While there are many different nursing styles and techniques used by professionals all over the US, holistic nursing practice has endured for decades. Holistic nursing looks at what one could refer to as the “bigger picture”. It looks beyond the basic diagnosis and symptoms of a patient to include looking at their experience as a whole.
As a topic, holistic care can seem quite complex on the outside. However, it’s a practice that nurses continue to follow thanks to its immense benefits for people suffering from a range of ailments and conditions.
In this article, we’ll explore what holistic nursing care is and why it’s such a significant type of practice in helping people to feel better inside and out.
What is holistic nursing care?
Holistic nursing puts patients at the heart of the care process and considers their general well-being. That is, holistic care practices recognize that well-being doesn’t start and end with physical symptoms. In fact, conditions and problems patients might be facing tie in with mental and psychological health as much as physical concerns.
Holistic care also taps into the emotional and social factors of one’s medical needs. Ultimately, any nurse practicing holistic care in a hospital setting will look at a patient as a complex person with many interconnected needs. The aim of holistic nursing practices, therefore, is often to try and cater to all of these facets and to try and understand how they all link together.
Many refer to holistic care and practices as a philosophy, in that it travels beyond physical illness and requires deeper analysis about what a patient might be feeling, and what the emotional impacts are of the problems they face and the care they receive. In many cases, nurses also take spiritual needs into account.
What do holistic nurses do?
A holistic nurse is a specific role that involves looking at various interconnected triggers to help people make better lifestyle choices and heal efficiently. Nurses at all levels can study and practice holistic care as they wish. These nurses will combine various technical knowledge they gain through education and physical practice alongside complementary therapy.
These therapies may be as widely recognizable as simply providing patients with balanced nutrition or recommending meditation and mindfulness exercises. Each case will, as always, provide a variety of challenges unique to specific people and the problems they face, and will therefore require specific solutions.
As well as being a caregiver, a nurse practicing holistic care principles might also be regarded as an “advocate” on behalf of their patients. This is because they look beyond the physicalities of care and symptoms to understand how the people they care for are feeling on multiple levels, including mental or emotional well-being. A holistic nurse also plays an important role in educating patients on how to better care for their whole self once they leave a hospital or clinic.
What are some common holistic therapies?
Holistic therapies available to patients will vary depending on the clinics and hospitals they attend. However, it’s likely that many across North America will have access to massage treatments and acupuncture, both of which aim to help release stress and energy with the goal of helping the mind and body heal in synchronicity.
Other types of holistic care provided by nurses and specialists might include aromatherapy treatments, where a patient can enjoy essential oils to help relax the mind and body, and hypnosis, where a specialist uses techniques to try and activate a patient’s subconscious. In most cases, these treatments are voluntary and might come secondary to physical or medicinal treatments typically prescribed through wards and doctors’ surgeries.
It’s also reasonable for many nurses to learn about the presence and importance of holistic therapies when studying, such as through an MSN nursing education online program with a college such as Cleveland State University. Cleveland State University offers a broad range of modules and materials for nursing students to learn about different techniques and practices.
Wellness coaching and stress management are two core areas of holistic care that are becoming more and more prevalent in general medicine and treatment. Therefore, it’s not unheard of for nursing students on programs such as the one mentioned above to come across these principles early on in their education, and to build on them as they progress in physical clinic and hospital settings.
What are the responsibilities holistic care nurses should keep in mind?
Nurses practicing holistic care methods typically follow the same principles and standards you would expect of nursing staff in general healthcare situations. However, there are a few key tenets of this care practice that holistic nurses must always keep in mind.
For example, holistic nurses will balance caring for a patient’s physical condition alongside the impacts on their mental health and ergo their emotional state. Holistic nursing believes that while you can heal patients from physical conditions on the surface, there might be lingering mental or emotional struggles that they hide deep down.
Holistic nurses will also consider the healthcare experiences patients have previously entered into, and any challenges they might face in their everyday lives. They also consider spiritual needs that a patient might have and help to connect them to their everyday well-being. These, in some cases, are just as important as healthy beliefs and personal values.
It’s not always a holistic nurse’s place to challenge a patient’s experience or beliefs, far from it. Rather, a holistic nurse might gently encourage new ways for patients to start feeling healthier and recovering from illnesses that frequently affect them.
Crucially, the role of a holistic nurse is rooted in curiosity and compassion. A holistic nurse wants to look at the bigger “whole” of a person and therefore carefully learn more about what makes them feel better.
What are the main differences between holistic nursing care and traditional treatments?
It’s safe to say that holistic and traditional nursing follow many of the same principles and facets, particularly when showing compassion and thinking deeply about solving complex healthcare problems.
However, holistic care tends to focus more on the idea that the individual parts of a person are all connected. That means holistic nurses will frequently treat all of a person’s issues as one rather than separately. Holistic nurses prioritize mental and emotional well-being just as much as physical healing and wouldn’t consider approaching either topic on its own basis unless necessary.
Holistic nursing care sometimes takes a lateral thinking approach when it comes to helping patients get better. For example, a holistic nurse might consider why a certain person feels a particular way when receiving medical treatment, and might consider if it connects to diet, daily routine, or the environments they live and work in.
As such, holistic nurses strive to make sure their patients leave their care completely supported, and that they have not merely received the base-level care for a physical injury or condition. Of course, that’s not to say traditional nursing doesn’t look deeply into the connected parts of a person’s “whole”.
What it does mean is that instead of looking at different problems and treating them separately (and potentially slowing down the process of fuller healing), a holistic nurse will place all of these individual elements on the same pedestal and treat them with the same merits.
How can holistic nursing help to support a patient’s well-being?
The outcomes of holistic nursing may be complex to measure as a whole, simply because much of it revolves around patients’ emotional and psychological states. That said, there are a variety of positive effects a patient can experience due to holistic nursing that are fairly tangible.
Improved energy levels
Whether or not patients undergo acupuncture, aromatherapy, or other types of alternative medicine practice, the connected nature of holistic nursing can enable people to leave clinics and care teams feeling more refreshed and balanced.
For example, a holistic nurse may encourage a patient to make changes to their diet and lifestyle to both stave off future illness and to boost their energy levels (potentially their mood from day to day, too). Changes in lifestyle such as taking more exercise, drinking more water, and reducing stimulants such as sugar and caffeine can all have positive effects on how we feel inside and out.
Holistic nurses may therefore be able to “reset” some people who end up ill and/or in hospital because their food and drink intake has exacerbated certain conditions. These nurses might also help patients to slow down smoking and drinking so their organs recover, and they can regain an overall healthier energy in the long term.
Better coping mechanisms
The mental health crisis in the US and other developed nations continues to cause concern. There is an argument that this is partly because mental and psychological conditions can go unnoticed unless a patient exhibits obvious symptoms or requests help outright.
Holistic nurses take extra steps to encourage patients to look into their mental and emotional well-being. For example, they might ask patients to look past their physical pain and discomfort and consider how their lifestyle choices and stress levels make them feel.
By tapping into patient psychology—even if it’s not particularly deep—holistic nurses can gently encourage their charges to take more time to breathe, re-center themselves, and consider what some of the biggest triggers are in their lives.
While some patients might not be receptive to embracing coping mechanisms to deal with psychological trauma, holistic nurses can at least start to encourage introspection and deeper feeling. They can assure patients that attending a hospital or a doctor’s surgery shouldn’t just be about getting well from a specific condition, but to get better as a whole.
Holistic nurses can suggest breathing exercises and mindfulness techniques to help people cope better with triggers for common ailments in the months and years to come.
Better understanding of self
Through holistic care, by talking openly with patients, nurses may be able to encourage their charges to look more closely at themselves as a whole, rather than just focusing on one or two issues.
While there’s no guarantee that all patients will adapt well to holistic principles or even practice introspection when they leave a hospital or clinic, there’s a chance they will leave feeling better about themselves, and with more self-esteem and confidence.
Holistic nursing care can be great for educating patients on self-care, which can of course prevent their need to attend hospitals, surgeries, and clinics so frequently in the future. For many people, learning about how each of their problems and facets are interconnected is a great chance to “reset” and re-evaluate the lives they lead.
This journey of self-discovery can be immensely cathartic and beneficial for overall well-being. It’s another example of how holistic nursing care can provide long-term care results beyond those experienced in a ward or treatment room.
Encouraged to find support
Holistic nurses dive deep into the interconnected parts of a person’s lifestyle, health, and well-being. Therefore, it’s not unreasonable to expect some patients to leave holistic care with fresh insight and to want to take action. However, many people will need support and guidance in a variety of ways, meaning they could need to reach out to specialists and attend other clinics to support their overall well-being.
Holistic nurses are in a fantastic position to help patients understand that it’s healthy to ask for help. With careful guidance and support, nurses can encourage patients to look into external clinics and support available in their local area should they want to continue prioritizing their overall well-being.
As mentioned in the above section, holistic nurses can start patients off on journeys of self-discovery and realization. While it’s never guaranteed from patient to patient, there’s always a chance that someone receiving care will consider how they ended up in such a situation and look carefully at what to do to prevent admission in the future.
Not everyone finds it so easy to ask for support or to research options for care and guidance. Therefore, holistic nurses can provide an immediate support network and a stepping stone toward finding such help once a patient leaves their care.
Better relationship connections
When holistic nurses look at a patient’s bigger picture, they can help them improve the quality of their everyday relationships at work, school, and with friends, family members, or partners.
By caring for mental, emotional, and spiritual needs alongside physical treatment, holistic care nurses can help people understand the roles they play in the relationships in their lives with more clarity. Some patients might leave physical care and go on to experience relationship breakdowns because their emotional and mental cores have not received the same support.
By attending to the invisible side of healthcare (e.g., mental and emotional health), holistic nurses can help patients understand how mindset and emotion are directly connected to physical health and how they interact with others.
If receptive, patients may go on to enjoy healthier relationships and less interpersonal stress simply because they understand how they work as a “fuller” person. There’s no guarantee a patient will build healthier relationships after receiving holistic care, but with more insight into themselves and better overall care, they could start enjoying life more, therefore reducing stress on themselves as well as other people.
Relationship well-being is sometimes seen as an arbitrary or separate concept from mental and physical health. However, our relationships affect physical and mental states and vice-versa—and with the best holistic care and encouragement, patients might see these improve.
Does holistic care always work?
No matter which area of nursing you go into, there will always be room for holistic healthcare concepts. However, it’s worth remembering that, as always, patients will have varying needs, perceptions, and—of course—personalities. That means there’s not always a guarantee a patient will completely heal through holistic care models, but there’s always a possibility.
As such, there’s little wonder why holistic principles remain so popular in modern nursing. It’s easy to treat physical and mental conditions as separate entities and not to probe deeper than the main concerns currently affecting patients at present. However, holistic nurses look at people as a whole and therefore work to help prevent them from falling into the same healthcare crises over and over again. It’s a great practice for helping people to take better care of themselves in the day-to-day, too, potentially staving off future visits to doctors and nurses, and even helping to improve their overall mood and relationship health.
It’s likely many student nurses will come across holistic health models and care principles before heading into the workforce, but it’s always worth remembering that holistic care is just one path to follow and that it’s an optional one all the same.