Descriptions of Healing Modalities

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health divides various Complimentary and Alternative modalities into four domains. In addition, NCCIH studies CAM whole medical systems, which cut across all domains. 


•  Whole medical systems
•  Manipulative and body-based practices
•  Mind-body medicine
•  Biologically-based practices
•  Energy medicine

These modalities include a wide variety of approaches, from acupuncture to nutrition to meditation to chiropractic.

Some holistic nurses specialize in one or more modalities, such as energetic healing or bodywork, and maintain separate certifications to practice these modalities in their individual states.

The listing of  these therapeutic modalities does not serve as an endorsement of any particular modality, nor is this a complete list of all modalities. Always consult your primary healthcare provider for any medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Whole Medical Systems

Homeopathy: A system of medicine which stimulates healing through the administration of substances prescribed according to three basic principles: (1) like cures like, (2) the more a remedy is diluted, the greater the potency; and (3) illness is specific to the individual. Homeopathy is based on the belief that symptoms are signs of the body's effort to get rid of disease; treatment is based on the whole person, rather than on the symptoms.

Osteopathic Medicine: A form of medicine that focuses on the relationship between the structure of the body and its function, and recognizes that both structure and function are subject to a range of disorders. In treatment of the individual, osteopaths use various forms of physical manipulation, to facilitate the body's self-healing mechanism, as well as more conventional medical therapies. Osteopaths are fully licensed to diagnose, treat, and prescribe.

Manipulative and Body-Based Practices

Acupressure: Use of finger and hand pressure over specific points on the body to relieve pain and discomfort and to influence the function of internal organs and body systems. Various approaches are used to release tension and restore the natural flow of energy in the body.

Acupuncture: Use of fine-gauged needles inserted into specific points on the body to stimulate or disperse the flow of energy. This ancient Oriental technique is used to alleviate pain or increase immunity by balancing energy flow. Massage, herbal medicine, and nutritional counseling are often used in conjunction with acupuncture.

Alexander Technique: A series of lessons in re-balancing the body through awareness, movement and touch. As the student explores new ways of reorganizing neuromuscular function, the body is reacquainted with relaxed, healthy posture and direct, efficient movement.

AMMA Therapy: AMMA is a form of oriental massage that focuses on the balance and movement of energy within the body.

Aromatherapy: Use of essential oils extracted from plants and herbs to treat physical imbalances, as well as to achieve psychological and spiritual well-being. The oils are inhaled, applied externally, or ingested

Body Work: Any therapy that involves touch and/or pressure on the body. Often the term is used as an umbrella to describe the use of two or more therapies by a single practitioner, either in separate sessions or during a single session, according to the needs of the client.

Breema Bodywork: Breema incorporates simple, playful bodywork sequences along with stretch and movement exercises that help create greater flexibility, relaxed body, clear mind, and calm, supportive feelings. 

Chiropractic Medicine: A health-care system emphasizing structural alignment of the spine. Adjustments involve the manipulation of the spine and joints to re-establish and maintain normal nervous system functioning. Some chiropractors employ additional therapies, such as massage, nutrition, and specialized kinesiology.

Cranial Osteopathy: Gentle and almost imperceptible manipulation of the skull to re-establish its natural configuration and movement. Such correction can have a positive influence on disorders manifested throughout the body.

Cranio-sacral Therapy: Diagnosis and treatment of imbalances in the cranio-sacral system. Subtle adjustments are made to the system through light touch and gentle manipulations.

Dance Therapy: Therapy in which dance and music combine to allow the body, mind, soul, and spirit to be refreshed, uplifted, and experience the freedom that natural bodily movement allows. 

Feldenkrais Method: A method of instruction, through movement and gentle manipulation, to enhance self-image and restore mobility. Students are taught to notice how they are using their bodies, and how to improve their posture and move more freely.

Jin Shin Jyutsu: A bodywork technique which balances body energy as it travels along specific pathways. Specific combinations of healing points are held with the fingertips to restore balance and harmony.

Lymphatic Therapy: A vigorous form of massage that helps the body release toxins stored in the lymphatic system—excellent for the immune system and rebuilding the body.

Massage: The use of strokes and pressure on the body to dispel tension, increase circulation and relieve muscular pain. Massage can provide comfort and increased body awareness, and can be an excellent method of releasing emotional as well as bodily tension.

Movement Therapy: A guided series of movements and body work to open energy pathways and facilitate healing.

M Technique: A registered method of gentle, structured touch suitable for the very fragile or actively dying or when the giver is not trained in massage. It was created by a nurse for nurses.

Neuromuscular Therapy: A massage therapy in which moderate pressure over muscles and nerves, as well as on trigger points, is used to decrease pain and tension

Physical Therapy: The treatment of physical conditions of body malfunction, damage or injury, using procedures designed to reduce swelling, relieve pain, strengthen muscles, restore range of motion and return functioning to the patient

Qi Gong: An internal Chinese meditative practice that uses breathing techniques, gentle movement, and meditation to cleanse, strengthen, and circulate the life energy.

Shiatsu: An energy-based system of bodywork using a firm sequence of rhythmic pressure held on specific points, designed to awaken acupressure meridians.

Trigger Point Therapy: A method of compression of sensitive points in the muscle tissue, along with massage and passive stretches, for the relief of pain and tension. Treatment decreases swelling and stiffness and increases range of motion. Exercises may be assigned.

Mind-Body Medicine

Art Therapy: Use of basic art materials to discover how to restore, maintain or improve physical and mental health. Through observation and analysis, the art therapist is able to formulate treatment plans specific to the individual.

Color Therapy: The use of electronic instrumentation and color receptivity, according to the work of Jacob Lieberman, to integrate the nervous system and body-mind. It increases well-being, and can be helpful for many acute and chronic ailments.

Counseling/Psychotherapy: A broad category of therapies which treat individuals as a whole. Treatments and sessions are focused on integrated care on all levels, for individuals, families or groups.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): An accelerated information processing method using alternating stimuli—either eye movements or sounds--to desensitize and reprocess emotional wounds and install a healthier belief system. EMDR is effective with post traumatic stress syndrome, childhood trauma, depression, addictions, compulsions, unhealthy patterns and future-oriented solutions.

Guided Imagery: This holistic modality assists clients in connecting with their inner knowledge at the thinking, feeling, and sensing levels, promoting their innate healing abilities. Together, guide and client co-create an effective way to work with: pain, symptom, grief, and stress management; conflict resolution; self-empowerment issues; and/or preparing for medical-surgical interventions. 

Hypnotherapy: The use of a state of focused attention, achieved through guided relaxation, to access the unconscious mind. Hypnosis is used for memory recall, medical treatment, and skill enhancement or personal growth.

Interactive Imagery: Fosters active participation, disease prevention and health promotion, returning the focus of wellness to the individual. See also Guided Imagery.

Meditation: A method of relaxing and quieting the mind to relieve muscle tension and facilitate inner peace. There are numerous forms of meditation, taught individually or in group settings, and it is thought that prayer for the self might have an effect similar to meditation.  The nonsectarian form of prayer, which is akin to meditation and used for stress reduction, has long been recognized by clinicians to improve one's sense of well-being.  Studies by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University have shown that inducing a relaxed state of mind is good both for the health and immune-system response.  Prayer may work partly in this way.

Music Therapy: An expressive art form designed to help the individual move into harmony and balance. Through the use of music, individuals explore emotional, spiritual and behavioral issues. Musical skill is not necessary, as the process, rather than technique, is emphasized.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP): A systematic approach to changing behavior through changing patterns of thinking

Psychotherapy: See Counseling/Psychotherapy

Stress Management: Any therapy or educational practice with the objective of decreasing stress and enhancing one's response to the elements of life that cannot be changed. This broad category may include bodywork, energy work, visualization and counseling.

T'ai Chi (Chuan): A movement practice, and Chinese martial art, which enhances coordination, balance and breathing, and promotes physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Tai Chi is taught in classes or as private lessons, and requires home practice to be effective.

Yoga Therapy: The use of yoga postures, controlled breathing, relaxation, meditation, and nutrition to release muscular and emotional tension, improve concentration, increase oxygen levels in the blood, and assist the body in healing itself.

Biologically Based Practices

Biofeedback: A relaxation technique involving careful monitoring of vital functions (such as breathing, heart rate and blood pressure) in order to improve health. By conscious thought, visualization, movement or relaxation, one can learn which actions result in desirable changes in these vital functions. Biofeedback is used for medical problems related to stress and for conditions such as incontinence, irregular heartbeat and epilepsy.

Herbal Therapy: The use of herbs and their chemical properties to alleviate specific conditions or to support the function of various body systems. Herbal formulas have three basic functions: elimination and detoxification, health management and maintenance, and health building.

Hydrotherapy: The use of water, ice, steam, and hot and cold temperatures to maintain and restore health. Treatments include full body immersion, steam baths, saunas, and the application of hot and/or cold compresses.

Nutritional Counseling: A practitioner who uses diet and supplementation therapeutically as the primary or adjunctive treatment for illness, as well as for maintaining good health. Nutritionists employ a variety of approaches, including food combining, macrobiotics, and orthomolecular theory.

Energy Medicine

Chi Kung Healing Touch: A method of health care involving breath and gentle movements which follows the Chinese five-element theory and works with the meridian system.

Energy Work: A broad category of body work influencing the seven major energy centers (chakras) and the flow of energy around and through this field. As the body's energy field is balanced and strengthened, healing occurs simultaneously on the physical and non-physical levels.

Healing Touch: An energy-based therapeutic approach to healing. Touch is used to influence the energy system, affecting physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health and healing. The goal of treatment is to restore harmony and balance, promoting self-healing.

Magnetic Therapy: The use of magnets to generate controlled magnetic fields which can benefit the functioning of the nervous system, organs and tissues, and stimulate healing.

Prayer: Prayer is considered by NCCIH to belong in the category of putative energy fields (also called biofields). Therapies involving putative energy fields are based on the concept that human beings are infused with a subtle form of energy. This vital energy or life force is known under different names in different cultures, such as qui in traditional Chinese medicine, the vital energy or life force proposed to regulate a person's spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health and to be influenced by the opposing forces of yin and yang.

Reiki: The use of hands and visualization to direct energy to various parts of the body to facilitate healing and relaxation. Reiki can promote mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual balance.

Therapeutic Touch: A technique for balancing energy flow in the body through human energy transfer. Therapeutic Touch is based on the principle that in balance there is health and in health there is growth, order and wholeness.

Touch for Health: A science of energy-balancing encompassing aspects of applied kinesiology, acupressure, massage and nutrition to maximize physical and emotional health. Touch for Health emphasizes the uniqueness of the individual, and uses measurement of muscle strength as a biofeedback mechanism to determine the unique needs of the individual.


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