What Is Holistic Nursing?

The term “holistic” is frequently used but often misunderstood. Having said that, there is a branch of nursing known as holistic nursing, so let’s explore what holism has to do with our profession, and what it might mean to you and your practice.

Generally, a holistic view is seen as encompassing the mental, physical, spiritual and emotional aspects of health. Rather than just focusing on the disease model, a holistic approach takes into consideration the multifaceted nature of the human experience and human health.

In terms of holistic nursing, the American Holistic Nurses Association (AHNA) website defines holistic nursing as “all nursing practice that has healing the whole person as its goal”. The AHNA website also states the following:

Holistic nursing is a specialty practice that draws on nursing knowledge, theories, expertise and intuition to guide nurses in becoming therapeutic partners with people in their care. This practice recognizes the totality of the human being – the interconnectedness of body, mind, emotion, spirit, social/cultural, relationship, context, and environment.”

Many nurses–including myself–enter the nursing profession after having careers as yoga teachers and massage therapists, while some nurses seek out yoga teacher training and other alternative therapy certifications well into their nursing careers. Neither path is better than the other, but this preference of many nurses for alternative forms of healing and preventive health underscores the holistic leanings of the nursing profession and the ways in which nurses combine and integrate various forms of wellness and healing into their practice as nurses.

From Yoga Nursing to nurse coaching, we nurses are continually finding ways to broaden and deepen our scope of practice to include complementary therapies and alternative approaches to health and well-being.

Some nurses may see themselves as holistic based on their personal health practices, beliefs and personal knowledge. While certain nurses may seek certification in holistic nursing from the AHNA, others may simply choose to integrate their own brand of holism into their nursing practice without specialized trainings or certifications.

Most holistically-minded nurses will probably tell you that it has more to do with your beliefs and values than a piece of paper certifying that you’re “holistic”. Holism comes from an individual’s belief or understanding of the tenets of holism, and we can all, in essence, define what that is for ourselves.

In your daily nursing practice, you may find that you naturally observe and assess your patients from a broad perspective, taking into account many aspects of their lives and health. You may perform physical assessments, of course, but you may also be assessing a client’s emotional well-being, spiritual wellness, family relationships, nutritional beliefs, and personal health practices. Taking such a multifaceted and open-minded view of a patient or client is in itself holistic. Thus, you may read this blog post and realize that you’re a holistic nurse and didn’t even know it!

Whether you choose to pursue certification as a holistic nurse or supplement your nursing education with trainings in herbalism, aromatherapy or hypnosis, or you simply practice nursing in your own individual way, you can embrace holism as part and parcel of your nursing identity. Certifications can be helpful, enlightening and empowering, but you know in your heart whether you resonate with holism or not, so if you do, I would venture a guess that you’re a holistic nurse. And if you know it in your heart and convey that idea on a daily basis, what could matter more?


About Keith

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Keith Carlson is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, author, and popular career columnist.

With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers.

Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. Keith can be found on many social media platforms, as well as at NurseKeith.com.