How Holistic Care Is Used in Nursing

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A nurse teaching her patients yoga.
Often, holistic and alternative medical techniques are considered separate from, or even opposed to, traditional clinical care. The reality is more complicated. While holistic medicine and traditional medicine are distinct disciplines, many medical providers offer them in tandem, and a number of patients believe that the two approaches complement each other.

Certainly, holistic medicine is gaining mainstream acceptance. According to a study published in ScienceDaily, one-third of cancer patients seek treatment through such alternative measures as yoga, acupuncture, and herbal remedies.

For those who work in nursing, understanding how holistic medicine can supplement more conventional medical care can inform their practice. Holistic medicine doesn’t have to be seen as an enemy to traditional clinical approaches. Instead, it should be viewed as another tool in the nurse’s toolbox and an additional approach to improving patient outcomes.

What Is Holistic Care?

Holistic medicine is a school of healing or patient intervention marked by an emphasis on the whole person; in holistic medicine, the focus isn’t merely on bodily health, but on the interconnectedness of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. The core belief in holistic medicine is that these different aspects of a person are closely connected and that if one of them becomes ill, it can’t help but affect the other aspects.

Focus on Environment

Another defining principle of holistic medicine is the emphasis on environments. Advocates of holistic care maintain that factors external to the individual may cause or exacerbate an ailment. As such, treating a particular malady may mean moving the patient into a new physical environment that better aligns with emotional or spiritual wellness.

Relationship Between Doctor and Patient

While holistic health leaves plenty of room for doctors and nurses, it’s characterized by a high level of involvement from the patient. As Chopra notes, “Holistic health puts the majority of health in the hands of the individual, through mindful and informed choices, self-study, education, and a way of life that is in harmony with nature.”

Achieving Balance

Another principle central to holistic medicine is that true health isn’t merely the absence of illness; it’s the optimal balance in mind, body, and spirit. As such, holistic care focuses on fixing underlying conditions and minimizing the risk of further illness, as opposed to solely alleviating symptoms.

The Benefits of Holistic Care

Advocates of holistic care (including the use of holistic care in nursing) point to a number of its significant benefits, including the following:

  • It empowers patients to be actively involved in making decisions about their treatment and care.
  • It reduces the use of chemicals, artificial ingredients, and laboratory-made medications, all of which are more common in conventional medicine.
  • It’s often more affordable than conventional treatment.
  • It can address several conditions at once, improving overall wellness and balance.
  • It’s attentive to emotional and spiritual health, not just physical symptoms.

Find Out More About Holistic Care

Integrating Holistic Care in Nursing Strategies

Even in a conventional medical setting, nurses can apply the principles of holistic care in numerous ways. Indeed, taking a hybrid approach to care can create an environment that improves patient outcomes.

Using Holistic Principles to Address Emotional Needs

One upshot to using holistic care in nursing is that it allows the caregiver to consider the patient’s emotional life. Holistic care espouses a clear connection between physical and emotional well-being, and nurses may use holistic principles to appeal to patients’ core values, address patients’ emotional support systems, or help patients determine whether their home and work environments are impeding their full emotional health.

Building a Symbiotic Relationship

Holistic care can also help nurses draw their patients into more symbiotic relationships. A core facet of holistic care is that it empowers patients to make their own decisions about the care they receive and be more intentional and involved in the treatment process. This mindset can also be applied to more conventional care. Additionally, an increased emphasis on the nurse-patient relationship can increase the patient’s level of trust, which may make it easier for the nurse to effectively treat the patient.

Increasing Patient Satisfaction

By integrating holistic and conventional treatments, nurses can provide their patients with a full spectrum of health care options and allow patients to have their concerns addressed not just physically, but emotionally and mentally, too. This fuller, more immersive approach to treatment can significantly boost patient satisfaction, as the patient is more likely to perceive that the nurse is doing everything possible to enhance quality of life and improve outcomes.

Learn More About Holistic Care in Nursing

Holistic Care Treatment Categories

When considering holistic principles in the nursing profession, it’s helpful to remember that holistic treatment comes in several forms. Consider just a few of the primary categories of holistic care.

Alternative Medical Systems

An alternative medical system is simply any theory of health care and practice that developed separately from conventional medicine. Some examples include acupuncturehomeopathy, and chiropractic care. These systems’ proponents maintain that they can address ailments and promote health in ways that conventional medicine can’t, and many of these treatments may be used as alternatives to, or in addition to, conventional methods.

Mind-Body Interventions

Mind-body interventions promote physical and mental well-being simultaneously. Some common examples include yoga and Pilates. Nurses may wish to engage patients in these interventions, whether with the help of a professional guide or at home, potentially using an app or video. These interventions may be useful for improving overall wellness and safeguarding against future ailments.

Biologically Based Therapies

Holistic care also leaves room for therapeutic modalities that are based on biological science. Some examples include herbal remedies and special nutritional guidelines. Such methods can be effective in showing patients how to maintain healthy lifestyles and also in eliminating reliance on pharmaceuticals.

Manipulative and Body-Based Methods

Manipulative and body-based methods include treatments that involve the movement of one or more body parts in a way that’s meant to be therapeutic. Some overlap with alternative medical systems exists; for example, chiropractic care can fit into either category. Additional methods include massage therapy and transcranial therapy.

Energy Therapies

Energy therapies are predicated on the idea that energy fields flow around and through the body and that properly channeling this energy is vital for whole body health. Some common energy therapies are magnetic healing therapy and therapeutic touch. These therapies can be natural alternatives to more invasive procedures or pharmaceuticals.

Holistic Medicine vs. Conventional Medicine

A final consideration for those curious about the role of holistic care in nursing is the level of distinction with conventional medicine. While holistic medicine and conventional medicine can work in tandem, they differ in several ways.

Differences Between Holistic and Conventional Care

The main differences between holistic and conventional care include the following:

  • Goals. Holistic medicine seeks to prevent disease by promoting whole body wellness. By contrast, conventional medicine typically focuses on alleviating symptoms and treating or curing diseases.
  • Care philosophies. Holistic medicine focuses on the connectedness of mind, body, and spirit; conventional medicine tends to view these aspects of the person in more compartmentalized terms.
  • Care methodologies. Holistic medicine offers self-help through lifestyle changes. By contrast, conventional medicine seeks to eliminate physical symptoms, often through surgery or pharmaceuticals.
  • Focus of primary and secondary treatment strategies. Holistic care allows nurses to provide options for both primary treatment (preventing a disease from occurring) and secondary treatment (minimizing the trauma from a disease that’s already occurred).

Holistic Care Can Complement Nursing

Holistic treatment doesn’t have to be an alternative to nursing care; on the contrary, it can work together with conventional approaches to provide patients with different forms of treatment and ultimately help them take charge of their own whole body health and wellness.