Holistic Therapy: Healing Mind, Body, and Spirit

Holistic TherapyThe term “holistic” in health care can be dated back to Hippocrates over 2,500 years ago (Relman, 1979). Hippocrates highlighted the importance of viewing individuals as a whole system made up of many parts working together.

In the 1970s, practitioners in the health care field began to see the benefits of this and that treating only one symptom at a time did not succeed in improving overall quality of life (Relman, 1979). It was this realization that opened the door to alternative forms of care in medicine and mental health treatment.

Holistic therapy helps clients with physical, mental, existential, and relational issues and can lead to widespread health and healing. In this article, let’s first jump into an understanding of holistic healing, with a discussion of suitable techniques, research, and recommended books.

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What Is Holistic Psychology?

Holistic psychology views individuals as more than just the sum of their parts. It focuses on how different aspects of an individual work together. This approach in psychology examines behavioral, social, emotional, environmental, physical, and psychological factors when evaluating and treating individuals (Ventegodt et al., 2007).

Holistic psychology uses an integrative approach to synthesize the relationship between mind, body, and spirit to address how issues in one area of a person’s life can lead to problems in other areas (Ventegodt et al., 2007). Clinicians of holistic psychology believe in using a collaborative approach to help clients gain awareness of these connections.

For this reason, self-reflection and awareness are foundational components of holistic psychology. With deepened awareness, clients find connections between emotions, thoughts, physical experiences, spiritual beliefs, and how they work together in daily life. Holism in psychology is complex, and the challenge is often creating interventions that address the scope of an entire client (Ventegodt et al., 2007).

This approach provides unique solutions that other procedures often miss. It shares commonalities with gestalt psychology, which views human behavior as a whole, and humanistic psychology, which accounts for environmental, social, emotional, and group dynamics.

Holistic Therapy: How It Can Promote Mental Wellbeing

Holistic healingHolistic psychotherapy views the client as a whole being and uses a collaborative approach to help them gain awareness.

With a deeper understanding of how emotions, thoughts, physical experiences, and spiritual beliefs work together to support behavior, clients can find self-acceptance and healing (Latorre, 2000).

Holistic therapies use techniques that target various aspects of the human, such as body, emotions, and soul, which benefit mental health and wellbeing. These three aspects are ideally addressed throughout three different stages of therapy.

The initial stages of treatment allow the therapist to gain trust with the client and focus on bringing awareness to the physical body. The awareness and release of physical tension through massage, body work, or body scans opens the client to being more receptive to emotional states.

Once a client develops trust with the therapist and awareness of physical sensations, verbal forms of therapy allow them to process and understand the emotions that arise from the release of body tension. The client and therapist can explore these emotions and the role they play in the individual’s life.

The third level of therapy involves the mind and soul and is the most difficult to reach. Exercises focused on an existential approach aim to connect the client with deeper meaning in the world. It may involve aspects of philosophy, values, beliefs, and meditation.

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Different Types of Holistic Therapy

Holistic therapy generally includes complementary therapies that are tailored to a client’s specific needs and goals. After an initial assessment, a holistic therapist will create a treatment plan in collaboration with the client. This treatment plan might use a variety of holistic approaches to enhance the mind–body–spirit connection and improve wellbeing.

Every client is different, and the modalities might look different from person to person. Where one might find forest bathing to be their ideal medicine, others might find expressive arts therapy most helpful.

Consequently, there are plenty of psychotherapy modalities out there, many of which you will find on our blog. Some types of holistic therapies include the following:


Breathwork can help regulate the nervous system, increase lung capacity, decrease anxiety, and improve sleep (Brooks et al., 2021). There are a multitude of breathing techniques that can be implemented in holistic therapy. A few of these include box breathing, alternate nostril breathing, pursed lip breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, and holotropic breathwork.

Somatic Experiencing (SE®)

Somatic experiences are “bottom-up” approaches to treat issues like anxiety, depression, and trauma (Brooks et al., 2021). They use body awareness, physical sensations, and movement to tap into deeper emotions and release them.


Hypnosis is also known as hypnotherapy and involves an altered state of awareness and an increase in relaxation and focus. According to Mayo Clinic (2022), it can help with anxiety, behavior change, and managing chronic pain.

Body work (acupuncture and massage)

Acupuncture and massage are forms of “body work” that can promote mental, emotional, and physical health. Acupuncture involves inserting tiny needles into specific trigger points of the body, which can help with pain, anxiety, and depression (Vickers et al., 2018).

Massage uses a mixture of light and heavy pressure to release physical pain, tightness, and discomfort. Research has shown that massage also has the ability to decrease depression and anxiety (Vickers et al., 2018).


Reiki is a form of energy healing rooted in Japanese tradition. The client lies on a table or grounding mat, and the practitioner may place their hands gently on, above, or around their body in order to release energy that can get “stuck” during stressful times or traumatic events. Research has demonstrated that reiki can reduce depression and anxiety and improve quality of life (Billot et al., 2019).

Expressive therapies

Expressive therapies use creative activities to help clients share and process emotions that can be difficult to put into words (Stuckey & Nobel, 2010).

Expressive arts therapy may use a mix of different techniques or select one form depending on the client’s needs and goals. Forms of expressive therapy include music therapy, dance therapy, art therapy, and drama therapy.

Research has demonstrated positive neural effects when experiencing and participating in forms of art and expressive therapies (Stuckey & Nobel, 2010).

Yoga therapy

While the practice of yoga dates back over 3,000 years in Eastern cultures, it has more recently been used as a therapeutic treatment in the West to improve physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.

Research has consistently demonstrated that yoga and yoga therapy can decrease stress, improve sleep, alleviate depressive symptoms, improve physical health, and assist in the treatment of trauma (Woodyard, 2011).

Recreational therapy

Recreational and leisure activities have consistently been found to promote positive emotions, provide a buffer against stress, and promote general mental and emotional wellbeing (Takiguchi et al., 2022).

Recreational therapy, also known as therapeutic recreation, uses creative activities such as crafts, sports, dance, music, and community outings to treat a variety of illnesses and disabilities. Certifications can be obtained specifically for recreational therapy to help individuals reach optimal mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing

Holistic Treatment Techniques for Specific Conditions

Holistic PsychologyHolistic therapy offers effective treatment options for a variety of specific conditions. With limited side effects, treatment techniques can provide options that offer relief, healing, and lasting health improvements.

Stress and anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders in Western cultures, with over 18% of American adults struggling with some form of anxiety (Anxiety & Depression Association of America, n.d.).

Some of the most effective techniques used to treat anxiety holistically include mindfulness, yoga, breathing techniques, hypnosis, and physical exercise.

Chronic pain

Alternative medicines are common forms of treatment for musculoskeletal and other pain disorders. Between 59% and 90% of clients using holistic alternative treatments for chronic pain reported that they were helpful and could provide an adjunctive treatment to pain (Urits et al., 2021).

Much of the research on holistic treatment for chronic pain has centered around acupuncture, tai chi, meditation, and yoga. These techniques provide a physical release and help to connect the mind and body in a way that minimizes the experience of pain.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that creates psychological pain, impairs social function, and poses a threat to general health and life (Song et al., 2020).

Some effective holistic techniques to treat PTSD include herbal medicine, meditation, yoga, deep-breathing exercises, and other mind–body therapies.

A meta-analysis comparing these holistic alternatives found they were at least as effective as medication in decreasing negative symptoms and moderating problematic behaviors (Song et al., 2020). As with treatment of other conditions, holistic approaches have positive effects with limited risks and side effects.


Holistic therapy is often used to help treat addiction issues and is part of many addiction treatment facilities (in- and outpatient treatment centers). Research has demonstrated that holistic techniques of dance/movement therapy, yoga, art therapy, recreation therapy, and spiritual growth and development help clients struggling with addiction to develop self-esteem, confidence, and a renewed identity (Breslin et al., 2003).

5 Benefits of Holistic Healing

There are many benefits to holistic treatments for healing and improving wellbeing. There are beneficial effects of holistic treatment for depression, anxiety, stress, cognitive function, family communication, chronic pain, PTSD, and addiction (Ventegodt et al., 2006).

1. Mind–body connection healing

Mental health issues can manifest physically with symptoms of phantom pain, digestive issues, lack of focus/clarity, and poor sleep (Ventegodt et al., 2006).

Holistic healing works with the body to regulate the nervous system and improve both mental and physical health. When the mind, body, and spirit are connected and aligned, the body naturally heals itself.

2. Autonomy and empowerment

Holistic healing practices emphasize choice and a practitioner–client relationship. Holistic therapy allows clients to take responsibility and make autonomous decisions regarding their own health and healing journey.

Clients can learn about the various options and lifestyle choices that will lead to better mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing and take ownership of behavior change.

3. Emphasis on prevention

The goal of holistic medicine is to improve health, educate clients, and create sustainable wellness over a lifetime. Holistic therapies encourage positive choices that improve mind, body, and spirit to actually prevent, rather than just treat, illness and disease and increase vitality and longevity.

4. Limited side effects

Since most holistic therapies focus on natural options, there are few risks and side effects. Unlike many conventional treatments, such as surgery and prescription medications, holistic healing has minimal risk for complications, discomfort, or long-term side effects.

5. Cost effective

Many holistic techniques can be practiced with minimal or no financial cost. While a trained holistic therapist may be beneficial in evaluating and designing a treatment program for specific goals, things like mindfulness, meditation, dance, a home yoga practice, spiritual practices, and physical exercise in nature cost nothing and can easily be integrated into daily life.

Why don't we take a more holistic view towards our health?

There are many benefits to using a holistic approach and adopting holistic therapy. This video provides more information on the topic.

What Research Says About the Effectiveness of Holistic Therapy

Research consistently supports the effectiveness of holistic therapy. A review of alternative holistic therapy found that acupuncture, tai chi, osteopathic medicine, and chiropractic care effectively diminished physical pain, fatigue, and depression in chronic pain patients (Urits et al., 2021).

Research examining the use of holistic therapy to specifically treat mental health disorders is also promising. Holistic treatment techniques such as yoga, massage, guided imagery, meditation, and spiritual practices have been found to be beneficial for individuals with serious mental health issues (Russinova et al., 2002).

The study found that holistic practices promote recovery in multiple areas by helping to manage emotions, reduce cognitive impairments, and enhance social, spiritual, and physical function.

While many holistic mental health treatment programs focus on common issues like anxiety and depression, holistic therapy can also be beneficial for more severe psychiatric disorders, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia (Russinova et al., 2002).

Holistic therapy is particularly effective at decreasing stress, depression, anxiety, and improving general wellbeing. A one-month, (eight-session) mind–body–spirit holistic treatment program helped a group of students decrease stress and anxiety. The program improved health-related behaviors and levels of depression when compared to a control group of participants (Rentaia et al., 2019).

Students that participated in the holistic treatment program were able to handle stressful situations better, take responsibility for their wellbeing, and felt they were able to take charge of their health.

As a holistic treatment therapy, yoga has been specifically studied in areas of mental health. A consistent yoga practice has been found to reduce stress, depression, PTSD symptoms, and chronic pain (Brooks et al., 2021). Yoga is often incorporated into mental health treatment programs and addiction recovery programs.

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4 Books on Holistic Health

With the growing popularity of alternative and holistic health treatment options, there are many informative books to help both practitioners and clients learn about and improve wellbeing.

1. The Holistic Therapy Bible: Over 80 Effective Treatments to Heal the Mind, Body & Spirit – Jane Alexander

The Holistic Therapy Bible

This comprehensive book takes the mystery out of “holistic treatment.”

It reviews a multitude of different therapy modalities that are commonly used in holistic therapy and explains them in a way that both practitioners and clients can understand.

It may be a particularly helpful guide for clients to determine which treatment options are best for them, what they are most comfortable with, and what the risks/benefits of each might be.

Find the book on Amazon.

2. Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System As a Path to the Self – Anodea Judith

Eastern Body, Western Mind

This book combines the Eastern philosophy of yoga with Western psychological practices.

It applies both sets of principles in combination to address issues of family dynamics, addiction, mental health issues, and personal empowerment.

It can provide wonderful ideas and serve as a guide for coaches, therapists, counselors, and educators working with clients.

Find the book on Amazon.

3. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma – Bessel van der Kolk

The Body Keeps the Score

The Body Keeps the Score is a must-read for anyone interested in mental health and the mind–body connection.

It is a foundational read for yoga practitioners, therapists, mental health clinicians, or anyone who has experience working with trauma.

Discussing both the biological and scientific basis of trauma and mental health issues, it provides ideas on how to integrate somatic experiences into the healing process.

Find the book on Amazon.

4. Holistic Health: Healing Therapies for Optimal Wellness – Larry Trivieri and The American Holistic Medical Association

Holistic Health

This comprehensive book reviews an extensive list of potential methods of healing from a natural and holistic perspective.

Some of them focus on the physical aspects of healing but support mental and emotional wellness in the process.

This guide can provide ideas and supplemental forms of treatment for any clinician to use.

Find the book on Amazon.

A Take-Home Message

Holistic health therapy has ancient roots but is relevant, popular, and effective today. In many ways, it has become a buzzword in the field of mental health.

While bringing the mind and spirituality into the healing process was once deemed “barbaric” by colonized societies, it is now recognized as a necessary integration for health and wellbeing (Relman, 1979).

As outlined in this article, there is a wealth of evidence to support holistic treatment options and therapeutic techniques. Given the many benefits holistic therapy offers, mental health practitioners can easily adopt them as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

Collaborating with clients, a renewed sense of empowerment and self-awareness between the mind–body–spirit connection can lead to a long life of health and wellbeing.

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