A holistic approach to mental health puts the patient, not their diagnosis or their symptoms, at the center of their treatment plan. By addressing their emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual needs, a holistic approach to mental health looks at the whole person.
Holistic mental health treatment does not mean medication is avoided. In fact, a medicinal approach is often used in holistic care and is complemented by therapeutic activities such as talk therapy, group therapy, mindfulness, and art therapy.
These holistic treatments can help the brain function at a more optimal level so patients can address and improve deeper emotional, mental, and spiritual issues.
What is holistic care in mental health?
Holistic care in mental health entails taking a whole-body approach to heal the mind, body, and soul. With a holistic approach, the patient comes first — not their symptoms or diagnosis. "The person, not their diagnosis, not their symptoms or behaviors, is at the center of the treatment," says Brooke Asbury, a mental health therapist at Mirmont Treatment Center, part of Main Line Health.
Holistic care looks not just at your diagnosis, but everything within the body. It takes a medicinal approach and complements it with different types of therapy, according to Asbury. Medications are used in tandem with various therapeutic activities to stabilize the brain chemistry with certain diagnoses.
A holistic approach to mental health works "by pairing modern medicine using medications or prescriptions to help what's going on chemically in the brain with the Eastern approach by using those non-medication therapies, such as mindfulness and meditation," explains Asbury.
What kind of holistic mental health treatments are there?
- Talk therapy: Patients meet with a certified mental health therapist in a one-on-one setting, during which they work through concerns, mental health symptoms, and behaviors. Over time, talk therapy can alleviate emotional and mental health symptoms and help people resolve personal issues with professional support.
- Group therapy: In group therapy, people can get feedback and support from other people with similar diagnoses and similar mental health experiences. "You're getting the benefit of talk therapy without just the one-on-one professional — you're getting not only the professional but the group as a whole," says Asbury. Group therapy helps people see they are not alone.
- Art therapy: Art therapy allows people to express themselves and explore their diagnosis, symptoms, and behaviors through painting, drawing, and journaling. Art therapy helps bring light to deeper, subconscious emotions.
- Mindfulness: Mindfulness helps people build awareness about their diagnosis and experiences and become more present in their lives. Through mindfulness, people can set an intention to cultivate self-awareness, bring attention to their emotions and sensations, and shape their attitude so they can work through issues in a non-judgmental frame of mind.
Benefits of a holistic approach to mental health
Holistic activities, like talk therapy, group therapy, art therapy, and mindfulness, help improve overall well-being instead of just physical symptoms.
"When we treat our bodies as a whole, we are able to see more complete progress," says Asbury.
Research has found that holistic approaches can improve health outcomes by relieving psychological distress and pain and improving medication adherence and family relationships.
Holistic activities can lead to improvements in physical health, mental health, emotional health, social health and spiritual health. Medications can help the brain function at an appropriate and functional level so people can dig deeper into what may be going on. Combined, these treatments address the whole person, everything within and outside of the body.
"We use the medication to help treat symptoms caused by brain functions. However, the more organic aspects of holistic health, such as talk therapy, yoga, and mindfulness, help the physical and mental aspects of mental health treatment," Asbury says.
Tips for taking a more holistic approach to mental health
Asbury recommends first talking to your primary care physician or a health care provider you trust. They can point you in the right direction and provide some resources to help you get started.
For those who wish to pursue a more holistic approach to their mental health, Asbury recommends starting small. Identify what you are feeling and where you are feeling your symptoms — from there, you can start to address any underlying issues and behaviors.
Asbury also suggests opening up to friends and family members who can provide support throughout your journey. Regular exercise—including "exercise" for emotional well-being— is another good place to start. Physical exercise releases natural chemicals and challenges you to focus on your breath and be mindful of the movement. There are also several free online resources such as the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
Holistic mental health treatments put the patient first, so you should feel comfortable and confident about what you want out of your treatment plan.
"You are at the steering wheel of your treatment, so don't be afraid to say what you're looking for in terms of your treatment and what you want," Asbury adds.
Mental and emotional well-being are integral to a healthy life. When people suffer with mental illness or drug and alcohol abuse, it significantly impacts all aspects of their lives and their loved ones.