What is Holistic Nursing?

Staff Writer
Apr 27, 2022

Holistic nursing looks at the big picture for overarching patterns, stressors, and habits that can impact a person’s health. Rather than treating problems as if they exist independently, holistic nurses take their patient’s physiology, mental health, spiritual beliefs, and social environment into consideration, caring for the entirety of the human being.

Holistic Nursing 101

Holistic nursing focuses on treating the patient as a whole as opposed to merely treating the symptoms of their present condition. A holistic nurse is a licensed registered nurse who utilizes alternative forms of medicine alongside traditional Western medicine in their practice. This may include dietary advice, therapeutic massage, breathwork, and meditation. Holistic nurses encourage patients to integrate self-care, self-responsibility, spirituality, and reflection into their lives to help maintain a full spectrum of health.

The American Holistic Nurses Association (AHNA) was founded in 1980, but the ideas behind this specialty have been around much longer. British nursing pioneer, Florence Nightingale, is cited as being the founder of modern nursing based on her turn-of-the-century practices that revolutionized nursing as we know it today. Advocating for nurse, patient, and human rights, Nightingale raised the standard of care for all patients. Her advocacy, high standard of care, and consideration of the whole person continue to inspire the mission of holistic nursing today.

Principles of Holistic Nursing

The AHNA outlines six main tenets that describe holistic nursing.

1. A body of knowledge.

Holistic nursing knowledge is based on formal academic education, conventional healthcare, and Complementary and Alternative Modalities (CAM). CAM refers to the array of therapies that extend beyond conventional Western medical treatments. Research, practice guidelines, and expertise are all part of the knowledge base. But rather than being strictly physical and physiological, holistic nursing also considers the client’s personal values and beliefs.

2. Evidence-based research.

The AHNA supports quantitative nursing research in support of scientific knowledge. Because many conditions are still not well understood, holistic nurses believe exploratory research is the best way to expand our body of knowledge. Quantitative research is the best way to maintain a high standard. As holistic medicine becomes more common, it is important that we research and evaluate alternative approaches. Holistic nursing is both an art and a science, and as such, quantitative research and analysis are critical.

3. Sophisticated skills.

Holistic nurses integrate both traditional Western medicine as well as CAM. Integrative healthcare supports a combined approach to care for maximum healing. CAM skills emphasize effectiveness, coordination of services, and preventive care — a strong foundation in lifestyle change.

4. Defined standards of practice.

The standards of holistic nursing are based on five core values of practice. These standards of practice include:

  • Holistic philosophy and education
  • Holistic ethics, theories, and research
  • Holistic nurse self-care
  • Holistic communication, therapeutic environment, and cultural competence
  • Holistic caring process
5. A diversity of modalities from a broad range of health practices.

In addition to the prescriptions and procedures of Western medicine, holistic nursing incorporates other traditions of care. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health points to traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine, which includes practices such as dietary therapy, meditation, and acupuncture. Methods from cultures around the world, such as Ayurvedic and Native American traditions, have proven methods of treating people, and holistic nursing considers these modalities as well.

6. A philosophy of living and being.

Holistic nurses care for more than just the body. These nursing philosophies are grounded in caring and the interconnectedness of the mind, body, spirit, social/cultural, emotions, relationships, context, and environment. All of these aspects combine to create a person; in order to heal the whole person, a holistic nurse looks at all aspects and how they can affect the patient’s health.

The Future of Holistic Nursing

As the nursing profession becomes more nuanced and informed over the years, the specialty of holistic nursing is gaining greater attention. The delivery of healthcare now takes patients’ lifestyles and mental well-being into account, and the foundational tenets of holistic nursing are making their way into the mainstream. Treatments like acupuncture and massage becoming available on a greater number of health insurance plans is one example of this.

As patient-centered care becomes more in demand, so does the demand for skilled nurses who can approach their work holistically. Holistic nurses work in hospitals and clinics, but they also make themselves available to patients through private offices or even in-home visits. The job outlook for holistic nursing is very positive, just like it is for all aspiring nurses at this time.

Holistic Nursing Education

A well-rounded nursing education involves learning to focus on the patient as a whole person. To become therapeutic partners with individuals, families, and communities, holistic nurses draw on nursing knowledge, theories, research, expertise, intuition, and creativity. Holistic nursing practice encourages peer review of professional practice in various clinical settings and integrates knowledge of current professional standards, law, and regulations governing nursing practice.

Related Reference: American Holistic Nurses Association


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