Examining the Healing Potential of Holotropic Breathwork in Addiction


This project has been completed

Directed by Oliver Williams

It is strongly indicated that the primary cause of an individual’s use of alcohol and drugs is the desire to seek transcendence. The proposed study would offer Holotropic Breathwork to volunteers selected at random from a treatment facility as a means of allowing the participant access to deep levels of the psyche.


Holotropic Breathwork is aptly named; its active component is the breath and it is most definitely work, for both participants and facilitators. It is not a magic bullet, but Byron Metcalf, PhD author of a 1995 Arizona study, suggests that Holotropic Breathwork appears to help some people heal the root causes of addiction.

This simple and wholesome technique encourages and supports a falling-away of present reality for the few hours of the session, allowing the participant access to deep levels of the psyche. Within this experiential framework profound healing can occur in the form of insights, epiphanies, catharsis and understandings of self quite beyond the capacity of ordinary consciousness.

The proposed study would offer Holotropic Breathwork to volunteers selected at random from a treatment facility for a period of one year and assess their recovery against a control group from the same recovery pool similarly selected, all of whom would maintain their ongoing recovery efforts. Research instruments would evaluate participants prior and throughout the year. Final results assessing self-esteem, emotional expression, ability to relate to others and behavioral functioning would also be made at one year post-treatment.

It is strongly indicated that the primary cause of an individual’s use of alcohol and drugs is the desire to seek transcendence. This is seen an entirely legitimate endeavor, the alcoholic or addicted individual only having chosen ‘the wrong doorway”; indeed, it is considered by some authorities to be as fundamental to our well being as food, shelter and warmth. Further, the lack of acknowledgement of this essential drive may impair our ability to understand the mechanisms of the causes of alcoholism and addiction.

Oliver Williams, B.A., graduated from Brighton Art School at the
University of Sussex, England, in 1968. He subsequently pursued a career as a working artist and cartographer in England, Europe and the USA, his work appearing in The New York Times, Newsweek, the New Yorker and other publications. He has practiced self-exploration with primal therapy, bio-energetics, meditation and cognitive therapy since 1972, and first experienced Holotropic Breathwork (HB) in 1992. Oliver began the Grof Transpersonal Training (GTT) in 1994, and since certification in 1996 has offered, through Journeywork, open public HB workshops and private sessions in New York City, NJ, CT, VT and MA, as well as in England.


This following paper was made possible in part by private funding administered by the John E. Mack Institute:

Rhinewine, Joseph P. and Williams, Oliver J. “Holotropic Breathwork: The Potential Role of a Prolongued, Voluntary Hyperventilation Procedure as an Adjunct to Psychotherapy”, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Sept 2007, vol. 13, no. 7, pp. 771-776

Objectives: To pose the question of whether Holotropic Breathwork (HB), a prolonged, voluntary hyperventilation procedure, might be useful in treatment of common psychiatric conditions such as anxiety and depressive disorders.

Design: This is a hypothesis-posing paper pertaining to a potential novel treatment.

Summary: The neurophysiology and psychology of hyperventilation are reviewed, including findings demonstrating that hyperventilation leads to significant changes in central nervous system activity as measured by various technological means. Preliminary evidence suggesting efficacy for HB is reviewed. A tentative biopsychologic hypothesis is offered, suggesting a potential mechanism that may underlie putative therapeutic effects of HB. Specifically, when HB is used in the context of ongoing psychotherapy, hyperventilation may facilitate generalized extinction of avoidance behaviors, resulting in therapeutic progress. Individuals high in trait absorption and social desirability who have failed to respond adequately to psychotherapy might be those most likely to respond to HB. Recommendations for future research directions examining the therapeutic potential of HB are offered.

Click here to download this paper (.pdf)


  Subject Area: Completed Projects, Projects

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