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What is Holistic Nursing?

Healing the whole body is a notion that can be traced back to ancient Greece. Socrates once said, “For the part can never be well unless the whole is well.”

Holistic health is not a new concept, but it did somewhat fall out of favor in the Western world in the past few decades as people turned to modern medicine for treatment and prevention. More recently, some are starting to turn back to an approach that integrates both alternative and modern medicine.

The term “holistic” is often associated with alternative health and homeopathy, but that is just one part of what holistic medicine encompasses. A holistic approach to health involves practices that target healing the entire body, not just certain symptoms or ailments.

The Role of the Nurse in Holistic Medicine

The concept of holistic nursing can actually be traced back to one of nursing’s biggest influencers, Florence Nightingale, who said that “hospitals are only an intermediate stage of civilization, never intended, at all events, to take in the whole sick population.” She was concerned with integrating professional and spiritual interests, instead of separating them, and put everything into her work, according to an article in the Journal of Holistic Medicine.

Holistic nursing is a specialization currently recognized by the American Nurses Association. It involves a focus on the connection between physical health and general well-being. In 1980, the American Holistic Nurses Association (AHNA) was founded, and they define a holistic nurse as someone who is “an instrument of healing and a facilitator in the healing process.”

By merging alternative and Western medicines, holistic nurses are able to work toward the goal of treating the mind, body and emotional well-being of their patients. Their main duties include:

  • Merging treatments of the body and mind
  • Assessing patients holistically as well as traditionally
  • Using therapeutic practices to treat patient

According to the AHNA, holistic nursing is “an attitude, a philosophy and a way of being that requires nurses to integrate self-care, self-responsibility, spirituality and reflection in their lives.” By doing this, the nurse can become more aware of how the self, others, nature and spirit are connected.

Holistic nurses use many different therapies and techniques, such as:

  • Aromatherapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Hypnosis
  • Stress management techniques
  • Yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong
  • Wellness coaching
  • Meditation
  • Homeopathy

How Can Holistic Medicine Be Used in a Modern World?

Holistic medicine relies on both Western and alternative medicine for best possible outcomes, so many medical practices are turning to integrative health to treat patients. The goal of integrative medicine, much like holistic medicine, is to create a plan that maintains a patient’s wellness “by understanding the patient’s unique set of circumstances and addressing the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental influences that affect health,” according to Duke University.

The main difference between integrative medicine and alternative medicine is that alternative medicine is typically used in place of Western medicine, whereas integrative medicine allows for different strategies to be used to treat patients.

How to Become a Holistic Nurse

If you’re interested in becoming a holistic nurse, keep in mind that this area of specialization will require you to know about your patient’s belief systems and different forms of spirituality since holistic medicine focuses on the mind and emotional well-being as well as the body.

The first step to becoming a holistic nurse is to obtain registered nurse status. After that, you can go on to earn your Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. Nurses then need to study for and take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). They can also obtain certification from the American Holistic Nurses Association.

Most holistic nurses work in a private practice setting, inside patient homes or at facilities like birthing centers. Some may work in a hospital. Holistic medicine relies on other areas that may not involve as much technology, so holistic nurses are a little freer to practice in other settings.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track holistic nursing specifically, but the need for registered nurses is expected to grow 15% by 2026, and the average annual wage as of May 2016 was $68,450.

Pay rates and job availability vary based on a number of factors, including geographic location and the status of the jobs market. Candidates should conduct their own research when seeking a job as a holistic nurse.

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