How Holistic Therapy Works (2022)

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.

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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:

  • Acupuncture
  • Biofeedback
  • Breathwork
  • Guided imagery
  • Hypnosis
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • Reiki
  • Tai chi
  • Yoga

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

  1. Brom D, Stokar Y, Lawi C, et al. Somatic experiencing for posttraumatic stress disorder: a randomized controlled outcome study.J Trauma Stress. 2017;30(3):304-312. doi:10.1002/jts.22189

    (Video) What is Holistic Therapy vs. Integrative Therapy: Holistic Mental Health

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Holistic psychotherapy.

  3. Shafran R, Bennett SD, McKenzie Smith M. Interventions to support integrated psychological care and holistic health outcomes in paediatrics.Healthcare (Basel). 2017;5(3):44. Published 2017 Aug 16. doi:10.3390/healthcare5030044

  4. Behan C. The benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices during times of crisis such as COVID-19. Ir J Psychol Med. 2020 Dec;37(4):256-258. doi:10.1017/ipm.2020.38

  5. Cleveland Clinic. Guided imagery.

  6. Ma X, Yue ZQ, Gong ZQ, et al. The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults.Front Psychol. 2017;8:874. Published 2017 Jun 6. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874

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FAQs

How Holistic Therapy Works? ›

Holistic therapists attempt to get individuals in treatment to accept themselves in the moment as they are, where they are, and understand themselves on a deeper level. Once individuals have achieved acceptance of themselves, they can better release issues that are causing them distress.

How does holistic treatment work? ›

Holistic medicine practitioners believe that the whole person is made up of interdependent parts and if one part is not working properly, all the other parts will be affected. In this way, if people have imbalances (physical, emotional, or spiritual) in their lives, it can negatively affect their overall health.

What is the most popular holistic therapy? ›

A study conducted by the Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT) last year found that the most popular holistic therapy is reflexology, followed by body massage in 2nd place and aromatherapy in third.

What are the benefits of holistic healing? ›

Some of the benefits of holistic health include:
  • Improved habits and lifestyle changes;
  • A fortified body that can withstand the onset of disease more easily;
  • An improvement of the natural healing abilities of the body;
  • The prevention of various diseases and disorders;
  • Reduced stress and anxiety levels;
Feb 26, 2020

How do you approach holistic healing? ›

Holistic Medicine Approaches to Healing
  1. Energy Therapy. This involves the use of electromagnetic, ultrasonic, and/or thermal energy to heal the body by energizing its cells. ...
  2. Natural Products. ...
  3. Mind and Body Practices. ...
  4. Body-Based Therapy. ...
  5. Alternative Medical Systems. ...
  6. Physical Benefits. ...
  7. Psychological Benefits. ...
  8. Emotional Benefits.

What are examples of holistic therapies? ›

However, there are a several common activities that you might encounter in holistic therapy, depending on the exact variety you pursue:
  • Exercises based on CBT. ...
  • Meditation and other mindfulness practices. ...
  • Breathwork. ...
  • Acupuncture or acupressure. ...
  • Massage and other bodywork. ...
  • Reiki. ...
  • Aromatherapy or sound therapy.

What does holistic therapy look like? ›

What is holistic therapy? In its most basic form, holistic therapy addresses the mind, body, and spirit to support health and healing. It's very similar to general therapy or counseling but often draws on complementary and alternative practices that the therapist may also have in their toolbox.

What is a holistic approach to mental health? ›

A holistic approach to mental health puts the patient, not their diagnosis or their symptoms, at the center of their treatment plan. By addressing their emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual needs, a holistic approach to mental health looks at the whole person.

How do I start living a holistic lifestyle? ›

How do you live a holistic lifestyle?
  1. Find healthy emotional outlets. ...
  2. Be proactive in your growth. ...
  3. Practice mindfulness & meditation. ...
  4. Continue to learn. ...
  5. Create healthy habits. ...
  6. Treat your body with natural, healthy foods & remedies. ...
  7. Indulge in regular self care. ...
  8. Be intentional with where you place your energy.

Are holistic doctors real doctors? ›

Some patients may be hesitant about consulting with a holistic doctor because it sounds like what they do is completely different from a traditional doctor. However, holistic doctors – such as osteopaths and integrative physicians – also have bona fide medical degrees and are licensed to practice medicine.

Are holistic doctors real doctors? ›

Some patients may be hesitant about consulting with a holistic doctor because it sounds like what they do is completely different from a traditional doctor. However, holistic doctors – such as osteopaths and integrative physicians – also have bona fide medical degrees and are licensed to practice medicine.

What is holistic healing therapies? ›

What is holistic therapy? In its most basic form, holistic therapy addresses the mind, body, and spirit to support health and healing. It's very similar to general therapy or counseling but often draws on complementary and alternative practices that the therapist may also have in their toolbox.

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