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What is Holistic Therapy?

Dr. Suzanne LaCombe, June 2006.   
Updated: November 01, 2008.

Holistic therapies are approaches to healing that strive for balance of the:

  • emotional
  • mental
  • physical
  • social and,
  • spiritual
  • Holistic methods complement each other 

(e.g. my homeopathy works well with my psychotherapy).

  • Holistic methods recognize interconnectedness of all working elements

(i.e. I'm less prone to stress-related illnesses as I work through emotional issues).


This is in contrast to Western medicine which targets separate body areas and promotes the use of pharmaceuticals as a first resort.

Acupuncture - massage - naturopathy - reiki are holistic therapies that you're already familiar with. However, I doubt you've ever thought of counseling as holistic.

There's a reason for this.

Holistic Counseling?

Although virtually any type of counseling could be applied holistically, certain forms of counseling are better suited than others. They are classified as holistic because they address the person "as a whole", in all her aspects.

They are also characterized by the use of right-brain-based strategies especially those that emphasize the interpersonal, therapeutic relationship aspect of the work. Examples include mind-body psychotherapy, body psychotherapy and mindfulness psychotherapies.

I like holistic therapies because...

...they're based on the idea that we can reach beyond our limitations, that we can expand our lives and be bigger than we are today.

The medical model and counseling

Some counseling methods follow the medical model. These therapies are good for narrowly-targeted symptom reduction. They are usually short-term without emphasizing the relational aspect of the work--although most therapies require establishing a good connection with the client.

Therapists following the medical model are not likely to suggest holistic alternatives to medication (eg. Chinese medicine, naturopathy); they're often more inclined to present themselves as the "expert" and less as a partner in a collaborative process (since the latter usually takes time to establish).

You'll find information on this site that helps both groups, but my emphasis is on holistic treatment models and techniques.

If I've piqued your interest, start your search here, based on exactly where you are now:

Which statement describes you best?

  • You don't know much about holistic therapy and aren't sure if it's right for you? (See directly below)
  • Maybe you find the whole notion of holistic therapy unscientific?
  • Maybe you trust the therapeutic process but don't know how to find a good therapist? (Choosing a Therapist)
  • Or maybe you've been to counseling before but didn't find it helpful? This time be prepared!

Is holistic therapy right for you?

Disclaimer: I personally enjoy the benefits of holistic therapy, at least three times a month.

You may be just beginning to think about counseling and wondering if it is the right choice for you. If so, you'll find the first four articles in Therapy 101 helpful; these articles cover the basic questions most people ask and will give you a sense of what counseling is all about. (Learn about counseling here.)

To understand holistic therapy please read Why Holistic Therapy Matters. This 3-page article captures the heart and soul of MyShrink. I also think it's pretty cool!

As you click through to the next page you'll be taken on a mini-tour of the site that represents why holistic therapy cultivates mind, body and spirit. (Therapy 101, Mind Body Connection, MySpirit Connection).

Is holistic therapy scientific?

I'm still surprised how many people think counseling amounts to nothing more than providing emotional support. I know it's hard to imagine how sitting with someone for 50 minutes can literally change your brain, but this is what the research shows!

In order to understand the personal change process you may find the Introduction to The Science of Counseling Tour helpful.

Does your friend or partner need counseling?

In my opinion the right therapist makes the difference between mediocre results and personal change that lasts. But doing a little homework up front will greatly increase the odds of finding the right therapist.

Admittedly, choosing the right therapist is not an easy task. There's a bit of an art to it. To get you started I have outlined the most important factor in choosing the right therapist. To find it go to Choosing a Therapist,

Want to give counseling another try?

I created this site to show people what good counseling looks like and to guide them in finding the right therapist. Counseling (especially holistic therapy) is a powerful change process and I speak highly of its benefits.

But it isn't always easy to distinguish counseling that's working from counseling that isn't - at least initially.

If you've already been in therapy you may find Therapy Lingo useful. This is where we've defined common counseling terms. Throughout the definitions you'll find short vignettes of what comes up in therapy that you can use as a guide in your next counseling session.

I wish you all the best on your journey!

Dr. Suzanne LaCombe

P.S. Here are the scientific inspirations behind the creation of MyShrink!

Related Topic

Define Holistic - here's a comparison between medical model and holistic approaches to health problems.

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