Energy Medicine in a Holistic Recovery Program

Energy Medicine (EM) involves an array of practices that work directly with one’s vital energies or life force (EMU, 2015). It has become an integral part of non-12 Step holistic addiction recovery and with dramatic results. As the “art and science of fostering physical, psychological, and spiritual health and vitality”, EM works through an understanding of the energies in the body and in the environment” (Jacka, 2011).

In holistic addiction recovery, EM allows us to fully recover from addiction rather than lead the rest of our lives in our previous framework: that, at best, we would always be in a recovering state and the addictive disease would remain in us, only in remission. To fully recover from addiction is revolutionary in the field of addiction treatment. It means that the underlying causes of addiction can finally be eliminated.

Energy Medicine owes its modern ‘credentials’ to years of accumulated discoveries in sciences such as physics, chemistry, biology and their related specialties. A good deal of that science sought answers to questions formulated without thought of medicine or healing, yet it has carved out a place of evidence-based understanding for the principles and practices of Energy Medicine nonetheless. In many ways, EM has long waited for science to catch up—to invent the necessary thinking, language and technology to definitively illustrate its workings. Many great minds have done that for us. In fact, some have called the field Einsteinian medicine because Einstein’s work helps us describe the way EM works (Gerber, 1988). Along these lines, the Nobel Laureate Albert Szent-Gyorgyi once said:  healing in every culture and every medical tradition before ours was accomplished by moving energy (Rakel, 2003).

What is Real Has Changed

Modern physics in particular has changed our view of reality itself. Naturally, within such a sweeping change, our understanding of ourselves has changed: who and what we are as humans; how we work; how we become ill and how we get well… The implications are vast and often staggering. These breakthroughs have shattered former constructs of medicine. They have also ‘validated’ ancient healing practices and other healing arts that have long been considered ‘unscientific’ (Shealy, 2011). Consequently, we have an exciting mix of disciplines at the same table as we are able to practice Energy Medicine, the ‘medicine of the future’ now (Oschman, 2000). Ironically, we have finally, with our new science, caught up to the shaman in a good many ways. The accuracy of his/her holistic healing principles are now apparent to us since we have the frame of reference, language and technology to understand them (Rosch, 2014).

One useful way to conceptualize the dramatic new paradigm of healing lies in this analogy:  energy medicine is to the understanding of human health as quantum physics is to the understanding of the universe. What’s more, each part of our analogy can now be understood as intricately and beautifully integrated into a unified view of life itself. This is true of all healing in the modern world including holistic addiction recovery.

The history of science has afforded us the equivalent of a ‘grand counsel of medical genius’ at our disposal. Seated among that metaphoric counsel are unnamed shamans from unrecorded history alongside famous Nobel Prize nominees and winners in physics, chemistry and biology. Sprinkled in between are practitioners of countless healing traditions and diligent scientists of all sorts. This is the foundation on which Energy Medicine now stands. The healing art of EM is rapidly becoming a healing science. We only need science to continue to catch up.

Beyond a Fragmented View

Addiction treatment with EM breaks away from a fragmented perspective of people, health and healthcare delivery. There have been many cracks to fall through in our status quo. It is typical, for example, for those who simultaneously need physical care, psychological care and addiction recovery services to also need access to 3 different healthcare systems in order to get them. This has happened even though all of these needs commonly occur together as the overall picture of addiction.

Previously, addiction treatment shared the limited and fragmented views of the body as a biological machine with parts that could be repaired, or at least patched. The throat doctor treated the throat, the brain doctor treated the brain and all the other doctors in between treated all the rest of us. Modern physics especially did away with that fragmented notion, giving us instead a universe, and its inhabitants, that are connected with each other and within themselves. We see that we are not parts, but are whole organisms of inseparable parts (Capra, 1996). As the theoretical physicist David Bohm said, we are an “unbroken wholeness” (Lemkow, 1990).

Our western medical tradition is a noble one that has greatly benefited humanity and continues to. Embracing a holistic addiction recovery model is not a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water as some may think. Rather, our holistic addiction recovery methods seek to embrace the greater contributions to “medical advances and safeguarding human health” (Pan & Zhou, 2013) that combined efforts can make. This more inclusive approach to health now allows us to treat the underlying causes of addiction. Consequently, it is possible to step away from the ‘disease of addiction’ into full recovery because we have treated the full person.

Energies and Their Fields

Energy Medicine is concerned with the “energy systems that make up the subtle infrastructure of every body” (Eden & Feinstein, 2008). We understand now that energy is not divisible into the parts our traditional western medicine has treated, but that we are “surrounded and permeated by a fluid world of radiating energy… constantly moving and changing; an ocean of dancing, spinning, flashing particles of light, energy, and information” (Alvino, 2014).  , Einstein’s famous formula, compactly reminds us of this (Gallo, 2007).

Natural energies are the ‘tools’ and ‘treatments’ of EM and human energy fields are the theaters in which they are used. Our bodies and all the other ‘parts’ we have imagined to comprise us–like emotions, behaviors, thoughts and spirit—are naturally grounded in the universe of interconnected patterns of energy, too. There are many forms of energy, but those most significant in EM involve the body’s electrical, electromagnetic and “subtle” energies (Eden, 2008) which are invisible to ordinary perception.These are responsible for the body’s enlivening and healing.

Milestones of Understanding

Each of the energies involved in EM have a large body of scientific evidence that substantiate them. Two examples of the milestones are:

  • Faraday and Maxwell’s work with electromagnetism in the early 1800’s. They found evidence that the universe is filled with fields of energy that create forces and that these forces interact with one another (Forbes & Mahon, 2014).

  • Dr. Harold Burr proved in the early 1930’s that life has electromagnetic properties which are ‘organizing principles’ that keep living tissue from “falling into a chaotic state” (Matthews, 2007). Additionally, he demonstrated that the biochemistry and patterns of organization within the body correlate to the state of these energies. He also found that the energy field can reveal disturbances before any symptoms appear in the body (Jacka, 2011).

Skipping over countless other developments, we fast forward to a contemporary, the biologist Rupert Sheldrake. His theory of morphogenetic fields greatly informs our understanding of EM. He states that living organisms are regulated by invisible fields that organize them. This is done through a natural “architectural plan” or an invisible blueprint for life that each “kind of cell, tissue, organ and organism has “ (Sheldrake, 2012; Sheldrake, 1999). The blueprints contain information that is needed for self-organizing and returning to balance after experiencing distress or disturbance. In short, the plan for self-healing lies within living organisms.

Understanding Unseen Energy Fields

A simple way to imagine the invisible and organizing fields of energy that surround us is to consider magnetism as children explore it. They observed the effects of magnets on iron filings, for example, able to witness energy fields and their organizing principles made visible as in this photo.  If there are noiron filings for their experiment, the energy fields would remain invisible to them.

The organizing energy fields surrounding the body, mind, emotions and spirit of people similarly remain invisible to ordinary perception. They are nevertheless, just as real as those of our childhood experiment. Our organizing energy fields “direct biochemical processes as decisively as a magnetic field aligns metal filings” (Liboff, 2004).

We not only have scientific knowledge of our energy system’s blueprint, but also of ways in which energy-based events become physical phenonenom in our bodies. Research from many scientific disciplines has now identified a field from which information is “broadcast” “to genes, neurons, and other governing mechanisms of the body” (Eden, 2008). As Dr. R. O. Becker said a decade ago: “We are now in the process of revising the past century’s biochemical concept, under which all major life processes are chemical in nature, to one that proposes that such processes are electromagnetic in nature” (Becker, 2004).

Implications for Addiction Treatment

Regarding ourselves and our concerns here, whatever can this mean for addiction treatment? Very simply, it means that we have a powerful non-12 Step and holistic addiction recovery method that finds the causesof and the remedies for addiction in the body’s own energies. In EM the body’s subtle energies are manipulated therapeutically to restore health and a non-disease-centric state (Doutaz, 1998). Such recovery is a phenomenon that is experienced by the entire person at a deep and transformative level. Descriptions of it can slip out of the hand like water, but when it happens, it is a powerful and deeply transformative experiential event.

Psychological Disturbances and Addiction

Many psychological conditions commonly co-occur with addictions—depression, anxiety, panic, mania, trauma reactions and obsessions and compulsions, to name a few. All are caused by disturbances in the body’s energy systems (Gallo, 2007). The methods of EM can simultaneously address these co-occurring issues bringing about shifts in emotions, cognitions, and behaviors (Gallo, 2004) associated with those problems in the energy system.

On the right in this picture one of the most common co-occurring issues, depression, is seen in a PETscan[1] image. It is contrasted with the image on the left of a brain free of depression. These demonstrate their differences in functioning.  Color gradations from darkest to lightest indicate least activity to highest activity. This image is a powerful visual illustration of the functioning energies in both states.

Depression, like other psychological disturbances, has many manifestations like physical, emotional, cognitive, behavioral and spiritual symptoms. The experience of depression confirms this for us: it is hard to move, our emotions are flat and dysphoric, we think hopeless thoughts, we do very little and we feel spiritually disconnected. For the purpose of our discussion, we might say that the typically invisible energy disruptions of depression have been made visible here with the aid of the PETscan. Also, for our purposes, we might say that the ‘not depressed’ image shows the energy blueprint of healthy functioning to which we hope the depressed person could be restored.

The Energies of  Vulnerability and Trauma

In certain conditions there are serious vulnerabilities and trauma that occur in the energy system. These cause debilitation and leave one unprotected in various ways. This is consequently reflected in symptoms and the observable lives of people so affected.  Addiction is one of these. It universally causes an easily observed and notable change in one’s personality, for instance. The extreme life consequences of addiction also attest to these profound alterations in their personalities. For example, many addicted people have done things when addicted that are unthinkable to them when they recover.

Addicted people are also vulnerable to victim experiences. Issues of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, accidents; and high risk, self-destructive behaviors are common. Additionally, many addicted people have experienced childhood trauma such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse. All of these experiences remain in the energy fields affecting one’s life until balance is restored. Some have difficulty achieving a comfortable and sustainable recovery because of such unresolved conditions. The energies of trauma are extreme. They are expressions of the survival instinct frozen in the body and need to be released for balance and health to return (Levine, 1997).

Recurrent episodes of intoxication create chronic energy disturbances. Energies become scrambled, congested, depleted or out of balance (Eden & Feinstein, 1998). These complicate whatever imbalances are already there, creating what psychiatry calls complicated or complex trauma (PTSD). Such disturbances can ‘congeal’ into extreme patterns that can make the addicted person ‘unrecognizable’ to their loved ones. Exaggerated, avoided or unprocessed emotions; thought distortions and erratic behavior are symptomatic of those disturbances.

The vulnerability factors of addiction can be understood through this analogy:  a person’s field of energies in health should move through the environment much like a school of fish. When parts are blocked, scrambled or deficient, however, one becomes as vulnerable as a school which has been culled. Consequently, further disturbances can ‘intrude’ to fill the void. Among fish these are predators. In people they may feel as if preyed upon because they are in a debilitated state. In such circumstances, immunity drops, illnesses develop; the personality can be suppressed or altered and so on (Skelton, 2010). Many conditions dismissed as psychosomatic may have their origins in such vulnerabilities. In traumatic reactions—conditions of extreme vulnerability–such energy intrusions are reflected in intrusive symptoms like flashbacks and persistent but unwanted thoughts and memories (Gallo, 2007). EM is an effective treatment for all of these issues.

The Social Self and Holistic Addiction Recovery

A great deal of addiction recovery concerns re-establishing healthy relationships. Loved ones have suffered along with the addicted person and have been energetically affected as well. At times, too, relationships from the past continue to linger energetically, affecting current functioning and well-being.   Energy Medicine techniques can resolve these issues and prepare you for more healthful interactions. Learning to be mindful of energy exchanges within one’s legacy, social dealings and more intimate relationships, is part of achieving a comfortable and sustainable recovery.

What to Expect

If you have made other attempts to recover, you will find a program of Energy Medicine to be dramatically different. Traditional addiction treatment taught us that even when treatment was successful, the disease would still live in us and require constant vigilance. This was purportedly true even when our addiction-related thoughts, feelings and behaviors had stopped. It also did not matter how long ago they had stopped, once addicted, always addicted. In that paradigm, we were to continue our recovering lives ever mindful of having a disease.

EM replaces that disease-centric consciousness and way of life. We know now that we no longer have to live with addiction as the center of our personal universes just because we once did. You will not be forced to accept a 12 Step approach; although you are free to incorporate that if you want. The goal is for you to learn how to be your own health practitioner.

A non-12 Step holistic addiction recovery program may introduce you to unfamiliar practices; however, all of them are respectful and non-invasive. Even though they bring about dramatic change, they are experienced as gentle, compassionate and non-threatening. Some Energy Medicine techniques may involve touch from the practitioner, but again, these are done in compassionate and non-threatening ways. While holistic practitioners will have individual preferences for techniques, all work with the subtle energies discussed here to the same end. Some methods that most people have heard of are Reiki, acupressure, tapping and acupuncture. These have all proven quite effective in addiction work (Hecker, Peuker, & Steveling, 2006; Johnson, 2011; Wager & Cox, 2009).