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“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This much quoted phrase by Aristotle quite succinctly summarises the basic tenet of holistic psychology. More traditional approaches in psychology have tended to focus on the study and explanation of the human mind and its functions specifically through behaviours that can be observed, measured, and calibrated. This, at times, has involved reducing complex phenomenon to the simplest, most basic, physical mechanisms that are in operation at that time.t

Holistic psychology examines the person as a whole, with all the complexity and richness that it implies; integrating mind, body, and spirit. In a holistic approach to wellbeing, many different factors are reflected upon when considering a person’s care. Holistic psychology takes symptoms as a sign of dis-ease at a deep, inner level, and other disciplines may be called upon when appropriate, including nutritional awareness, meditation, and deep relaxation. Rather than adapting different patients to the same methods, holistic psychology examines individuals and applies methods tailored to their unique state of being. Consideration is also given to the influences that may have affected the individual, including social and economic background. 

By tapping into and channelling the healthy resources of our minds and bodies, holistic psychology helps unlock the best way that individuals can heal, balance, and transform their psychological issues. Rather than being given advice or interpretations, individuals are more involved and actively making choices to heal themselves. Holistic psychology also encourages individuals to appreciate that they are part of a larger ‘whole’ that is nurtured and supported by the Earth and a positive pool of spiritual life. In acquiring inner knowledge and gaining self-awareness, people are able to make their own personal journey towards self-discovery and healing.

Sometimes a useful way to understand a concept fully is by appreciating what it is not. Holistic approaches to psychology stand at odds with some traditional methods often referred to as ‘reductionist’.

Reductionism describes ways of reducing compound sets of ideas into much more basic components. According to reductionists, complex psychological explanations are unnecessary because behaviours can best be explained through physiology or simplistic reasons such as stimulus responses.

Biopsychology, or seeing the causes of mental illnesses as lying in genetics and/or neurochemical imbalances that may need to be treated medically, is an example of reductionist psychology.

Structuralism is another example of reductionist psychology in which the adult mind is analysed in terms of its definable components, and then interpreted using tools like introspection to try and understand the emotion or thought a person is experiencing at a given time.

Holistic psychology, on the other hand, considers the person as a whole, taking into account an individual’s experiences, emotions, choices, and perceptions of the world. These factors need to be considered together rather than being broken down into component parts, to enable individuals to fully understand their situation and issues.

Holistic psychology developed as a reaction to the perceived limitations of the traditional system of psychology, with its emphasis on a strictly scientific model where results needed to be quantified and theories unified. However, human behaviour is too complex to be fully explained by science alone. Take stress for an example – physiology is primarily concerned with the role cortisol and adrenaline plays in the human reaction to stress, whereas psychology focuses on why and when stress occurs as well as methods of prevention. Physiology alone is therefore not sufficient in explaining psychological functioning.

It’s also interesting to note that the traditional approaches to psychology were developed at a time when there was increasing emphasis on drug treatment for all supposed ills. We now have a better understanding of the risks inherent in an over reliance on drug therapies, e.g. that the over prescription of antibiotics has led to the development of drug-resistant strains of infection, and that many people have become dependent on antidepressants for long periods of their lives.

Holistic psychology offers a path to healing that addresses the physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional person as a whole.  Read more about our Gold Coast psychology services here.

Michelle van Namen
Author: Michelle van Namen