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HOLISTIC PSYCHOLOGY


Date Started: 23rd December 2021

Date Ended: 25th December 2021

Author Name: Sanghamitra Dixit

Qualifications: B.A.(Hons.) Applied Psychology, M.A. Applied Psychology (specialisation in counselling)

Designation: Consultant Psychologist, ACRO Mental Health Services

Word count: 1,552 words

Reading time: 14 mins

Reviewed and edited by: Aishwarya Krishna Priya, Sareem Athar, Mariyam Mohd and Ayesha Begum.



Is the mind different from the body?

A look into holistic approaches to studying human behaviour

It is a typical evening at the end of a long workday. You open Instagram, a force of habit by now— endless scrolling, the occasional dab of bright colour, and maybe a funny reel you send to your friends. As you scroll, a variety of posts are served to you . Sometimes it is a quote or a poem. Lately, they are posts on mental health— a new favourite on the social media scene (1-6).


Psychology is popular. So popular that there is even an official term for it— “pop psychology” is essentially psychology served in bite-sized titbits to hook a person in and get them just interested enough in the vastness of the human mind (7,8). What is psychology? According to the history books, it is derived from the Greek word psyche, meaning mind, and logos, meaning “to study/study of”. Put together, it means: “the study of the human mind” — and in its basest sense, it is indeed that (9,10).





Our minds run the show— inside us

Like many fields, psychology carries with it its rich history that has evolved throughout the years(11).The human mind is perhaps one of the most complex organs to have ever developed— though small in size, the human brain is intricately built (12). In the process of wanting to understand it, we have stumbled upon different theories and reasons for why the mind works the way it does(13). Isn’t that the question we often ponder? ‘Why is my brain like this? Why does it react even though I know better? I wish I could control my thoughts’ Sooner or later, we come down to the question: ‘why?’(14).


What is Holism?

Holism or Holistic Psychology is a field seeking to unravel this answer (15,16).

Holism was first coined by Jan Smuts in his book Holism and Evolution, released in the year 1926 (17). When one sees the word holistic, one gets a sense of the whole (18). Things come together to give the complete picture, to provide the answer in a neat little package (19,20).


Of course, that is a distant dream— humans can’t be wrapped and presented. In psychology, the holistic approach suggests we view the mind as a whole rather than breaking it down into individual parts (21). Consider the human brain, for example— it contains millions of neurons, but looking at only one neuron will not tell you what the brain does(22). It is by viewing the brain holistically that we see how the system operates (23).







Everyone knows of Sigmund Freud and his famous couch (24). When one thinks of psychotherapy, one often imagines lying down while the therapist asks the right questions (25). An epiphany happens, perhaps, and the client has an answer (26). Is this the only way? Not quite, for after Freud came multiple theorists who disagreed with his practice.


If not Freud with his focus on the unconscious, then it was J.B. Watson who believed humans to be perfectly functioning systems designed to respond to stimuli (27). One thought man was controlled by impulses, the other believed them to be machined (28).


Carl Rogers, another famous psychologist, disagreed with both and insisted that humans are inherently self-aware and worthy of being treated as such, who needed to access their resources rather than be guided by someone outside (29). His school of thought went on to be called Humanism (30).


All this, however, assumes that the mind is where the world comes to play (31). Even before psychotherapy was a norm, philosopher Rene Descartes had proposed that the mind and the body are separate entities (32). Since then, most have studied the mind as something unique, unaffected by the physical body (33).


As a field, this fascination is centuries old, but as a science, it is a baby— a mere 300 years at most— and it has gone on to become a science of its own, an evidence-based practice (34). Yet, so much has happened in this time (35). As it is constantly evolving, research on the best way to heal humans evolves with it— and now, the current assumption and findings seem to prove Descartes wrong (36).





Health: a combination of mind, body, and spirit/soul


Is our mental health only in our mind, or can it be affected by something else— including one’s physical body? (37)





Body, mind, spirit, soul, map for a balanced life


Holistic psychology takes a step away from the original mind-body duality theory and proposes that mind and body are not, in fact, separate after all but that both impact each other— an integrated ecosystem (38). It focuses on the relationship between the mind, the body, and the spirit, thus attempting to study and address the ways issues in one aspect of a person can impact other areas(39).


Examples of these are common in Indian society (40,41). In a paper published by R Raguram, Indians often complained of bodily symptoms with no visible medical cause, such as a headache, which they later found out was correlating with symptoms of depression (42). However, due to the stigma attached to mental health, many people don’t know common mental health terms or don’t wish to know (43).


How many times have you felt nauseous before an important interview, felt butterflies in your stomach before the first date, or felt weak after a stressful outburst? These are not mere coincidences; our body can tell us about our mental state long before our mind can (44,45).


How It's Used

When studying human behaviour, psychologists might take a holistic approach as they consider how different factors surrounding an individual work together and interact with each other to influence them (46). Maybe a humanistic psychologist would consider an individual’s environment, social connections, and background to understand who they are today (47). A social psychologist might focus more on the individual’s social background and the systems they grew up in (48). A holistic psychologist, then, would focus on both the individual’s environmental influences, their genetic makeup, and how the individual responds to these cues (49).





Holistic health comprises of 4 aspects: physical, mental, social, and spiritual

Holistic therapy seeks to make sense of the whole and heal most aspects of being human (50). It borrows from:

  • Traditional psychotherapy/talk therapy.

  • Breathwork.

  • Guided imagery.

  • Muscle relaxation.

  • Somatic psychotherapy

  • Nutritional psychology (51)

From the above, we can picture holistic psychology as having its eyes on all possible sources of a person’s pain and acknowledging every one of them, whether they be physical, environmental, social, or mental (52,53).





Yoga is one of the ways to access inner healing

Holistic therapy does not seek to eliminate symptoms (54). It views symptoms as a way a person's consciousness can bring attention to their higher awareness (55,56). Taking the help of a therapist, the individual looks upon all aspects of his/her/their life and sees how they’re all interconnected (57).


Advantages and Disadvantages

Like any other field, a holistic approach will have its benefits and as well as disadvantages (58). It can be helpful to look at the big picture and create the individual’s narratives (59). However, focusing, on the whole, might cause psychologists to overlook the finer details (60).

Benefits

  • It incorporates many factors and allows psychologists to assess multiple factors which contribute to the individual’s psychological problems (61). Such an approach can help them find solutions to all the contributing external and internal factors which influence the health of an individual (62).

  • It looks at the big picture. It helps when a therapist or a psychologist can step back and view the person as a whole (63). To put it in a metaphor: focusing on the fine details is like focusing on a few trees, but a holistic approach is assessing the whole forest (64).

  • When helping a client deal with symptoms of mental health distress, seeing them holistically allows mental health professionals to see all the factors affecting the person’s daily life, as well as how the person interacts with their environment (65). They are better able to deal with symptoms using this approach (66).

Drawbacks

  • It can be non-specific. Sometimes when wanting to solve a problem, it is better to focus on the one problematic part, rather than get overwhelmed by the whole (67). One may end up missing out on the main issue if they focus too much on the whole (68).

  • It can be complex. Because holistic psychology is all-inclusive, it makes way for quite a few variables, which can be challenging and confusing (69). This means there might be too many interactions, and information can get lost in the process (70).

  • It is time-consuming (72). Owing to how it strives to make healing an inclusive process, it can take a lot of time before it reaches the core issues (73). It can also be difficult to talk about all the problems at once (74).


Conclusion

Holistic psychology seems appealing mainly due to its ability to integrate all the elements that make us who we are (75). Humans are complex creatures and unique in themselves, so a holistic approach in the field of psychotherapy can go a long way in addressing all the internal and external factors influencing our past, present, and future (76,77).

To know more about this approach and the field of holistic psychology in general, you can book an appointment and visit your nearest therapist— and get an in-depth insight!




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