Complementary therapies in substance use recovery with pregnant women and girls

Flannigan K, Odell B, Rizvi I, Murphy L, Pei J. Complementary therapies in substance use recovery with pregnant women and girls. Women’s Health. 2022;18. doi:10.1177/17455057221126807



Supporting women and girls who are pregnant and experiencing substance use challenges is a high priority for researchers, clinicians, and policymakers. Complementary therapies (CTs) can be effective forms of treatment in some contexts and populations; however, research on the use of CTs in substance use recovery with pregnant women and girls is scarce. To fill this gap, we conducted a mixed methods study using survey data collected at a women’s recovery center in Canada. Our objectives were to describe CTs provided at the program; identify what CTs are perceived by participants as most/least positive; and explore factors that may impact participant experiences with CTs.


We analyzed feedback responses from 255 women and girls (Mage = 27.5 years, range 15–64) using Pearson chi-square tests, logistic regression, and inductive content analysis.


The most frequently provided CTs were yoga, energy-related activities (e.g. reiki, reflexology), and meditation. Among the most common CTs, participants provided the highest endorsements for massage and physical activity, and the lowest endorsements for yoga and drumming. Across CTs, whether participants looked forward to an activity contributed significantly to whether they found it helpful, would like to do it again, and planned to continue engaging in the activity after leaving the program. Four broad contextual factors were identified that may impact experiences and perspectives about CTs: (1) goodness of fit, (2) self-awareness, (3) growth, and (4) healing and holistic wellbeing.


This study provides novel evidence on the potential impacts of CTs in substance use treatment for pregnant women and girls, and important contextual factors to consider when implementing these approaches.

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