What is holistic therapy?
Holistic therapy is a type of therapy that address the “whole” person. This kind of therapy integrates spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional forms of well-being. Its goal is to help individuals develop a deeper understanding of themselves on all these levels. It uses evidence-based treatment and a holistic framework and is often tailored to the individual’s unique needs.
Holistic therapy can take many different forms. It often draws from other forms of therapy, including:
Most holistic therapies are practiced in both individual and group settings.
What holistic therapy can help with
Holistic therapy can be helpful for a broad range mental health concerns, including:
Additionally, it can also be helpful for physiological symptoms that may have a psychological root, such as muscle tension or digestive troubles.
You don’t need to have a mental health condition or symptoms to seek support from a holistic therapist. You might benefit from holistic therapy if you are simply interested in learning more about yourself and how to integrate the different aspects of your well-being.
Effectivness of holistic therapy
Because holistic therapy is such a broad category, it’s difficult to make concrete statements about its overall effectiveness. However, some research has indicated that a number of different techniques used in holistic therapy can be helpful for certain mental health conditions.
For example, one study suggested that holistic treatments including Reiki and relaxation techniques helped breast cancer patients manage physical pain and decrease negative emotional reactions to treatment.
Generally speaking, holistic therapies tend to be controversial in the scientific community. In cases where mental health symptoms are more severe, is often recommended that holistic therapy be used only in conjunction with more conventional treatments.
How holistic therapy works
Holistic therapies are thought to work through a wide range of mechanisms. Often, holistic therapy focuses on integrating understanding of psychological and physiological processes.
That is, it examines the possibility that a physical outcome (such as chronic pain) might have a psychological cause (like stress at work). The reverse might also be true; a holistic therapist might recommend a physical remedy like exercise to treat a psychological issue like anxiety.
Sometime, holistic therapies are also based on the idea of energy work, which focuses on correcting imbalances and blockages in the body’s natural flow of energy. Reiki and acupuncture are examples of energy work in holistic therapy.
Frequency of holistic therapy sessions
Frequency of sessions can vary widely in holistic therapy. Some kinds of treatment may occur weekly, while others happen more or less often. Many forms of holistic therapy, such as massage therapy and breathwork, are available as single sessions that you attend on an as-needed basis.
A holistic therapist may also recommend a combination of approaches that occur on different schedules. For example, you might schedule psychotherapy sessions once a week, while attending yoga twice a week and seeing a nutritionist once a month.
Length of holistic therapy treatment
There is no set endpoint for holistic therapy. As with any therapy, you and your therapist will agree on treatment goals early on in the therapeutic process. This discussion should also include ways to measure progress based on your individual goals. For example, you may wish to continue treatment until you have resolved certain symptoms, until you have learned enough to continue practicing holistic techniques on your own, or until you feel that you have worked through the issues that brought you to therapy.
Because holistic therapy is so varied and can be used even when no symptoms are present, many people continue to practice some version of holistic therapy for many years or even a lifetime. As with other wellness practices such as exercising and eating a balanced diet, there is no point at which holistic therapy ceases to be useful. The important thing is that you continue to feel that you’re benefiting from it.
Structure of holistic therapy sessions
Holistic therapy sessions often begin with a check-in about your current physical and emotional state.In group settings, sharing personal information at this point is often optional but can help the group work together to support each other and meet everyone’s needs.
In long-term formats, this first phase can also be a time to check your progress since the last session and discuss how your therapy may have affected your life outside of sessions.
Then, the therapist will lead you through a series exercises or activities, which can vary widely.
Some holistic therapy sessions focus more on psychological exercises (such as meditation or discussion), while others focus more on physical exercises (such as massage or yoga). Many include elements of both.
It’s also common for holistic therapy sessions to be somewhat educational. For example, the therapist working with you on muscle pain might provide you with information about the physiology involved and recommend that you work on certain stretches in between sessions.
What happens in a typical holistic therapy session
Again, holistic therapy sessions can vary widely; there is no typical session in this kind of therapy. However, there are a several common activities that you might encounter in holistic therapy, depending on the exact variety you pursue:
- Exercises based on CBT. Some holistic therapists incorporate aspects of CBT, including spotting and correcting cognitive distortions and increasing positive self-talk.
- Meditation and other mindfulness practices. Holistic therapy can include a variety of meditation techniques and other mindfulness practices. These might include visualization, journaling, and mindful eating.
- Breathwork. Breathwork is a common component of holistic therapy. It may be the main focus of the therapy or else a supplemental activity.
- Acupuncture or acupressure. These techniques involve applying pressure to certain points that are thought to correspond to the body’s energetic fields. Because they combine physical and non-physical components, these techniques are especially typical of holistic therapy.
- Massage and other bodywork. Your holistic therapist might use massage or other hands-on bodywork as part of your treatment.
- Reiki. Reiki is a form of energy work in which the practitioner moves their hands around you to alter your body’s energy without actually touching you.
- Aromatherapy or sound therapy. Some holistic therapists may recommend these sensory elements of treatment.
What to look for in a holistic therapist
Regardless of which kind of holistic therapy you choose, make sure you work with someone who has extensive training using their techniques to treat the kinds of challenges you want to address.
Practitioners of various holistic therapies will often have certifications and licenses to practice specific treatments, such as Reiki, yoga, or massage.
Holistic therapists don’t always need to be psychotherapists. However, if you do expect psychotherapy to be part of your treatment, you should also make sure that your therapist has advanced training and is licensed to practice in the state where you live.
New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.