Holistic Health: One Psychologist’s View
A Guide to Holistic Health providers is now available. You may be wondering what Holistic Health is all about. Somehow, the phrase leaves one with the idea that there is something like ‘partial health’ in contrast to ‘whole health.’ The difference is really one more of emphasis and perspective.
So what is “Holistic Health?” It is a notion in healthcare that all aspects of people's needs including psychological, physical, and social are important and a person is seen as whole, and not just a collection of individual parts. Psychological services are part of such a package. A person’s ability to heal and recover from an unusual (i.e., abnormal) physical condition or symptom is affected by that person’s attitudes and expectations.
I had the opportunity to see this truth play out early on in my career as a psychologist.
In the early 1970’s I was working my way through graduate school in psychology. My first such job was to be a research assistant on a large project investigating natural childbirth. That concept was new then. The professor leading the research was the national research director of what was then called the “Childbirth Without Pain Preparation League.” The name was later changed to ‘Childbirth With Preparation.’ This research used many questionnaires over the course of many pregnancies. At one point in time, we taped a print-out on an office wall with 40,000 correlation coefficients, used to determine what characteristics were related to what other characteristics, and started looking for trends.
I had a debate going with the professor. She thought that the most important factor to reduce reported pain during labor and delivery was continued practice of special breathing techniques and other psychophysical preparation. On the other hand, I thought the pregnant woman’s attitudes and expectations beforehand would be the best predictor of pain during childbirth and delivery. In the end, I won. It turned out that that the biological father’s participation in preparation for the birth was critical to how much pain was reported by the mother.
Unfortunately, there were not any prizes (for me)! But it was a good adventure and a chance to learn early on the importance of social support and psychological factors in achieving good outcomes in labor and delivery. That was new information at the time.
Today, caregivers of all kinds are tuned in to the importance of a patient’s state of mind for the best possible outcomes. In addition, we are still learning new things about this. For instance, the “placebo effect” used to be considered a nuisance variable in research. Now some researchers are wondering how and why this effect, which is an improved result when a patient takes a pill that should not have any effect at all, occurs in the first place.
As a practicing clinical psychologist, I attempt to help my patients build the mindset to achieve better health outcomes. I am able to use a variety of tools and approaches to do so, including, for example, visualization exercises, behavioral action plans, structured journaling, psychotherapy, hypnosis, EMDR (a special technique developed to be used with persons suffering from posttraumatic stress disorders), couple and/or family therapy, and so on. My basic philosophy is to stay in the present when possible – although discussing how a person got to their present state can also be quite important to help people get ‘unstuck’ from their past, and focus on current goals. Contrary to cartoon characters, psychologists do not have their patients lay down on couches and discuss their dreams. (Dreams can sometimes be important, but that is beside the point here.)
It is my belief that a person should use whatever works for them, so I am not critical of alternative approaches to health unless I believe that a person is being exploited.
The path to better health can be complicated and no one has all the answers. So if you have not yet found healthcare that works for you, try another approach. Some health approaches that are “new age” in the western world have been used for thousands of years in the eastern world. Who knows, perhaps an old “new” approach will work for you. And certainly talking your issues out with a psychologist may help as well.
Fred J. Klopfer is a practicing clinical psychologist, certified in Ecuador and licensed in the USA. He is currently accepting new patients. Appointments can be made or questions answered by calling 099-428.0580. Further information can be found at www.fredklopfer.com.