Holistic health practices are used to support various types of healing and recovery, including addictions recovery. Massage therapy is a valuable addition to addiction treatment because of its therapeutic effects and the added benefits of stress and anxiety release.
We recently spoke with Dan Agapi, an NHPC massage therapist and the executive director of Recovery Acres, an addictions treatment facility located in Calgary, AB.
Dan has worked with addictions recovery patients to help support their recovery from both drug and alcohol addictions. He has also seen success in using holistic health practices to support addictions recovery.
Dan has a personal connection to 1835 House at Recovery Acres, where he is now the executive director. He successfully completed treatment there in 1988 and has been sober ever since. Now, Dan is a massage therapist and has returned to Recovery Acres to help others on their recovery journey.
Addictions and mental illness often go hand in hand. People who are unable to cope with mental illness sometimes turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate or numb the pain and symptoms they experience.
One in five Canadians experience mental illness or addiction. Canadians who suffer from a mental illness are twice as likely to have an addiction compared to the general population. At least 20% of those people have a co-occurring substance abuse problem.
Similarly, Canadians who have a substance abuse problem are three times more likely to also have a mental illness, and more than 15% of those people have a co-occurring mental illness.
Dan has found that many of the clients he treats for addictions are also suffering from stress and anxiety. Clients seek massage therapy as a way to manage this and to help them cope with their addiction.
Massage therapy helps those battling addiction by calming the nervous system and the fight-or-flight response, lowering tensions, promoting a sense of calm, lowering heart rate, and improving circulation in the body. Massage therapy has long-lasting effects on the body and its healing process.
The relationship that forms between the client and therapist is also an important part of the healing process. When recovery is supported through meaningful relationships and positive social networks, people are often more successful at overcoming their addiction.
People with addictions often isolate themselves, so support is especially important at the beginning of recovery when those suffering are learning how to cope with a life without drugs or alcohol.
"It often takes two to three treatments with the same client to develop a trusting relationship that allows the healing process to start," explains Dan. "It is important that sessions start out on a light note to allow the client to become comfortable with the practitioner."
Dan has found that as clients become more comfortable, they begin to open up more about the serious issues they face.
Dan emphasizes that, beyond supporting clients in their healing journey, it is important they are referred to the appropriate health professionals, such as a psychologist or a treatment centre.
"Massage therapists are not trained in psychological services, and if they find a client is coming in with a deeper issue, it is important they refer them to a trained professional who can help them," says Dan.
He also explains how important it is to set boundaries between the practitioner and the client when it comes to dealing with serious, deep-rooted issues.
Supporting someone through recovery can also be challenging. Seeing someone you care about go through addiction can often bring on worries about the future well-being of that person, emotional abuse from the user, and financial burden. Over time, this wears on the supporting person, causing stress and anxiety.
Massage therapy can be helpful to those supporting someone through addiction. During a massage, clients are able relieve stress and experience a place of trust and comfort. The treatment offers them some time to let their worries go and fully relax or to release pent-up emotions in a safe environment.
While the addictions recovery process can be challenging, Dan has seen many success stories throughout his career. "I have clients I treated through their addictions recovery 20 years ago who, now sober, still come for treatment and even bring their families," says Dan.
Overcoming an addiction is not an easy feat, but — with the support of trained professionals, a support system, and a blend of alternative and traditional treatments — it is achievable.
Dan has been an NHPC member since 1995. He started his career as a Canada Post letter carrier, but transitioned to massage therapy after seeing the need for massage services in his colleagues.
He spent the next 21 years working both as a letter carrier and as a massage therapist after completing his massage therapy training through Mount Royal University.
He is the now Executive Director of Recovery Acres in Calgary, where he supports people in their journey to overcome their addictions.