Holistic Psychotherapy

Mug on wooden table in gardenHolistic psychotherapy, an integrative approach grounded in psychosynthesis, focuses on the relationship between mind, body, and spirit, attempting to understand and address the ways issues in one aspect of a person can lead to concerns in other areas. 

Those pursuing holistic therapy may, with the support of a qualified mental health professional, become better attuned to their entire awareness, which can often promote greater acceptance of the self

History and Development of Holistic Therapy

In terms of providing health care, the use of the term “holistic" dates back to the time of Hippocrates, over 2,500 years ago. Believing it was insufficient to focus on one aspect of a person, Hippocrates emphasized the importance of establishing equilibrium within individuals, viewing the person as a whole being made up of many parts working in concert with one another. 

In the 20th century, health care became more medically focused as the care of certain symptoms was reduced to one form of intervention. Issues with the mind were typically treated with talk therapy and symptoms in the body were addressed with drugs and surgeries. The mind and body were consistently viewed as separate entities.

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It was not until the 1970s that people in medical and other health care fields began to feel treating only one or a few symptoms generally only served to manage certain issues and did not always succeed in helping people improve their overall quality of life. The first national conference on holistic health, held in 1975, began a movement for alternative forms of care both in the field of medicine and among therapists. 

Established in tenets of acceptance and relaxation, holistic therapy draws from multiple forms of therapy, such as: 

Theory and Methods of Holistic Therapy

Holistic therapy theory holds that a person's consciousness is not housed in any one part of the person but is instead an integration of the mind, body, and spirit. Practitioners of holistic psychotherapy, who believe viewing each person as a whole being is an essential first step in providing care, typically collaborate with those in therapy to help them gain awareness of the connections between their emotions, thoughts, physical experiences, and spiritual understandings. Therapists can help individuals realize each of these components work together in harmony to support typical daily function. This deeper understanding of the whole self can often lend itself to greater self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-acceptance.  

Holistic therapy does not work to eliminate symptoms. Instead, this therapy method views symptoms as one way a person's consciousness can bring attention to a person’s higher awareness. In order to develop awareness through holistic therapy, practitioners work less to help individuals achieve change and more to help them accept the present moment—​who they are and where they are. Therapists offer support as people in therapy work to accept what is going on within. Once this acceptance is achieved, individuals may be able to let go of their own resistance, which can further allows them to relax and release any fears. Acceptance and relaxation are important components of this therapy. 

Exercises in Holistic Therapy

Holistic therapy exercises look to intervene on three levels: the body, the emotions, and the mind/soul. Initial exercises in holistic therapy often utilize massage and bodywork techniques to focus a person’s attention on areas of tension in the body. These areas of tension are believed to be manifestations of deeply repressed emotions. Once a level of trust is established between the therapist and the person in therapy, the therapist can help the person to release bodily tension. This release often allows the person to be more receptive to numerous emotions. 

The next exercises utilize verbal forms of psychotherapy in the process of understanding the emotions arising from the release of the bodily tension. The therapist and person explore these emotions and the role they play in the person’s life. The therapist may often emphasize the person’s repression of these emotions as an exercise in helping the person take control of the emotions. Many people in therapy resist at this level and deny any responsibility for their emotions, but only once the decision (conscious or unconscious) to repress each emotion has been realized can work in the holistic sessions continue. The goal of the exercises is the reintegration of the repressed emotions as part of the person’s whole self. 

The exercises involved in the third level of mind and soul are often the most difficult to reach. Therapy may continue for years before this level is reached. These exercise stem from an existential approach in which the therapist and person collaborate in an endeavor to connect the person to a deeper meaning in the world. This process typically involves psychoeducation on philosophy and meditation

Issues Treated with Holistic Therapy

Holistic therapy can be used to address any number of challenges, in a diverse range of individuals. A holistic approach may be beneficial in the treatment of: 

The ideas behind holistic therapy are frequently used in areas of preventative therapy, which are also known as wellness practices. Within the realm of prevention, holistic therapy takes the form of numerous alternative practices such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture, and massage therapy. In addition, a wellness-focused therapist will generally work with people to strike a balance in taking care of their mind, body, and spirit. This often involves encouraging people to take part in physical activities, explore their spirituality (for those who express a spiritual nature), or remain connected to their loved ones through positive communication styles. 

Criticisms and Limitations of Holistic Therapy 

Holistic therapists themselves cite a major limitation to the three-level intervention discussed above: A majority of people find it difficult to reach the mind and soul level. One possible reason for this is the lengthy amount of ​timeoften years—it may take to work through the emotion level. Many people have been reported to drop out during the emotional interventions of holistic therapy. 

Clinical holistic therapy was developed in response to the lengthy duration of holistic therapy as an attempt to reduce the amount of sessions needed for people to achieve an improved sense of well-being. Clinical holistic therapy occurs over a maximum of 40 sessions and incorporates psychodynamic approaches and bodywork. An interdisciplinary team of professionals collaborate to best attend to an individual's symptoms, somatic or otherwise, as well as other emotional and/or spiritual needs. 


  1. A history of holistic health. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.naturalhealers.com/holistic-health-history
  2. Latorre, M. A. (2000). A holistic view of psychotherapy: Connecting mind, body, and spirit. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 36(2), 67-68.
  3. Ventegodt, S., Andersen, N. J., & Merrick, J. (2003). Holistic medicine iii: the holistic process theory of healing. The Scientific World Journal, 3, 1138-1146.
  4. Ventegodt, S., Kandel, I., Neikrug, S., & Merric, J. (2005). Clinical holistic medicine: Holistic treatment of rape and incest trauma. The Scientific World Journal, 5. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15962195
  5. Ventegodt, S., Morad, M., & Merrick, J. (2004). Clinical holistic medicine: Prevention through healthy lifestyle and quality of life. Oral Health and Preventative Dentistry, 2, 239-246.
  6. Ventegodt, S., Thegler, S., Andreasen, T., Struve, F., Enevoldsen, L., Bassaine, L., ... & Merrick, J. (2006). Clinical holistic medicine: psychodynamic short-time therapy complemented with bodywork. A clinical follow-up study of 109 patients. The Scientific World Journal, 6, 2220-2238.


Last updated: 05-09-2016

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