What is “Holistic?”

I was exhibiting at an event recently when someone came up to me and asked, “What is holistic?” Whoa. I thought that we’d moved into a time where everyone was aware of what it meant to be holistic even if they chose not to embrace it. Apparently I’ve been living in a bubble. For those of you who are still unsure what holistic means, let me clarify that.

Holistic is a term used to describe an approach to life that includes the whole person. When you look at it that way, it seems obvious that we are whole people. You can’t be truly understood or helped without understanding your family, your spirituality, and your values as well as your symptoms, right? But actually that is exactly how many specialties view people. Allopathic medicine treats your symptoms of disease. You see a heart specialist if your heart has symptoms. You see a dermatologist if you have skin problems. It is not just confined to medicine. Trauma therapists treat your trauma symptoms, not you. Lawyers treat your legal problems. Preachers deal with your spiritual problems.

A holistic professional sees you as a whole person. They don’t focus on making your symptoms go away, although that is certainly desirable. They focus on removing the dis-ease by treating the root cause and rebalancing the system so that your symptoms go away and you achieve wellness.

HolisticTreeYou are a blend of your body, mind, and spirit. If there is an imbalance in one of these areas, the others are also impacted whether you have symptoms there or not because everything is connected. Your environment and lifestyle impact your state of wellness so things like having warm friends, eating healthy food, being exposed to sunshine, and having a mental stimulation influence your state of wellness.

There are lots of different people using the holistic title these days and it means different things to different people. Here is what it means to me.

  • I’ll see you as a whole, resourceful, capable being despite how your symptoms make you appear.
  • I will see you as an interconnected part of humanity and the universe, not some lonely, isolated being who needs to be “fixed.”
  • I will do my best to understand all of you, not just your symptoms. You only make sense, after all, in connection to your experiences, personality, culture, knowledge, and desires.
  • I will suggest ways that you can make your environment healthier and will respect your choices.
  • I will make sure you understand all your treatment choices so that you are fully informed and are in charge of what happens.
  • I will go at your pace and never ask more of you than you are prepared to give.
  • I will make sure that you have a healthy self-care routine so that your body has the energy to create and sustain change before embarking on change work. Nobody wants to crash.
  • I will make sure you are fully supported during our work together.
  • I will educate you about prevention and self-care so that you are able to create wellness for yourself and can be a better advocate for yourself should you need help in the future.
  • We will have a two way relationship that has firm boundaries, yet be one that considers the needs, desires, awareness and insight of both parties.
  • I will encourage your autonomy. The goal is to get you to the place where you don’t need me.
  • I will teach by my living example.
  • I will educate you so that you don’t have to rely on osmosis, hope, or guessing to develop skills, insight, and healthy habits.
  • I will accept you just as you are no matter what.
  • If you don’t know something that I do, I will tell you. If I don’t know something, I will also tell you that.
  • I will accept that you are expert on you and your experience.
  • I won’t try to change you or get you to fit into some treatment modality.
  • I will offer you interventions and suggestions that can help you reach a state of balance wholeness.
  • I will refer you to someone else either for all your care or part of it if I am not able to meet your needs.

There is a difference between a holistic approach and a holistic modality. Holistic modalities are things like: dream work, aromatherapy, herb medicine, cranial sacral therapy, acupuncture, yoga, and can even be dentistry. If the practitioner does not have holistic approach, the modality is of limited benefit. Clients and providers alike are dehumanized by any healing modality that does not have a holistic approach because of a lack of time, lack of care, a one-size-fits-all approach, and a focus on symptoms rather than the person. When choosing a path to wellness, it’s most beneficial to consider not only the modality, but the approach. A provider with both is truly holistic.

Not only are you a holistic being, all of nature is holistic. Once you start to understand and live in a holistic space, it opens up the possibility to see people, animals, nature, and the universe in that way. If you can get to a place where you feel the interconnectedness of yourself with all of life, your entire experience of life changes. That’s what a holistic practice is about for me. It’s not just about getting you out of pain. It’s not just about teaching you skills so that you can cope with stuff, avoid problems, or even have a fuller life. I’d like for everyone to experience as much life as they can contain.

For more information on holistic health, see the American Holistic Health Association‘s brochure Wellness from Within: The First Step and Gift For a Better Life.

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