What is Holistic healing?

In holistic healing, the ‘whole’ person is treated, ensuring needs in all the following areas are addressed:

  • Physical, the biochemistry, physiology, pathology, microbiology, immunology and anatomy;
  • Mental/Emotional, including behavioural, cognitive, neurochemical, and psychoanalytic; and
  • Spiritual, covering inner strengths, personal and/or religious beliefs that give hope and/or meaning and purpose, and how we embrace life and nature.

Medical doctors traditionally offer healing for the body in the form of prescribed medication and/or surgical intervention. Commonly, the mental and emotional side of healing is deferred to psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors, and other trained professionals. However, patients frequently look for physical healing in the spiritual realm by tuning to clergy, religious counsellors, or though personal individual beliefs.

Holistic modalities categorized by the National institutes of Health take into account seven fields of practice. These fields are outlined in the accompanying tables, as described in the American Journal of Nursing, (Jun 1998, Vol. 98, No. 6) by Barbara Dossey MS, RN, HNC, FAAN, director of Holistic Nursing Consultants in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Holistic Fields of Practice

  • Mind/body or biobehavioral interventions such as biofeedback, relaxation, imagery, meditation, hypnosis, psychotherapy, prayer, mental healing, art, dance, music therapy, and yoga;
  • Bioelectomagnetics, exploring how living organisms interact with electromagnetic fields for a variety of applications, including bone repair, wound healing, and immune system stimulation;
  • Alternative systems of medical practice, including traditional oriental medicine, ayurveda (a system of healing from India relying of diet, exercise, and meditation), homeopathy, naturopathic medicine, environmental medicine, and community based health care practices (such as those practices in shamanic or Native American cultures);
  • Manual healing methods such as osteopathy, massage therapy, chiropractic, physical therapy, and therapeutic touch as diagnostic and therapeutic touch as diagnostic and therapeutic tools;
  • Pharmacologic and biologic treatments, including drugs and vaccines not yet accepted by mainstream medicine;
  • Herbal medicine, encompassing herbal approaches for pharmacologic use from Europe, China, Asia, India, and Native American traditions; and
  • Diet, nutrition, and lifestyle changes promoting study of the effects of various food groups, vitamins and minerals on acute and chronic disease, as well as on health maintenance and disease prevention.

Modalities in use by each profession are determined by provincial law, and vary according to jurisdiction. Therefore, the following information is presented for general educational purposes only, and may not necessarily represent the scope of practice in your community.


A Few Examples of Healers & Holistic Modalities

Acupuncturists: Traditional Chinese medicine, herbs, acupressure, acupuncture, and auricular therapy.

Chiropractic Doctors (registered): Chiropractic manipulation, mobilization, acupressure, and nutritional education. Clergy, Healers, & Prayer: Counselling, prayer and spiritual guidance.

Dietitians (registered): Therapeutic diets and nutritional counselling.

Massage Therapists (registered): Massage, steam baths, electric light baths and hydrotherapy.

Medical Doctors (registered): A visit to a medical doctor is the most common first-line approach for patients with an illness in Canadian culture. Medical doctors offer extensive modalities and therapeutics, as determined by a set scope of practice and regulatory guidelines.

Native Indian & Shamanistic Healers: Herbal medicine, spiritual counselling, shamanistic practice

Naturopathic Physicians (registered): Therapeutic diets and clinical nutrition, acupuncture and oriental medicine, auricular therapy , acupressure, botanical-herbal medicine, naturopathic manipulation-mobilization, massage, homeopathic medicine, counselling, food sensitivity and environmental desensitization therapies.

Nurses (registered): Nurses have a varied and holistic role as healer. While their emphasis is on the entire continuum of healthcare from prevention to palliative care, they also extend patient care in terms of how illness impacts other areas of the patient’s life such as family, work, and support in the community.

Psychologists (registered): Counselling, cognitive, behavioural and psychoanalytical therapies, rapid eye therapy technique and hypnosis.

Physiotherapists (registered): Massage, hydrotherapy, manipulation, mobilization, acupressure, exercise, postural re-education, therapeutic ultrasound, heat, sound, light, water, electric and modalities approved for use.



In my years of naturopathic practice I have found that if a healing plan is designed consistent with holistic principles of healing, there may be a better chance for remission of symptoms

  • Each healing plan should be individualized for the patient and may require referral to other practitioners.
  • For many patients, holistic practices seem to work remarkably well in treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Always remain under the care of your family medical doctor, and talk to your doctor about holistic healing modalities.
  • Envision the desired goal for healing and remain hopeful for the future.

Steven Arvidson, ND, Naturopathic Physician
First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 111 – January/February 1999