What Is Holistic Nursing in 2023

What Is Holistic Nursing in 2023

The modern western approach to medicine is known as biomedicine. This is because it places a strong focus on biological causes and treatments with regard to health care. It’s hugely successful, as evidenced by the spike in life expectancy over the past few hundred years. However, just like any scientific method, there’s always room for improvement. 

Traditional eastern medical approaches have tended more towards a holistic, spiritual slant that aims to balance a person’s entire being. In the modern world, we’re seeing the convergence of these two points of view around the world, and the outcomes can be extraordinary. Combining advanced technology and insight into genetics from the western world with self-care, mindfulness, and connectivity from the eastern way is gaining traction in the health care sphere.

Integrative health care is considered by many to be the future. Holistic nurses play a key role in this shift, and the field is growing quickly to keep up with consumer demands. Increased access to information afforded by the internet means lots of modern people are interested in the holistic approach to self-care. Plus, the ongoing de-stigmatization around mental health means more people are seeking therapy and learning the practical benefits of practicing mindfulness and meditation.  

How holistic nursing differs from traditional nursing

Florence Nightingale is often cited as the founder of holistic nursing, and the American Nursing Association made it an official nursing specialty in 2006. However, Hippocrates, cited as the father of medicine, acknowledges that doctors must understand their patients’ social, emotional, and spiritual needs to treat them appropriately. The American Holistic Nurses Association was formed in 1980, and the field has been building its reputation ever since.

Not long ago, patients might have been weary of medical practices that aren’t in line with western tradition. Today, we have the power to conduct research for ourselves, which means people are generally less fearful/skeptical of the unknown. As such, it looks like a shift towards using holism alongside biomedical practices is likely.

When it comes to illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, which are some of the leading causes of death in the United States—it’s clear that an updated approach is necessary. If you believe strongly that complementary and alternative therapies can boost the effectiveness of health care outcomes, a career as a holistic nurse is perfect for you.

Holistic vs. traditional medicine

The more invested a person is in their wellbeing; the more likely they are to make the necessary lifestyle changes. And, interestingly, the act of someone else caring for an ill patient’s wellness is one of the strongest influences on how much that person goes on to care for themselves. Holistic nurses inspire their patients to practice self-care by demonstrating exceptionally high standards of loving support and providing patients with the tools they need to help themselves.

Here are three key differentials between holistic medicine and biomedicine.


One of the major practical differences between the two styles of medical practice is that holistic services aren’t always included in insurance plans. Although this is slowly changing, and treatments are often reimbursed on a case-by-case basis, it can be a source of frustration for those who work in the field.

Often, the people who need the access to the best care the most don’t have access to it for financial reasons — and this is a concern within the holistic community due to their strict ethics.  

Cause and effect

The name holistic is derived from the Ancient Greek halos, meaning whole. Whereas biomedicine reduces a disease down to its sum component parts, such as genes and symptoms, holistic medicine looks at the whole person. The idea being that when illness is present, there are wider reasons as to why it’s materialized. Genes and circumstances are just two pieces of the puzzle.

In recent years, multiple studies show the strength of a person’s immune system is closely tied to their emotional wellbeing. In holism, when someone gets sick, the symptoms are a clue to the wider problem at hand. In holistic nursing, your role is to help the person find as many approaches to self-care as possible, so they can make the necessary lifestyle changes and deploy the necessary tactics to promote healing of the whole.

Diagnosis and treatment 

In biomedicine, a diagnosis is highly structured and involves matching symptoms to a set of pre-determined criteria. On the other hand, holistic medicine is more zeroed in on how the person feels they’re being affected by their condition. 

Holistic nurses sometimes work within traditional health care settings like hospitals, nursing homes, and addiction treatment centers. They’re also known as complementary nurses in the U.S., due to the fact their services can be offered alongside biomedical approaches. As such, treatment involves modalities such as counseling, medication, and referrals to a specialist within a certain field. 

A holistic health care provider supports the patient by getting to know them and recommending complementary therapies such as mindfulness practice, exercise, diet changes, visualization, acupuncture, and massage.    

What does a holistic nurse do?

Holistic nurses are fully qualified and licensed registered nurse professionals who perform many of the duties of an RN. In essence, their role involves taking on the extra responsibilities of being a holistic health care provider. This means spending time getting to know each patient, find out their strengths and weaknesses, and work hard to maximize the former and minimize the latter.

Below are some of the most important ways holistic nursing differs from traditional nursing. 

Acknowledge the inherent worth of each individual

A holistic nurse believes that each individual is a spiritual and sacred being. In this context, the word spiritual can mean religious and relate directly to God — or any belief in a supreme being, consciousness, or connection between all human beings. This concept stems from Florence Nightingale’s understanding of people as an extension of the divine, but anyone with humanitarian principles can practice holistic nursing.

All nurses and medical professionals must treat patients equally, without discrimination or judgment. Holistic nurses aim to bring out the best in each individual using skills such as intuition and communication to help each patient feel valued and worthy.   

Care about the environment

Holistic nursing professionals are advocates for people, and believe the future of the human race depends on the actions of today’s society. As such, the planet is as sacred as the people who live on it. Clean air, green spaces, and practices like recycling are imperative to the health of the environment, and therefore people as a whole. If these ethics chime with your own, and you’re considering a career as a registered nurse, specializing in holistic could be the ideal career path. 

Inspire self-care 

Holistic nurses are committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and practicing what they teach patients. Living in a manner that’s in-line with your personal beliefs is imperative in holistic, and this type of nurse can help people find alignment through alternative and complimentary therapy approaches.

Holistic nurses are expected to be introspective, using tools like journaling, mindfulness practice, and visualization to remain mentally and emotionally healthy. Studying yourself as medical a subject and practicing the methods you teach puts you at an advantage in this field.

Engage fully 

Being fully present with your patients is one of the fundamentals of holistic nursing. This type of nurse must have exceptional levels of personal self-care to be able to offer the necessary support to the people in their care. Whereas traditional nurses retain a certain level of professional distance, a holistic nurse makes a spiritual and emotional connection with clients.  

Set intentions

Holistic nurses must remain in the present moment and it often helps to have a specific goal in mind with each patient. Instead of worrying about causes and outcomes, you work to help the patient work to take action in the moment. Instead of being centered in your own personal concerns, you’re fully invested in the patient and meeting them where they’re at.

Use complementary and alternative therapies

Holistic nurses provide people with complementary and alternative therapies. In many instances, the aim of these modalities is to bring the entire being back into balance. They never block the use of western medical approaches, and encourage them where appropriate. However, they aim to minimize the amount of chemicals a person is exposed to.

Holistic therapies are recommended on a case-by-case basis. Some of the most commonly used are:

  • Massage
  • Reflexology
  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga
  • Biofeedback
  • Movement
  • Visualization or guided imagery
  • Stress management
  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Mindfulness 
  • Meditation
  • Breath work
  • Lifestyle coaching
  • Energy therapy
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Nutritional guidance
  • Aromatherapy
  • Sound therapy

Settings a holistic nurse works in

Many holistic nurses work within private health care practices, although you’re finding them increasingly in hospitals, universities, and other public settings. Birthing centers, rehab clinics, senior care facilities, and pediatric wards are some of the places you’re most likely to work as a holistic nurse.

Holistic nursing scope and standards of practice

All holistic nurses are qualified registered nurses, with an Associate Degree in Nursing or Bachelor of Science in Nursing and an up-to-date National Council Licensure Examination in Registered Nursing from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. They perform many of the same duties, except holistic nurses are guided by an additional code of ethics and the philosophy of holism. Let’s take a look at what sets them apart within the nursing profession. 

Core values of holistic nursing

There are five principles that underpin everything a holistic nurse does:

  • Holistic philosophy, theory, and ethics: Holistic nursing professionals understand that human health is complex and dynamic, and that different people respond completely differently to treatment modalities. Practice is based on science, but overall healing is at the heart of everything they do.
  • Holistic caring process: Holistic nurses care about treating individual symptoms, but they’re also honed in on the patient’s response, the presence/reactions of family members, socioeconomic factors, individual values, and cultural ideals. They aim to promote peace, comfort, and a sense of wellbeing and inspire patients to do the same for themselves. 
  • Holistic communication, therapeutic environment, and cultural diversity: Every aspect of communication with each patient should be based in the interaction the holistic nurse has with them. There’s no room for judgment, bias, or prejudice in the field of holistic. They promote environments that demonstrate strong ethical grounding and minimize stressors where possible. 
  • Holistic education and research: Health care is changing and evolving, and holistic nurses believe strongly in using a combination of approaches to garner results. There’s no such thing as getting stuck in your ways in this role, which relies upon professionals learning about and implementing the most up-to-date evidence-based practices.
  • Holistic nurse self-care: Personal awareness and development are essential for a successful holistic nurse. They value themselves as deeply as they value patients and understand that self-care practices must be in place before caring for others. Balance and harmony are important goals for these nurses, in themselves and to inspire other people.

Benefits of holistic care in nursing

In holism, you can’t diagnose an entire person based on one set of symptoms. Instead, these symptoms are clues to the wider problem at hand. Holistic nurses treat each patient as an individual, nurturing wholeness and inspiring healing through honoring the patient.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why holistic nursing is so important:

  • Non-specific: There’s no single setting or disease that holistic nursing works for. Nurses in this field use an array of therapeutic techniques that address potential barriers and blockages. Complementary therapies such as movement, dietary changes, and acupuncture help to bring about physical changes. On the other hand, alternative therapies like meditation, visualization, and mindfulness promote spiritual and emotional wellbeing.  
  • Focused on future outcomes: All health care professionals want to help patients get better. However, in western medicine, the focus on medication, technology, and individual freedom may be counterproductive in some instances. For example, someone with high blood pressure is prescribed medication straight away. If their condition progresses, they may eventually be fitted with a pacemaker. Doctors make recommendations about lifestyle changes, but more importance in placed upon treating the symptoms with medication or technology. In holistic, medical professionals place more onus on individual responsibility. This means lifestyle changes are strictly recommended at the earliest stages of a potentially chronic illness. Instead of the patient continuing with their current dietary and exercise protocols and waiting for the medical field to try and patch up the damage, holistic nurses encourage lifestyle changes that stop diseases from progressing.  
  • Treat patients as individuals, not numbers: In a career as demanding as nursing, it’s easy to slip into routine and go through the motions. Following doctors’ orders and checklists are essential, but the best patient outcomes happen when nurses go over and above the call of duty. Routine care runs the risk of being highly depersonalized and one-dimensional, while building relationships encourages a greater sense of awareness. In holistic, a better understanding of who your patient is helps them feel secure and increases the likelihood of you noticing factors that could affect outcomes.  
  • Inspire greater self-care: When the nurse conducts care in a manner that’s focused on the people under their care instead of ticking boxes, they have a more meaningful experience within their job. The relationship between the nurse and patient is two-way. The better the nurse cares for themselves, the better equipped they are to help patients heal. 

How to know if holistic nursing is right for you

The most important trait for a holistic nurse is belief in the principles of holism. If you believe that health care should combine facets of biomedicine and facets of complementary and functional medicine, you’ll do well in a job as a holistic nurse. Of course, just like any nursing specialty, a passionate desire to care for people and a strong work ethic are essential.

As a holistic nurse, you’re expected to go above and beyond your RN duties and engage on a deeply personal level with each patient. If this would be an emotional strain or sounds like something that might put you off, you might be better placed in a more traditional role. Read on to find out more about the skills and personality traits of a holistic nurse, as well as some potential drawbacks they might face. 

Challenges faced by holistic care practitioners

In the modern health care setting, there are people from several generations, which means there’s a broad array of values and expectations from different groups. Luckily, holistic nurses are especially well-placed to cope with these challenges, due to the training they receive. Nonetheless, it’s still a good idea to make sure you’re fully aware of challenges you might face in the role. 

Meeting individual patients’ needs

While it’s the intention of every holistic nurse to meet each patient where they are, it might be more challenging if the patient doesn’t believe in holistic practice themselves. Many Americans have been brought up to believe our health care system is the best in the world, and use life expectancy data to back it up. Instead of arguing or trying to win around your patient, suspend judgment and treat them as they’d like to be treated.  

Religious beliefs 

Another setback holistic nurses might face are strong religious beliefs that aren’t in-keeping with the principles of holistic medicine. While it’s rare a patient will refuse to be treated by a medical professional, you shouldn’t be disheartened if this happens.

What traits do the best holistic nurses have?

When it comes to holistic nursing, you’ll need to have all the desirable traits of a regular nurse, with some extras added in. Caring for people on this level requires an array of soft skills that you can’t necessarily entirely learn from any course, so people entering the field must have a sense of their own purpose.

Let’s take a look at some of the most important traits and skills a holistic nurse should possess.

A passion for the bigger picture

Seeing the person as a whole is tantamount to seeing the bigger picture in life. This type of nursing requires that the individuals doing the job are excellent at reading people and tailoring treatment to their unique needs. Instead of honing in on the details of a patient’s condition, you step back and take into account the factors that might be contributing to the condition. 


Taking the time to get to know about each patient’s preferences, background, personality, and condition requires a lot of energy. People in caring careers are at some of the highest risk for developing mental health problems like caregiver burnout. Human beings are highly social creatures, but we must give and receive in order to feel happy.

Thankfully, you don’t have to find someone to give care to you. You have all the tools necessary to practice self-care so you can maintain a mindset that keeps you mentally tough. Holistic medicine is all about personal responsibility, and nurses in the field need to practice what they preach.


In this context, spirituality is separate from religion — although many holistic nurses, such as Florence Nightingale, are religious. Other holistic practitioners might believe in the collective consciousness, a supreme being, or the universe as a deity. Whatever their personal faith is, they believe in the wellbeing of humanity as a whole. 

Empathy and sympathy

Empathy is the ability to imagine how another person is feeling in response to a stimulus that affects them but not you. This trait is essential in a holistic nurse, who needs to be able to put herself in the place of each patient to understand them as an individual. Sympathy, which is the ability to understand a person’s perspective, is just as important. Ideally, you should demonstrate sympathy while using empathy to direct your treatment of each patient under your care.


To get to know your patients, you must be able to quickly inspire trust, which requires excellent communication skills. The better you are at listening, the better equipped you are to perform the duties of a holistic care practitioner. It’s also imperative that you’re able to translate complex medical language into speech that’s easy for patients to understand. 

How to become a holistic nurse

Becoming a holistic nurse is similar to many other nursing specializations. You don’t need a Master of Science in Nursing to pursue this career, but specialty certification is necessary. Below are the steps you’ll need to take to become a holistic nurse and some insight into topics you might study to prepare for certification. 

Steps to becoming a holistic nurse practitioner

Becoming a holistic nurse requires an extensive education and a specialized certification. These are the steps you’ll need to take to pursue this career:

  • Go to college and study and ADN or BSN to prepare you for the NCLEX-RN
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN
  • Gain at least one year of experience, though this might differ depending on your state
  • Earn certification. There are several choices offered by the  American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation, including Advanced Practice Holistic Nurse Board Certification, Advanced Holistic Nurse Board Certification, Holistic Nurse Baccalaureate Board Certification, and Holistic Nurse Certification

It usually takes between three and five years to get fully qualified, although there’s a chance a BSN will soon be the minimum requirement for RN licensure. If this happens, five years will become the minimum. Some schools offer accelerated programs and some provide the opportunity to study part time, so timeframes may vary.

Reasons to seek certification

Certification isn’t required for employment, but many employers of holistic nurses prefer it. Here are some of the other reasons to get holistic nursing certification:

  • Demonstrate commitment towards the global shift towards preventative health care as opposed to reactive health care
  • Show employers that you have the utmost determination to understand the field
  • Lets people know that you hold yourself accountable to the highest standards
  • Reassures members of the public that they’re as safe as possible
  • Validates expertise and competence in the specialty 
  • Facilitates ongoing learning for personal development 
  • Enhanced potential for career development
  • Supports credibility with stakeholders and consumers 

Holistic nursing courses

When studying holistic nursing, you’ll explore a range of topics. Following on from an extensive education in traditional nursing, these subjects help you gain a full understanding of holism and how to apply it as a nurse: 

  • Fundamentals of holistic nursing I 
  • Fundamentals of holistic nursing II
  • Fundamentals of holistic nursing III
  • Relaxation strategies
  • Intuitive and energy healing
  • Clinical stress management

Being a holistic nurse is different to most other specializations because it’s an all-encompassing way of life and philosophy. Every action you engage in while working in this job must be underpinned by the core values of holistic nursing. If you’re a firm believer that the medical field should treat each patient as a whole, unique individual instead of the constituent parts of a variety of symptoms — this could be the nursing specialty for you.

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