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Nurses and Complementary Healing Modalities

Holistic Health and Healing

“Holism” is the theory that the universe is made of interactive whole organisms that are more than the mere sum of their parts, and that what affects one part also affects the others. The word “heal” comes from the Greek word “halos” and the Anglo-Saxon word “healen,” which means “to be or to become whole.” The word “holy” comes from the same source. 

“Holistic health” is an approach to life where the whole person is valued. Rather than focusing on specific parts of a person’s body, holistic health considers the person’s body, thoughts, emotions, spirit and interaction with others and with the environment. The aim of holistic health is to support maximum well-being with the resources available.

Complementary, Alternative and Integrative Approaches

Worldwide, approximately 65 to 80 percent of the world’s population use healing modalities that were developed outside of the conventional allopathic medicine. In the USA, these non-conventional healing modalities are called “complementary”, “alternative” and “integrative”. Complementary, alternative and integrative approaches are holistic only to the extent that they are used to support a whole person. For example, an herb can be used holistically if it is taken to support a whole person, or it can be used allopathically if it is taken to support just the physical body.

The National Institute of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) in Bethesda, Maryland is the U.S. federal government’s lead agency for scientific research on complementary, alternative and integrative approaches to health and healing. According to the NCCIH, more than 30 percent of adults and about 12 percent of children in the USA use non-conventional health and healing modalities. People in the USA often use the words “alternative” and “complementary” interchangeably when describing non-conventional healing modalities, but these terms refer to two different concepts:

  • If a non-conventional healing modality is used together with conventional medical modalities, that modality is considered complementary
  • If a non-conventional healing modality is used in place of conventional medical modalities, that modality is considered alternative

The term “integrative health care is used in a variety of ways that all involve bringing conventional and complementary approaches together in a coordinated way. The use of integrative approaches to health and healing is growing across the United States. Researchers are exploring the potential benefits of integrative modalities in a wide variety of situations, including pain management for military personnel and veterans, cancer symptom relief and health promotion.

Most complementary health and healing approaches fall into one of two subgroups: Natural Products and Mind-Body Practices.

The Ten Most Common Complementary Health Approaches Among Adults in 2012

Source: Clark TC, Black LI, Stussman BJ, Nahin RL. Trends in the use of complementary health approaches among adults in the United States 2002-2012. National health statistics reports no. 79. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics 2015.