What Is Holistic Therapy?

Teenage girl discussing problems with female therapist at community center

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What Is Holistic Therapy?

Holistic therapy, also sometimes referred to as holistic psychotherapy or body-centered psychotherapy, is an integrative type of therapy that incorporates both traditional and non-traditional treatments to help the individual as a whole.

Rather than focusing on a narrow problem, it considers mental, physical, and spiritual factors that influence a person's well-being and seeks to help people heal and thrive on a deeper level.

Holistic therapy combines aspects of traditional talk therapy and non-traditional approaches, including hypnosis, breath therapy, and meditation. 

Types of Holistic Therapy

Holistic psychotherapy is an umbrella term that can encompass a number of different types of treatments. Professionals who offer this type of treatment may refer to themselves as holistic therapists, but they may also refer to their practice as:

  • Eclectic or integrative therapy: An approach that draws on multiple traditions and techniques in order to best address a person’s needs.
  • Mind-body therapy: This refers to groups of techniques that focus on improving body functioning and inducing relaxations as a way to improve health.
  • Somatic therapy: A body-centric approach that utilizes strategies such as breathwork, dance, and meditation to heal trauma, stress, and other mental health issues.
  • Spiritual therapy: An approach that incorporates belief systems and spiritual faith to explore problems that a person faces in their life.

Techniques

Holistic therapy utilizes a range of techniques to help individuals understand their symptoms. In addition, such strategies are designed to foster a greater sense of self-awareness to better understand the connections between their body, mind, and relationships and how these elements play a role in mental health. 

Such techniques are often rooted in mindfulness and bodywork practices. These techniques may include techniques commonly used in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) that are designed to promote relaxation and help individuals better understand the connection between the body, mind, and spirit.  Some of these practices include:

In addition to these elements, therapists incorporate psychotherapy approaches including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychoanalysis, and person-centered therapy.

What Holistic Therapy Can Help With

Holistic therapy may be helpful in the treatment of a number of different psychological conditions. Some of these include:

  • Addictions
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Emotional difficulties
  • Family problems
  • Stress
  • Trauma
  • Work-related problems

Since this type of therapy seeks to heal the whole person, it may be helpful for problems that do not have a single, definable cause or those that affect multiple areas of a person's life. 

Benefits of Holistic Therapy

The wellness practices that are frequently utilized in holistic therapy are often used more generally to help people deal with tension and stress and to promote overall well-being. 

One benefit of holistic therapy is that it is a whole-body approach that addresses mental, physical, and spiritual health. It often allows individuals to better see the connections between these different aspects of their lives and better understand how this affects their health and wellness.

Many holistic techniques are also strategies that people can practice and perform on their own outside of therapeutic sessions. This can be particularly helpful in daily life when people are facing situations that can trigger stress, anxiety, or changes in mood.

By implementing tactics such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or meditation, people can better manage the situations that are contributing to distress.

Holistic approaches are also often centered on prevention in addition to treatment. Rather than waiting until a problem emerges, learning to utilize holistic treatments may be helpful for preventing problems that can harm a person's emotional, physical, social, or spiritual well-being.

Effectiveness

Because of the wide variety of techniques and approaches utilized in holistic therapy, it can be difficult to evaluate its efficacy. However, it often incorporates other empirically validated therapies such as CBT and brief dynamic psychotherapy.

Techniques such as acupuncture, yoga, and deep breathing have also been effective for many purposes.

Some research does suggest that integrated, holistic care can have many benefits. 

  • One 2017 article suggested that holistic approaches offer physical and mental benefits that are also cost-effective.
  • Research has found that mindfulness and meditation are useful for reducing anxiety and stress and can be adapted for various purposes and situations.
  • Guided imagery, often used in holistic practices, may help improve sleep, improve mood, decrease stress, and improve relaxation.
  • Research has shown that deep breathing techniques can reduce stress levels and promote relaxation, which can benefit both physical and mental health.

Things to Consider

As with other types of therapy, it is essential to be willing to work with your therapist to deal with the emotional and mental conflicts you are facing. Holistic approaches require participation and are often very hands-on. 

The non-profit academic medical center Cleveland Clinic notes that holistic therapy should not take the place of traditional medicine but can be used in conjunction with other treatments to help improve the healing process and overall well-being.

In some cases, your therapist may begin with more traditional, psychotherapeutic techniques before moving to other alternative therapies.

It is often helpful to approach treatment with an open mind in order to enjoy the full benefits of the process.

How to Get Started

If you are interested in trying holistic therapy, there are a few things you should do before you get started.

Find a Therapist

The first step is to find a professional in your area who practices holistic therapy. Online therapy may be an option in some cases, but many of the more hands-on practices (massage and Reiki, for example) require in-person appointments. 

You might start your search by talking to your primary care physician to see if they can refer you to a local holistic therapist. Another idea is to do a general online search or look through a therapist directory.

People who incorporate holistic techniques into their practices may go by other titles including clinical psychologist or marriage and family therapist, so you may need to ask about the techniques that they practice if there is a specific experience you are interested in trying.

What to Expect

During your first session, your therapist will evaluate your current state of functioning and work with you to develop goals for your treatment. Because holistic therapy is flexible, your needs can be evaluated, and your plan adapted as you progress through therapy based on your needs.

You should also find out about insurance and payment options before you begin your treatment. Because many holistic approaches are not covered by insurance, your therapist may not accept insurance as a form of payment. Check with your insurance provider to find out what services are covered before you begin treatment.

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6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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