November 1, 2007 | American Society of Registered Nurses®
American Nursing Review

Holistic Nursing

We want to take care of people. This, I would venture, would be the near universal response to what brought us down a career path towards nursing. We're all too familiar with the obstacles that prevent us from achieving this goal to the degree we would like. Nurse-to-patient ratios make it difficult to deliver the kind of attentive one-on-one care we envisioned as students. Seemingly endless amounts of paperwork tie us to a desk with a pen in our hand when we would rather be at the bedside with a patient's hand in ours. We also know the toll stress and professional pressure can place on us personally. When we focus on others' needs and neglect our own, we wind up fueling our addictions, food or cigarettes or hours of reality TV. Or, we're just plain exhausted. How well we know what burn-out looks like.

Increasing numbers of nurses are joining the holistic nursing movement as a way to address these concerns. Holistic nursing emphasizes comprehensive care for both caregiver and care receiver. It combines allopathic, or Western, medicine with alternative, or complementary, healing modalities. Massage, acupuncture, healing touch and Reiki are included under the latter umbrella. Holistic nursing focuses on the idea that people are complex beings, and it promotes the belief that nursing can and should address the entirety of the human experience - our emotional, spiritual, psychological, as well as physical selves.

The shift towards more comprehensive, all-inclusive healthcare is reflected throughout American life. Programs grounded in the holistic health philosophy are moving into hospitals and clinics at the same time that they are thriving in our own day-to-day communities. Yoga studios, health food markets, and holistically-minded gyms are cropping up everywhere. It seems that there is a collective, nationwide yearning for a deeper experience of health, a broader definition of what "wellness" truly means.

While some people are naturally more inclined toward new ways of doing things, others are more skeptical. Thankfully, we practice under the expectation that evidence-based practice is second to none. The safety of our patients is foremost on our minds, and concerns around safety raise questions about the efficacy of less researched, less familiar methods of care. Holistic nursing, however, is not brand new, nor is it out in touchy-feely left field. In fact, the American Holistic Nurses Association, or AHNA, based in Flagstaff, Arizona is a nonprofit, educational organization that was founded in 1981. Through the American Holistic Nurses' Certification Corporation, they grant RNs who can demonstrate sufficient holistic nursing hours, and who have passed a certification exam, licensing as holistic nurses.

If this sounds intriguing to you, go to the ANHA website (www.ahna.org) for a complete menu of continuing education opportunities. Further, several current professional publications discuss relevant issues, research, and developments in holistic nursing. One such publication, Holistic Nursing Practice, is a peer-reviewed journal issued on a bimonthly basis. Finally, there are numerous post-RN programs offered in the burgeoning field of holistic health care. New York College of Health Professions, for example, offers specialized 500 hour programs in massage geared toward nurses. If you feel that you are losing touch with the essence of patient care, or you believe that allopathic options are not achieving the completeness of care that you seek, holistic nursing may be just the right avenue for you to expand your skills and broaden your nursing horizons.

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