programmes. During that assessment a person will be interviewed in order to decide on the appropriate programme and begin designing a personalised treatment plan. As part of this process, the Castle Health team will recommend the best complementary therapy for the patients. Throughout the treatment period, patients may be referred to additional complementary therapies as needed. During a stay at one of our residential centres, patients will have the opportunity to try out a variety of complementary treatments and decide what works best for them.