Holistic Therapy

What is holistic therapy?

Holistic therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on the “whole” person and integrates spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional forms of well-being The goal of holistic therapy is to help individuals develop a deeper understanding of themselves on all these levels. It uses evidence-based treatment and a holistic framework, and is often tailored to the client’s unique needs.

Holistic therapy can take many different forms. It often draws from other forms of therapy, including:

Most holistic therapies are practiced in both individual and group settings.


What holistic therapy can help with

Holistic therapy can be helpful for a broad range mental health concerns, including:

When thinking of the mind-body connection, holistic therapy can be helpful to heal the physical manifestation of psychological pain or trauma. For example, holistic therapists might focus on resolving stress headaches, digestive issues, or muscle tension.  

You don’t need to have a mental health condition or symptoms to seek support from a holistic therapist. You might benefit from holistic therapy if you are simply interested in learning more about yourself and how to integrate the different aspects of your well-being, including the mind-body connection.

Effectiveness of holistic therapy

Because holistic therapy is a broad category encompassing many different therapy approaches, it’s difficult to make concrete statements about its overall effectiveness. However, some research has indicated that a number of different techniques used in holistic therapy can be helpful for certain mental health conditions.

For example, this study suggests that holistic therapies like Reiki and relaxation techniques helped breast cancer patients manage physical pain and decrease negative emotional reactions to treatment.

Generally speaking, holistic therapies tend to be controversial in some scientific communities. In cases where mental health symptoms are more severe, it may be recommended that holistic therapy be used only in conjunction with more conventional treatments.

How holistic therapy works

Holistic therapy is thought to work through a wide range of mechanisms. Often, holistic therapy focuses on integrating the client’s understanding of psychological and physiological processes and to encourage the client to take care both their mind and their body.

Holistic therapy examines the possibility that a physical outcome (such as chronic pain) might have a psychological cause (like stress at work). The reverse might also be true; a holistic therapist might recommend a physical remedy like exercise to treat a psychological issue like anxiety.

Sometimes, holistic therapists offer clients treatments based on the idea of energy work, which focuses on correcting imbalances and blockages in the body’s natural flow of energy. Reiki and acupuncture are examples of energy work in holistic therapy.

Frequency of holistic therapy sessions

The ideal frequency of sessions varies widely when it comes to holistic therapy. Some kinds of treatment may occur weekly, while others happen more or less often. Many forms of holistic therapy, such as massage therapy and breathwork, are available as single sessions on an as-needed basis.

A holistic therapist may also recommend a combination of approaches that occur on different schedules. For example, you might schedule psychotherapy sessions once a week while attending yoga twice a week and seeing a nutritionist once a month.

Length of holistic therapy treatment

There is no set endpoint for holistic therapy. As with any therapy, you and your holistic therapist will agree on your treatment goals at the beginning of the therapeutic process, including ways to measure progress based on your individual goals. Some people continue woking with their holistic therapist until the resolution of certain symptoms such as a reduction of headaches. Others continue to explore their well-being through holistic therapy, learning more techinques for integrating the mind and body.

Because holistic therapy is so varied and can be used even when no symptoms are present, many people continue to practice some version of holistic therapy for many years or even a lifetime. As with other wellness practices such as exercising and eating a balanced diet, there is no point at which holistic therapy ceases to be useful. When thinking of the length of holistic therapy treatment, the important thing is that you continue to feel that you’re benefiting from your sessions.

Structure of holistic therapy sessions

Holistic therapy sessions often begin with a check-in about your current physical and emotional state and sharing with your therapist how you’re feeling in that moment. In group settings for holistic therapy, clients might talk about how they can support each other and work with the therapist to discuss how to meet one another’s needs.

The beginning of your holistic therapy session can also be a time to check your progress since your last session and discuss how therapy may have affected your life outside of sessions.

Then, your therapist will lead you through a series of exercises or activities that focus on both your mind and body.

Some holistic therapy sessions focus more on psychological exercises (such as meditation or discussion), while others focus more on physical exercises (such as massage or yoga). Many sessions include elements of both to focus on your whole self.

It’s also common for holistic therapy sessions to include an education component. For muscle pain, your therapist might teach you about how muscles work and then recommend several stretches to complete each day.

What happens in a typical holistic therapy session

Holistic therapy sessions can vary widely and there is no typical session for this type of therapy. However, there are a several common activities that you might encounter in holistic therapy, depending on your therapy goals and your therapist’s approach:

  • Exercises based on CBT. Some holistic therapists incorporate aspects of CBT, including spotting and correcting cognitive distortions and increasing positive self-talk.
  • Meditation and other mindfulness practices. Holistic therapy can include a variety of meditation techniques and other mindfulness practices. These might include visualization exercises, journaling, or mindful eating.
  • Breathwork. Breathwork is a common component of holistic therapy. It may be the main focus of the therapy or else a supplemental activity that grounds clients in their breath
  • Acupuncture or acupressure. These techniques involve applying pressure to certain points that are thought to correspond to the body’s energetic fields. Because they combine physical and non-physical components, these techniques are especially typical of holistic therapy.
  • Massage and other bodywork. Your holistic therapist might use massage or other hands-on bodywork as part of your treatment, or teach you how to self-massage to support your well-being.
  • Reiki. Reiki is a form of energy work in which the practitioner moves their hands around you to alter your body’s energy without actually touching you.
  • Aromatherapy or sound therapy. Some holistic therapists may recommend these sensory elements of treatment.

What to look for in a holistic therapist

Regardless of which kind of holistic therapy you choose, make sure you work with a holistic therapist who has extensive training using their techniques to treat the kinds of challenges you want to address.

Practitioners of various holistic therapies will often have certifications and licenses to practice specific treatments, such as Reiki, yoga, or massage.

Holistic therapists don’t always need to be psychotherapists. However, if you do expect psychotherapy to be part of your treatment, it’s important to make sure that your therapist has advanced training and is licensed to practice in the state where you live.