Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/9/2022
If you’ve ever turned up your nose at the idea of holistic therapy, you’ll probably be surprised to learn that it isn’t what you think it is.
Western culture has done a good job of looking at certain forms of “alternative medicine” and holistic medicine as hoaxes compared to “modern medicine.” That’s the argument.
Terms like alternative medicine, Chinese medicine and traditional medicine get thrown around. And while there’s certainly truth to the ineffectiveness of modern snake oil, the term “holistic” has gotten a bad rap, due mostly to its peripheral association to the snake oil stuff.
If someone has recommended “holistic therapy” to you, they may not be talking about a mid-level marketing scheme or some unproven tactic, but rather, something you already know about.
Essentially, “holistic” doesn’t always mean “nonsense.”
Rather than debate the politics of alternative therapy, though, let’s make this simple. Holistic therapy may be something that can benefit you. To understand why, we first need to look at the real definition of the word “holistic.”
The term “holistic” may seem to have a lot of polarizing connotations, but in the simplest terms, holistic just means that a type of therapy or treatment is inclusive or complete, meaning it looks at the bigger picture.
Holistic treatments are really anything that doesn’t fit the definition of conventional or mainstream medicine. This may mean herbal remedies, but it might also include more obvious and accepted treatments.
A good way to think about holistic treatment is to think about a disease like diabetes. Holistic techniques could simply mean that, in addition to insulin, your healthcare provider might also treat you through changes to your diet and exercise routines.
Holistic psychotherapy or holistic psychology is essentially the same thing, but for mental disorders, mood disorders and other forms of mental health issues.
Holistic psychology believes that psychology is ultimately a treatment therapy for a whole human being — someone with a psychological existence, but also one that is biological and sociocultural.
There’s no holistic psychology school or approach that has a special procedure. In fact, holistic psychology isn’t really a type of psychotherapy at all. It’s just a perspective.
Surprisingly, there’s not much else to the idea. But how a healthcare provider or mental health professional applies it to your care may be significant to your results.
It’s been noted for its benefits in recent years under the label of “integrated psychological care,” where studies have shown major benefits including better care for people with long term physical conditions and illnesses and the mental toll those conditions take.
It’s also been an important pathway for learning more about the financial implications of healthcare costs on the mental health of individuals with chronic health conditions — something that shouldn’t be overlooked.
It can also be effective in helping mental health providers avoid doing more damage.
A child with trauma may not benefit from being reintroduced to that trauma if their holistic profile is considered as part of their care, which may rule out types of therapy like exposure therapy from their comprehensive treatment plan.
While explorations into this area of mental health care are frustratingly few and recent, the news so far is good about the effectiveness of holistic therapy, especially for people with additional considerations to be included in their big picture quality of life math.
In the larger sense, it’s also about seeing a patient as someone who does not exist within a void. The quiet and fatigued adult in their late 30s may not be able to take a mental health break or integrate intensive, frequent therapy — they might have kids.
An anxious child, likewise, may have school, home or other social arenas to thank for their anxiety disorders, and understanding more about it may help in their treatment.
Parts of this may seem like common sense, but it’s important to remember that for conditions like anxiety, depression, PTSD and others, effective treatment may include medication, therapy, lifestyle changes and wellness practices, or all of the above.
Therapy forms like cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT are designed to help you break unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior, but the lens of holistic therapy can help a mental health professional better understand how to break those patterns, and help you understand why those patterns are so significant.
That’s one of the reasons that your mental health is so much safer when you’re caring for it with the assistance of a healthcare professional.
What holistic therapy means to you is ultimately going to be the result of conversations between you and your mental health professional which is why that relationship is such a big part of any of the forms of therapy — especially holistic therapy.
A therapy provider you trust and feel comfortable with is someone you can also be honest with, and the more you’re willing to share, the more accurate your treatment can be. That’s just not going to happen if you don’t feel safe and judgment-free.
If you’re not sure where to start your search, consider our online therapy platform where you can access a variety of therapy professionals (including holistic therapists), and can get access to medication.
In the meantime, consider treating yourself to a little holistic knowledge. Our resources on the types of therapy, how to find a therapist, and the difference between psychologists and psychiatrists are great places to get your questions answered.
As for the rest of your holistic healing journey — start that sooner than later to get those holistic health results.