Holistic therapy is a bio-psycho-social-spiritual approach to treatment that blends traditional therapeutic approaches with complementary and alternative methods. Rather than focus exclusively on an illness, it views the person as a whole.1,2,3,4 The main goal is to assist a client in creating an awareness of the mind-body-spirit connection in an effort to promote wellness and relapse-prevention.1,2,3
What Is Holistic Therapy?
Holistic psychotherapy fosters wellness by integrating complementary and alternative treatment methods (CAM) such as reiki, yoga, tai chi, massage, breath work, and meditation alongside traditional psychotherapy approaches.1,4 It has roots in traditional and ancient medicine, as well as non-traditional therapeutic approaches, including hypnosis, heart-centered hypnotherapy, energy and spiritual healing, ayurvedic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, and creative art therapy.1,2,3
The inherent focus of holistic therapy is achieving and maintaining balance within your own mind, body, and spirit to achieve a deep level of self-healing and awareness.1,2,3,4 It conceptualizes problems by examining all contributing aspects and variables within the scope of your daily life and habits. Holistic providers also work collaboratively with individuals to prevent mental health crises, illness, and relapse.
Holistic Therapy Techniques
Holistic therapy incorporates a spectrum of traditional and alternative techniques like meditation and guided imagery. Because this approach integrates many evidence-based and alternative interventions, the list of techniques is extensive.
Holistic techniques include:
- Heart-centered hypnotherapy2
- Creative art therapy2
- Breath therapy2
- Guided imagery2
- Positive psychology2
- Re-birthing breath1
- Tai chi1,3,5
- Ayurvedic medicine4,5
- Mindfulness 4,5
- Traditional chinese medicine (TCM)4,5
- Acupuncture 3,4,5
- Nutritional therapy3,4
Goals of Holistic Therapy
The most common goal of holistic therapy is to gain a deeper understanding of yourself as integrated parts that equal a whole. This is known as holism.1,2,3,4 Specific goals should be a combination of personalized outcomes and symptom-reduction measures. Personalized goals can be social, nutritional, spiritual and physical.
Symptom-reduction is focused around cessation of triggers, employing coping skills and increase of function.1,4,6,7 When examining the efficacy of outcomes with substance-use disorders (SUD), individuals reported higher levels of assimilation into society and lower instances of relapse when integrated (CAM) goals were included in their treatment.7
Some therapists argue that effective holistic therapy involves a collaborative aspect to goal-setting.8 In traditional psychotherapy, goals are usually designated after an assessment phase. During the treatment planning phase, many agencies require therapists to review these goals with the client to ensure a collaborative and effective approach to treatment.8 Holistic therapy follows this same trajectory while conducting further assessment to examine the individual as a whole and incorporating social, spiritual, vocational, and physical goals to achieve overall wellness.7,8
What Can Holistic Therapy Help With?
Considering the interrelated nature of the application, holistic psychotherapy can be beneficial for almost any ailment in children and adults.
Holistic therapy can help with:1,2,3
- Anxiety disorders
- Substance-use disorders
- Major depressive disorder
- Stress-related issues
- Sexual abuse and other trauma
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Adding complementary holistic approaches to treatment helps individuals assimilate into society by providing social skills, recreational activities, and assistance with practical needs.6 Activities such as yoga, tai-chi, massage, and other CAM practices provide social support and teach coping skills.1,3,6,7
Individuals with severe and debilitating mental diagnoses such as schizophrenia also show success with holistic treatment. However, findings indicate that holistic techniques are more helpful in a highly structured setting.10 In one study, individuals with schizophrenia were provided an integrated therapeutic approach that included cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medication management, yoga, and nutrition therapy.11
Patients were also given a combination of vitamin D and folic acid. Findings indicated that more holistic intervention and wraparound support was needed in order to fully address all of the bio-psycho-social fallout associated with schizophrenia.11
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Examples of Holistic Therapy
Holistic therapy helps clients with SUD develop the skills necessary to assimilate into society, which are integral to relapse prevention. During the therapeutic process, clients learn adaptive skills and how to combat social stressors and cravings through CAM applications such as yoga, tai-chi, massage, and meditation.1,3,7
Typically, if a client has a SUD, the provider will possess the clinical knowledge to designate appropriate goals. However, using the lens of holism, a holistic provider will conduct further assessment to determine other deficits and contributing factors that may be contributing to the issue.1,3,7
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America elects yoga, meditation, stress-reduction techniques, and acupuncture as effective holistic methods to treat anxiety and depression.12 Common CAM techniques include the use of herbs ( chamomile, valerian root, St. john wort, kava) and stress-reduction practices like massage and acupuncture.13 A therapist will work with a client to engage in a traditional therapeutic intervention along with CAM techniques to decrease anxiety symptoms, increase function, and promote mind-body-spirit wellness.1,11,12,13
When working with diverse populations, a holistic approach may be instrumental in developing adequate cultural competence. Evaluation of holistic factors when providing treatment for African American women showcased the importance of the whole system. Social support, spirituality, physical ailments, socioeconomic status, and marital status were significant predictive factors of mental health symptoms.14
How Much Does Holistic Psychotherapy Cost?
Because it can be delivered in many ways, the cost of holistic psychotherapy varies. If you seek a licensed therapist with a specific holistic specialization, such as aromatherapy, or nutrition, cost may be covered by insurance. However, a holistic therapist may recommend CAM therapies they don’t provide like massage, acupuncture, or biofeedback. These are usually paid for out of pocket.
As of 2007, American’s were spending about 34 billion dollars on out-of-pocket costs for CAM providers with the average cost per service being $50-100 USD.15,16,17 Due to inconsistent research outcomes, most holistic therapeutic services such as massage, tai chi, yoga, and acupuncture are not covered by conventional health insurance.16 Certain holistic specialties like nutritional mental health counseling may not be covered by insurance either. In this circumstance, depending on the therapist, you can expect to pay approximately $100-200 USD out of pocket.
Given the broad spectrum of providers, services, and practice types, work with your insurance company and provider(s) to determine which services will be covered and what is needed for medical necessity.19
How to Find a Holistic Therapist
First, identify your own needs. When initially investigating providers, keep in mind their education, experience, and level of expertise.20 There are a number of holistic educational programs that are not accredited; therefore, an individual with this training may not possess adequate knowledge to clinically treat the issue.25
Utilize traditional search methods such as asking your primary care physician (PCP). You can also use an online directory to narrow your search by area, expertise, cost, and more.
If you are interested in a specific modality such as reiki, massage, herbalism or yoga, check the governing agency of these services to gain education. Additionally, conduct preliminary research or talk to your PCP about evidence-based research on the application of this modality in relation to the ailment.1,3,4,11,16, 17,18
What to Expect at Your First Appointment
Just like if you were seeing a behavioral health provider, your first holistic appointment will consist of assessment and information gathering. That said, a holistic therapist will dig deeper into previous treatments, lifestyle factors, nutrition, exercise, support systems, hormones, and other variables of the whole self. These providers also focus on empowering you by providing and suggesting resources and interventions to implement as a source of treatment and prevention.21
Is Holistic Therapy Effective?
Because its conceptualization and application are expansive, it’s difficult to record concrete evidence of holistic therapy’s efficacy.4,6,11,21 It places a heavy emphasis on developing spirit, which is difficult to measure, making its success somewhat subjective.1,2,3,4 Ethically, a therapist must only provide treatment if they have competent training in that specialty.22 Each practitioner may have different levels of expertise and competencies with particular methods.
History of Holistic Therapy
Holistic therapy has ancient roots and modalities, such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), reiki, herbalism, ayurveda, yoga, and tai chi. Hippocrates has been attributed as the founding father of holism, identifying that individuals will “never be well unless the whole is well” around 400 B.C.E. However, it was Jan Christiaan who coined the term “holism” in 1926.4,23,24,25
While there is no doubt that these two individuals were instrumental in the theory of “holism,” other holistic modalities follow individualized theories of illness and wellness while still placing an emphasis on the whole self.23,24,25 One example of this is traditional Ayurvedic medicine, which has origins in India and dates back to the 6th century B.C.E.23
As modern medicine progressed during the later portion of the 19th century and early 20th century, more Western medical educational programs and colleges began to be the accepted norm. A focus on Americanization and the abandonment of culture and ethnicity also played a role in the decreased use and acceptance of holistic medicine.26
Holistic medicine gained a resurgence in popularity during the 1960s and 70s and then briefly fell out of favor during the later part of the 20th century.24,25 However, due to a multitude of factors, including provider-patient relationships and ineffectiveness of treatment, individuals have been gravitating more towards a holistic approach to treatment in more recent years.9,24,25
Final Thoughts on Holistic Therapy
Holistic therapy has ancient roots but is gaining popularity in recent years due to the growing interest in mind-body connection and natural approaches to treatment. It focuses on fostering wellness by integrating complementary and alternative treatment methods (CAM) such as reiki, yoga, tai chi, massage, breath work, meditation alongside traditional psychotherapy approaches.