According to the results of a survey released Feb. 10 by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health, patients’ interest in a more holistic approach to medicine, particularly through so-called mind and body approaches, continues to grow. The number of Americans who report practicing yoga, for instance, has doubled since 2002, while more than 38 million Americans report practicing meditation or undergoing chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, all in a bid to manage pain and reduce stress.
Peggy Burkhardt, PhD, FNP, AHN-BC, president of the American Holistic Nurses Association, said such increased acceptance of holistic medicine is encouraging, as it signals a growing awareness among patients and practitioners to what holistic nurses, like her, have known for many years.
Q: How did you become involved in holistic nursing?
A: Healing is the focus of nursing, and the root word of “healing” and “whole” is the same. Most of us go into nursing because we want to be in a situation where we can help people and promote being healthy. For holistic nurses, healing is our goal, but it’s the healing of the whole person, more than just curing a disease. There is an interconnectedness people share with their environment, with their families, with a sacred other, and all of these things factor into healing. For me, my consciousness of these things began in the early ‘70s, shortly after I became a nurse. I’ve been a member of the AHNA since about 1984.
Q: How does holistic nursing benefit the nurses practicing it?
A: There is an abundance of research showing stress is not good for our health. As medical practitioners, we need to take care of our health and take care of ourselves. We can’t care for others if we’re not healthy. But for so many nurses, there has historically been such little focus on our health and our self-care, and that, unfortunately, hasn’t changed much since the 1970s, resulting in a lot of nurse burnout. A focus on holism can help nurses and others stay whole and healthy, themselves, to heal the healer, so to speak.
Q: Does research back up the holistic approach?
A: There is an abundant body of evidence-based research, and member and non-member nurses and others expanding our knowledge all the time. A lot of this research can be found at NCCIH.NIH.gov. Just looking at it quickly, you can find studies on the benefits of complementary and integrative practices on smoking cessation, stress and a variety of other conditions affecting the mind and body. One of my personal favorites? A study done by nurses, titled “I’m a Nice Person When I Do Yoga,” about how yoga contributes to people’s overall well-being. Of course, no matter how good your research is, there will always be people trying to debunk it. But it’s out there for people to read, and see for themselves the benefits of this approach.
Q: How has the holistic nurse role changed?
A: The essence of all nursing is holistic nursing. But as a specialty, holistic nursing began in the 1970s, when our founder Charlotte McGuire and others observed, overall, in our healthcare system a lack of caring, respect and, yes, compassion, among many. Nurses just didn’t seem very happy. Since then, holistic nursing has developed as a vehicle to return the focus of care back on the patient, rather than a disease, and to support each other, as nurses and healthcare professionals.
We develop ourselves as healers, not just curers. We say we’re in the healthcare system, not the disease care system. Today, you can find holistic nurses in a wide variety of healthcare settings – hospitals, physician offices, clinics, long-term care facilities, hospice. Obviously, there are pockets of the population where you’ll see holism more accepted and more widely practiced than others. But we’re seeing it more and more coming under the umbrella of nursing practice. We see schools like Georgetown University teaching nursing students mindfulness exercises as part of its curriculum. And the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, for instance, have created a holistic approach to patient care, with their goal, as we understand it, being to have all their nurses certified holistic. We could be talking about therapeutic touch or massage therapy, humor therapies, yoga, osteopathy, all of these could be complementary and integrative approaches nurses could be involved in.