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What does Holistic mean ?

What does holistic mean ?

"What does holistic mean ?" is a relatively common question - especially among those developing a new interest in alternative medicine or considering receiving a treatment or therapy described as holistic.

"Holistic" is generally used to mean "encompassing all aspects [of something]" which, of course, may beg more questions e.g.:

"All aspects of what? " and
"What do you mean by all aspects?
... e.g. considering astrology ?
"

To which some holistic practitioners might answer "yes" while others might consider that interpretation disingenuous or even provocative.
This is said with no offence intended towards astrologers or practitioners who incorporate consideration of the wider universe into their work. The point is that while the overall notion of approaching heath and well-being, or indeed anything, with a wider (rather than a narrower) perspective of its greater context has general appeal and makes sense, it is also important to communicate one's philosophy and/or approach clearly and accurately. This is particularly true when working with others who may be less familiar with the subject area, or may be feeling anxious for some reason, e.g. due to a health issue.

There are many possible, yet all rather similar, definitions of the word "holistic".

Given that the word "holistic" is an adjective, i.e. it is used to describe a noun, it may be explained more accurately in conjunction with a specific noun, e.g.

  • holistic health
  • holistic healthcare
  • holistic therapy
  • holistic treatment
  • holistic holiday
  • holistic approach

It is probably fair to assume that since you're reading about the meaning of "holistic" on a website about health and well-being, you're interested in the meaning of the word "holistic" in this context, though it can be used in other situations as well.

General definition of "Holistic"

Holistic is normally used to convey the sense that the noun it describes deals with all (or "the whole") of something, i.e. the "whole", rather than just some part in isolation e.g. just the lower-back in the case of lower-back pain.

When used in the context of health and well-being the word holistic is often associated with the concept of each person comprising of several aspects, typically
Mind, Body and Spirit (sometimes referred to as MBS).

... this is just one way to explain the widely-used term "holistic".

Holistic is normally used to convey the sense that the noun it describes deals with all (or "the whole") of something, i.e. the "whole", rather than just some part in isolation e.g. just the lower-back in the case of lower-back pain.

When used in the context of health and well-being the word holistic is often associated with the concept of each person comprising of several aspects, typically
Mind, Body and Spirit (sometimes referred to as MBS).

... this is just one way to explain the widely-used term "holistic".


What else may be meant by use of the word "holistic" in the context of health and wellness?

Much depends on the context and on the knowledge and attitude of the person using the word holistic.

Here are some examples of what is sometimes meant, implied, or assumed - rightly or wrongly - by use of the word holistic. When particular meanings such as any of the below are important it is far better to communicate them directly using more specific words than "holistic". It is generally a bad idea to rely on other people, especially those you don't know, making the same assumptions or having the same attitudes and prejudices as yourself.

Some general connotations of the term "holistic", which are not all correct and may not necessarily apply just because something is described as "holistic":

  • Pleasant and generally relaxing. Soothing.
  • Likely to take place in an environment that feels less threatening (to most people) than a conventional medical clinic or hospital.
  • A "softer" approach than conventional allopathic medicine.
  • Less likely (than allopathic medicine) to resolve "purely physical" issues or "serious" health problems - a controversial "connotation" and certainly not a view supported by everyone, including many healthcare practitioners from various backgrounds including, "holistic", alternative, conventional and, of course, spiritual. Mentioned here to include a wide range of associations of (and possible prejudices about) the word "holistic".
  • Less well-supported by scientific proof. As above, a controversial "connotation" mentioned here to include a wide range of associations of (and possible prejudices about) the word "holistic".
  • Involves use of natural products/ingredients - where true it may be more clearly described as "natural ..." as well, or instead, of "holistic ...". Do check if this is important to you.
  • Any products used are more likely to be organic (than if not described as "holistic"). That may be true but it is an assumption, do check if use of organic products is important to you.
  • Not tested on animals - hopefully true but don't take it for granted. If a product and/or its ingredients is "not tested on animals" why wouldn't the supplier be proud to make that clear in so many words, in addition to any other descriptions?
  • Uses fewer, weaker, "safer", or no pharmaceutical drugs - don't assume that this is the case, e.g. "holistic dentists" may describe themselves as such because they offer alternatives in some situations (only). Always check if this is important to you.
  • Safer (in general) - than what ? How ? Why ? If safety is your concern discuss it explicitly.
  • Less safe (in general) - than what ? How ? Why ? If safety is your concern discuss it explicitly.
  • More likely to include a spiritual component e.g. meditation or prayers than more conventional approaches to health.

This is not a complete list but it makes one thing clear: If you're not sure, and especially if you really do care about the answer/situation, ask for clarification.


Now let us ask you a question:
How would you define holistic ?

Different people use the word holistic in different ways so, unfortunately, others may not understand it exactly the same as you intend when you use it. Be prepared to explain your philosophy and approach and to use other words whenever they are more helpful to the person or people asking.

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Source: IvyRose Holistic Article.


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