When we say “holistic” it tends to conjure up a rather fruity image, a world of herbal cigars burning over people draped in light fabrics, of lengthy sits in rooms with salt-plastered walls, anti-vaxxers treating deadly diseases with maple syrup.

A Holistic Approach to Wellbeing: How to Promote Quality Care to More Patients?
A Holistic Approach for Patient Care - Shutterstock Image

The buzzwords that come to mind, are pseudoscience, conspiracy, and stupidity. However, this is a detrimental image of the philosophy and practice of holism and holistic therapy. Many qualified medical professionals use holistic practices in their work daily.

There are many on-campus and online schools for a nurse practitioner[1], but how much do these courses teach you about healthcare? Sure they’ll give you clinical and chemical expertise, and this is one of the most important aspects of a healthcare professional’s job. However, there is so much more to being a doctor, nurse, or clinician than simply treating a patient.

If this surprises you, read on to unearth the mysteries of holism and holistic treatments.

What Is Holism?

Holism has a somewhat controversial reputation today. This is due to a large trend of alternative therapies advertising their services as “holistic,” only to have these very therapies disavowed by scientific research and authorities.

We aren’t here today to convince you that these particular therapies don’t deserve the title of pseudoscientific quackery. There exist many charlatans in the alternative therapy world who leverage people’s suffering for their gain.

However, treatments like aromatherapy, massage, and others can, with expert application, assist medical processes in alleviating certain conditions. So how do we know which “holism” is legitimate, and which is falsified, egocentric babble?

What Is Holism

What Is Holism. Shutterstock Image

The scientific method[2] finds answers through observation, prediction, experimentation, and evaluation of the results of the experiment. Then doing that over and over again. It is an exercise in the philosophy called “reductionism”; the belief that phenomena and experiences can be analysed in the context of their parts. In other words, a whole product only exists in the context of what builds it.

Holism, on the other hand, believes that anything can be or is more than the sum of its parts. You are not merely organs, bones, and muscles wrapped in skin – you are a personality, an experience, a life.

Both have merits and in a way, both are “right.” After all, to make a human you need the body and the mind. However, by reductionist standards, a human can only be human if they possess all of their bodily parts and are in full physical health. Any less than this, say, amputees, those with chronic illnesses, or physical/mental disabilities, and technically they don’t qualify as human anymore. From a holistic viewpoint, however, a human is a human if it possesses more than its parts. Under holism, any conscious being that has the capacity for human-like thought, perception, and experience can be considered human.

This is a very abridged definition, and we could write about it all day – but suffice it to say that it provides the background for identifying “right” and “wrong” holism. When a doctor says that they specialise in “holistic” treatment, it means that when you come to them with a health complaint, they’re going to examine your habits and life as best they can to offer comprehensive care. A reductionist doctor would simply prescribe a medicine or therapy to alleviate your symptoms, completely ignoring any outside influence that may be exacerbating the issue.

However, if someone says “holistic” meaning natural therapies with no scientific basis or backing, run, run for the hills. These people are not holistic therapists or doctors who practise holistically, they are scammers.

The Fundamental Interconnectedness of All Things

No longer are claims of interconnectedness relegated to the esoteric and mystic. No longer is the theory of a holistic existence, merely a theory. Several good scientific understandings point to the very literal existence of a globally holistic humanity. So what does this mean for holism and healthcare?

Well, for a start it means that holism isn’t just some crackpot with a rosemary sprig screaming half-truths at you. Holism, as a philosophy, relates to the universal reality that everything is connected to everything else. As a medical practice, it means that your issue can have many causes.

Let’s examine depression as an example. If you say to someone “I suffer from depression,” depending on who you talk to, you’ll get a variety of answers. Someone might tell you to just eat better. Another might say you need more sun. Another person might suggest exercise or anti-depressants. You might do any one of those things, it may even work for a bit. However, then your depression will start to rear its ugly head again.

These people, while well-meaning, can’t always fully appreciate what depression actually is, and how it works[3]. The chemical dance behind depression can be treated with diet[4], pleasurable neurochemicals can be released through physical activity, and getting sunlight directly on the skin promotes healing and wellness. However, these are all just parts of the puzzle. They will only help if they are all done together and maintained, coupled with therapy and possibly medication.

The simple truth is that holistic practice is highly advantageous. Seeing doctors and other healthcare professionals that stress a holistic approach to their method means that they’re passionate about looking at every patient on an individual basis, rather than only against data and stats. They will examine you, your lifestyle, how well your body systems are functioning, your mental state, and more; and when they treat you they will offer that treatment based on your entire functioning being, rather than just in the context of your ailment.

The image of holism and holistic therapy within the social consciousness is a tainted one. However, when one looks at the merits of the holistic philosophy, its implications and benefits to the medical field soon become apparent.

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We review published medical research in respected scientific journals to arrive at our conclusions about a product or health topic. This ensures the highest standard of scientific accuracy.

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Angela Lemond, RDN, CSP, LD

Angela Lemond is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Angela