What Is Holistic Nursing?
Alternative medicine and holistic health care principles

What Is Holistic Nursing?

The terms holistic medicine and holistic nursing might seem confusing to some nurses. Over the years, some people have associated the words with various meanings, but its basis remains the same — focusing on healing the whole of a person rather than just one aspect.

Here’s a brief look into the history of holistic nursing and what it means for nurses today. 

What is Holistic Nursing?

The American Holistic Nurses Association defines holistic nursing as the following: “all nursing practice that has healing the whole person as its goal.” 

As nurses, we understand that a patient’s physical health is only part of the story. A patient’s mental, emotional, and spiritual health can be just as important to consider during treatment.

In some instances, particularly for certified holistic nurses, that means being aware of and using therapies from modern medicine, like medications or surgeries, in tandem with complementary or alternative therapies, like meditation, massages, or mindfulness exercises. This strategy of patient care and treatment is the basis of holistic nursing.

Where Holistic Nursing Began

When we talk about modern nursing, we’re also talking about holistic nursing. This philosophy started with Florence Nightingale, the founder and pioneer of modern nursing, and her lifelong efforts to improve the nursing profession and patient care. 

Through her experiences organizing and overseeing care for injured soldiers as a nurse during the Crimean War, she came to establish the first secular nursing school and many of the improved and safer nursing processes she advocated for later in life. 

Because she came from a wealthy background and found success and respect, she removed the stigma of nursing being a menial labor job for the lower class and encouraged other upper-class women to become nurses. She continued throughout her life to reform health care and nursing practices and set the foundation for nursing as we know it today.

Holistic nursing is derived from Nightingale’s work and her efforts to change nursing practices to focus not just on the patient’s physical complaints, but on other important contributing factors, like how they interact with their environment and their connection to health care providers.

What Holistic Nursing Is Now

The American Nurses Association (ANA) recognizes holistic nursing as a nursing specialty managed by the professional organization for holistic nurses, the American Holistic Nurses Association (AHNA). 

The AHNA bases its defined scope of practice for holistic nursing on the following aspects:

  • Knowledge
  • Evidence-based research
  • Skills
  • Defined standards of practice
  • Diversity of health care practices
  • A life philosophy based on caring, unity, relationships, and interconnectedness.

For registered nurses interested in being certified in this holistic nursing, you’ll go through the American Holistic Nurses Certification Corporation (AHNCC) to get certification either in holistic nursing or nurse coaching. 

However, although you can get credentialed in holistic nursing and get membership in the professional organization, you don’t need a certification to incorporate holistic care in your own nursing practice. 

Certification is a way for nurses to help improve their self-care and patient care by better understanding their role in holistic care. All nursing care should incorporate the tenants of holistic nursing, and it can start at any time in our career, whether we’re LPNs or seasoned NPs.

Where Holistic Nurses Work

Nurses who are certified in holistic nursing can work in any type of health care setting where you’d normally find a nurse. 

Most members of the AHNA work in hospitals and private practice clinics. But you can also find nurses certified in holistic nursing in areas of education and long-term care, including hospice. 

How You Can Practice Holistic Care

Holistic nursing should be a goal for all nurses, regardless of their specialties or certifications. There are many ways you can learn to incorporate and enhance holistic care into your everyday patient care practices. 

Taking On a Holistic State of Mind

In many specialties, patients deal with obvious physical illnesses. Sometimes in those cases, it’s easy to focus more on what we can see and overlook the issues we can’t. 

But good patient care takes into account every aspect of a patient’s wellbeing, including the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. Training ourselves as nurses to keep those parts of our patients in mind is an ongoing process that will only broaden and improve our empathy and ability in providing care.

It’s a process that starts with ourselves. Learn how to analyze and treat yourself and your physical mental, emotional, and spiritual needs holistically, and you’ll be better equipped to practice nursing care the same way. 

Techniques for Holistic Care

Many techniques for holistic nursing happen to do with you, the nurse. When you are outgoing about your day, here are some methods you can start incorporating into your practice:

  • Before entering a patient’s room, take a moment to breathe and practice mindfulness 
  • Practice the healthy habits that we teach patients
  • Commit to self-care practices, like meditation, mindfulness practice, and making time for yourself
  • Be focused on the person instead of on the task
  • Use a patient’s name, appropriate touch, and proper eye contact
  • Smile when appropriate, even when you feel stressed or down
  • Stay well hydrated throughout the day
  • Don’t rule out non-pharmacological methods for pain relief; they can complement pain medications
  • Actively listen to patients
  • Ask and be respectful of patients’ differing cultural, religious, or spiritual beliefs
  • Be knowledgeable about alternative options and treatments, like acupuncture, hydrotherapy, or wellness coaching

The Reason Why

Holistic nursing might just seem like one more inconvenience in an already-busy workday for many nurses. But taking the time to practice it can have immense benefits for both yourself and your patients.

By incorporating holistic techniques into your routine, you’ll be able to better manage and respond to stressful situations. Your patients will notice the difference, even if they don’t realize it, and you’ll be able to develop closer relationships with them that will improve their treatment and care.

Patients will also have access to as many options as possible to aid their treatment and recovery and improve their quality of life. As nurses, we should continually strive to advocate for patients to have as many options as possible explained to them and available. We never know exactly what might work and for whom.

Holistic nursing can bring a lot of positive changes to the treatment room. No matter where you are in your nursing career, remember that we are where we are today because of a holistic view of nursing and that it has a place in our future of patient care.

Michelle Paul

Michelle Paul is an RN Content Specialist at Clipboard Health. She has worked with a variety of patient demographics, ranging from young adults in foreign countries, to elderly residents in skilled nursing facilities, to healthy blood donors in her community. Her experience in content creation gives her a unique perspective on communication within the healthcare field.

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