15 Truths About Holistic Nursing

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated August 29, 2022
    Have you considered holistic nursing? Here are 15 truths about the practice that demonstrate the importance of integrating care.
    A mid-adult female holistic nurse guides her female patient through some meditation techniques while sitting in a garden outdoors.

    Did you know that Florence Nightingale was a holistic nurse? She understood that a person’s health was inseparable from their environment. She emphasized the importance of clean water, pure air, light, and cleanliness to maintaining health.

    As late as the mid-1900s, nursing textbooks routinely included medicinal plant theory. Nursing also stressed the importance of considering the whole person. These theories were abandoned in the mid-to-late-1900s as technological advancements changed medicine from a service to a for-profit business.

    Nurses were frustrated by the move to treating symptoms. Those who wanted to continue to treat the whole person formed the American Holistic Nurses Association (AHNA) in January 1981. Today it has more than 5,500 members with the primary mission of advancing holistic care through education.

    The combination of traditional modern medicine and holistic nursing practices expands a nurse’s ability to offer the best treatment options for each patient. Despite a long history in medicine and nursing, many misconceptions impact the understanding of holistic nursing.

    What Is Holistic Nursing?

    According to the American Holistic Nurses Association, holistic nursing is “all nursing practice that has healing the whole person as its goal.” From this definition, holistic nursing isn’t just about the tasks performed. Instead, it is about an attitude of treating the whole person. Holistic nurses also integrate self-responsibility, self-care, and spirituality.

    These holistic principles can remove barriers to healing. They also create the space needed to help patients be instruments in their own healing process. When unconventional treatments are used with conventional medicine, it is called ‘complementary medicine.’ When it is used in place of conventional medicine, it is called ‘alternative medicine.’

    Integrative health brings complementary approaches together with conventional medicine in a coordinated fashion. These approaches are studied in pain management nursing, cancer treatment, and health promotion.

    Next, we demystify holistic nursing further, one interesting fact at a time. We dispel many of the misconceptions and myths that surround it. Once you are armed with the truth about how it can improve patient care, you may want to consider exploring holistic healthcare schools and becoming a holistic nurse.

    1. Holistic Nurses Can Work in All Healthcare Settings

    Holistic nurses can work in a variety of healthcare environments. The majority of practicing holistic nurses work in:

    • Acute care hospitals (35%)
    • Universities and colleges (20%)
    • Private practices (20%)
    • Home healthcare (10%)

    However, holistic nurses may also be found in:

    • Private clinics
    • Physicians’ offices
    • Government or social assistance agencies
    • Grade schools and high schools
    • Palliative care programs, providing end of life care nursing treatment to terminally ill patients

    These nurses may also choose to advance their education and clinical practice to work as nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, or nurse anesthetists.

    2. Holistic Nursing Is Recognized as a Nursing Speciality

    In 2006, the American Nurses Association officially recognized the specialty. They collaborated with the AHNA to publish the Holistic Nursing Scopes and Standards of Practice. The nursing programs that offer holistic nurse tracts must be credentialed by the American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation. After graduating from an endorsed program, a candidate can apply for certification within two years. Currently, the programs that are endorsed include:

    3. Nurses Can Become Certified in Holistic Nursing

    Nursing certifications recognize that a person has met specific qualifications and demonstrated competency. This is voluntary and not attached to a registered nurse license. The Center for Nursing Education and Testing administers the test for holistic nurse certification year round.

    Nurses seeking certification as holistic nurses must submit an application, write a self-reflection, and pass a quantitative examination. They must also have one year of experience practicing as a holistic nurse. Before the exam, the nurse’s license, holistic practice, and continuing education credits are verified. Nurses who have graduated from endorsed programs do not need one year of experience or the continuing education for nurses requirement.

    4. Holistic Nursing Considers the “Whole Person” During Treatment

    Holistic nursing concepts begin with the idea that the whole person is greater than the sum of their parts. A holistic approach proposes it is the integration of several factors that fit to form a unique person. These factors include a person’s:

    Holistic nurses identify what is happening to the whole person. They do not seek to match symptoms with a list of health conditions to find a diagnosis. By factoring the whole person, holistic practices can improve the likelihood of a positive outcome.

    5. Holistic Practices Use Both Conventional and Alternative Therapies

    Holistic nurses use an integrative approach to treatment. This combines traditional modern medical practices with alternative therapies. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), the 10 most common complementary health approaches include many of the same approaches recommended by holistic nurses. They include:

    6. Holistic Medicine Treats More Than Just the Symptoms

    Conventional medicine seeks to match your symptoms with a disease process. But holistic medicine takes the approach one step further.

    Holistic practices involve seeking out the root of the health condition. This helps determine the best treatment for a higher potential for success.

    For example, conventional medicine may recommend muscle relaxers for back pain. Holistic practitioners consider the alterations in your gait and posture that led to the back pain to recommend the best treatment possible.

    7. Holistic Nursing Has Five Core Values of Practice

    Holistic nurses practice under five principle core values. These values are the basis for assessments and recommendations for their patients. They include:

    1. Holistic philosophy and education: The practice is based on a philosophical framework that embraces reflection, education, and knowledge.
    2. Holistic ethics, theories, and research: Professional practice is grounded in theory, directed by research, and bound by ethics.
    3. Holistic nurse self-care:Self-care for nurses is essential for nurses to be able to care for others.
    4. Holistic communication, therapeutic environment, and cultural competence: Nurses must have cultural competence in healthcare to work with patients on mutually agreed upon goals.
    5. Holistic caring process: Assessment and care includes a patient’s patterns, problems, and needs.

    8. Holistic Nursing Uses Complementary, Alternative, and Integrative Approaches

    Across the world, 65-80% of people use complementary or alternative healing approaches. These approaches are only holistic when they are used to support the care of the whole person. Integrative health practices involve coordinating conventional and complementary practices for health and healing.

    9. The Use of Integrative Approaches to Health Is Growing in the U.S.

    Care with an integrative approach helps to treat the whole person. Individuals requiring pain management or relief from cancer symptoms benefit from an approach not limited to their symptoms.

    An integrative approach can result in functional improvements in patients with chronic pain and reduce side effects from conventional medicine in cancer patients. This helps to tap into the mind-body balance to help restore the ability to heal.

    10. Holistic Nursing Uses Natural Products

    The top complementary health approach to healing is using natural products. The NCCIH now categorizes these as nutritional approaches. This can include dietary changes and supplements.

    Research into the effectiveness of these approaches is ongoing. Some have not proved successful. However, other studies have been positive. Several have revealed how zinc shortens a viral infection and how high-dose vitamin C can benefit cancer patients, for example.

    11. Holistic Nursing Uses Mind and Body Practices

    Research has proven the mind-body connection. These practices recognize that a healthy mind helps heal your body, and a healthy body is connected to a healthy mind. The most popular practices are yoga, meditation, massage therapy, and chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation.

    Recently, yoga has grown dramatically. Nearly twice as many adults practice yoga in 2012 as in 2002. The National Health Interview Survey revealed yoga had another growth spurt from 2012 to 2017, growing from 9.5% of the population to 14.3% in 2017.

    12. Holistic Principles Have Been Used in Nursing Since the 1700s

    Nursing has been grounded in the principles of holistic care since the 1700s. Practitioners have used water therapy, homeopathy, and acupressure since then. Acupressure is a noninvasive approach to acupuncture. This has been common in traditional Chinese medicine for the last 3,000 years.

    13. Florence Nightingale First Introduced the Holistic Aspect to Nursing

    Florence Nightingale stressed the importance of nature in the healing process. She is considered the founder of both modern and holistic nursing. She taught her students to focus on wellness, unity, and the interrelationship of individuals and their environment.

    14. Holistic Nursing Improves Patient Care

    A conceptual analysis of holistic care clarifies the definition of the healthcare framework. For some, the term “holistic care” has a negative connotation. Yet, the positive patient and nursing outcomes are indisputable. The practice of holistic care contributes to the following:

    • Health, recovery, and personal development of patient outcomes
    • Nurses’ personal and professional development

    15. Holistic Care Is More Than an Integration of Modalities

    One long-standing myth is that holistic nursing is only a collection of complementary and alternative treatments. These treatments are valuable. However, the development of a quality relationship between the healthcare provider and patient contributes to the healing process. The nurse who integrates treatment options alongside strong relationships is practicing holistic nursing.