Long-term drug and alcohol abuse can often lead to angry, irrational, and potentially violent behaviour; so why would a rehab in Northern Thailand be teaching addicts to Muay Thai box? The use of physical activity as part of a drug rehabilitation programme is not particularly new. However, The Cabin has developed an approach that utilises the ancient art of Thai boxing. Their ‘Changing Pathways’ approach is the first-ever treatment programme to combine equal amounts of psychotherapy, neuroscience, and physical therapy in the form of Muay Thai Boxing and triathlon training to achieve recovery.

What Is Muay Thai Boxing?

Muay Thai boxing dates to back the 18th century. It is a self-defense sport native to Thailand, Burma and Cambodia and is also known as “The Art of Eight Limbs”. The eight limbs refer to strikes delivered by hands, lower legs, elbows, and knees. However, it also includes the practice of meditation for focus and calm. Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand, and fights are shown on the country’s TV networks three times a week. Combatants, known as nak muay, fight in a ring wearing gloves.

In combination with 12 Steps facilitation, mindfulness meditation, neuroscience, and trauma protocols, Muay Thai is effective in healing addicts. Using similar principles to wilderness programmes, Muay Thai can be used to inculcate core values and re-establish an ordered developmental pathway in those living with an addiction.

Muay Thai also provides an excellent physical workout because it uses almost every part of the body, and it is fun. Addiction recovery experts also say that it helps release stress and improve sleeping.

Increased Self Discipline And Self-Confidence

Lee Hawker-Lecesne MBPsS, Addiction Counsellor and Lead Therapist at The Cabin comments: “The Cabin understands that many of those recovering from mood disorders, addiction and behavioural health problems live with low self-esteem. We have found that Muay Thai teaches clients self-discipline and can increase self-confidence. Adversity is overcome as each client’s self-esteem grows and they begin to think of themselves as a whole person – incorporating sporting and spiritual values rather than those aligned with the problems that they have been battling. In this respect the approach is not about fighting but “training, bonding, intimacy and transformation”.

Clients attending the award-winning clinic do not jump straight into a ring, first they must build and develop resilience through mindfulness mediation (Vipassana led by local monks)and grounding techniques. When they do enter the ring with a professional, they know their opponent won’t seriously hurt them but it’s the fact that they could which is so powerful. The entering of the unknown builds mild stress on the addicts and more stress develops resilience.  Training starts with no contact moving through to light sparring, which only comes at the end of the programme and is very controlled.

Boxing sessions conclude with a counsellor and trainer having a debrief with the client. This psychological component to the programme also raises common issues such as negative body image, or issues of not feeling good enough. Often those presenting for addiction treatment feel that they are not strong enough, not worthy, or are inferior in some way. Ironically this is often masked by bravado or fake confidence. This debrief process is a chance to challenge these maladaptive thinking styles, as well as gauge whether the boxing is appropriate for them and whether to step to the next level.

Mental Wellbeing

There has been limited Western research undertaken on the therapeutic benefits of Muay Thai, however The Cabin believes that having treated 5000 clients, that the physical challenge of boxing is effective in creating purpose and dedication in the lives of clients. There is, however, an ever-increasing body of evidence which demonstrates that using physical activity combined with therapeutic approaches such as mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy, mentoring and befriending and coaching has positive impacts on physical and more importantly mental wellbeing.

Anthony York, Chief Executive, Boxing Futures said: “Although not a new concept, The Cabin Group should be commended on their Changing Pathways programme, that uses Muay Thai boxing as part of their recovery programme. I have no doubt about the effectiveness of such programs.

UK Charities like Boxing Futures and others like Fight for Peace, London Community Boxing, and Empire Fighting Chance to name a few, are all using combinations of therapeutic models to engage with a wide range of people. They all use boxing as a conduit/tool to engage people and promote positive behavioural change.”

To date, The Cabin has produced three Muay Thai fighters and more than a dozen triathletes. One graduate completed an Ironman triathlon in France, where he raised money for orphans affected by methamphetamine addiction in the hill tribe areas of the Golden Triangle (Thai/Burma/Laos border).

Editor’s notes

  • Treatment is administered by a multi-disciplinary team of highly experienced, licensed addiction specialists.
  • Specialised staff include highly skilled and experienced behavioural and mental health therapists, as well as onsite medical staff, fitness trainers and a nutritionist.
  • The Cabin is licensed by Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health as a substance addiction, trauma, and behavioural health rehabilitation centre.
  • Voted ‘Mental Health and Addiction Rehab Service Provider of the Year in Asia-Pacific’ Global Health Asia Pacific Awards 2022.
  • A 28-day treatment programme at The Cabin costs from £13,000.

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