Holistic Mental Health

At GWB we approach patient care using an holistic framework. The term holistic is one that is often used by health professionals in providing health care. However often its precise meaning is lost in jargon and its relevance to an individual not always clear. But even when these considerations of meaning and relevance are satisfactorily answered, several key questions arise and demand answers. Two such questions are-does an holistic model deliver better patient outcomes-and why is holistic practice a current focus of attention?

 

What does holistic mean?

 

Let us begin by considering the 80 billion cells that comprise the average human brain. Each of these cells communicates with other brain cells via ‘little hand’ like structures called dendrites. Each cell has somewhere between ten and one hundred such dendrites. This creates a vast communication network of inter-connectivity. These nerves communicate not just with each other but with all other parts of the body. And within each of the body systems, the skeletal muscles, heart, endocrine system there exists an additional network of communication both inside the particular system but also with other body systems including the brain. So a multi-level, multi-system organisation exists in each of our bodies.

But no individual is simply a myriad of networks operating within what we call our body. Our bodies exist in relation to others and society in general. All of us have parents, most of us have friends, many of us go to work. So here is another level of system networking that itself is subject to further larger systems. We engage these systems when for instance we meet our friends at the football and support the same team (we hope), or go to meet other mums at a mothers’ and babies group.

We can go on building up this picture with increasing complexity and detail and as we do the conclusions become clearer and more obvious. No aspect of how we function whether internally or with another individual or in wider society exists in isolation. All is inter-connected. When it works optimally it does so because the many component systems operate together in harmony to achieve a balanced regulation, an homeostasis, which has the flexibility to show adaptation when any one of the many systems change.

So when you visit your health professional and they take the problem(s) for which you visit them and understand these problems in the fullest sense and context of who you are and where you fit in the world, they are treating you holistically.

 

Is an holistic approach relevant to you?

 

The answer is yes. We all have an inner biological series of connected functions that can be compromised by many factors both internal and external. We all bring a way of looking and being in the world which is based on our psychologic functioning. And we all fit into a society. All of these factors, our biology, our psychology and our societal existence, are dynamic and interactive. They can change for the better or worse. And when one changes so must other aspects of your life. A health professional that works holistically and sees you in your entirety can help manage these changes for the better so the totality of your life improves.

Does an holistic approach deliver good outcomes?

There is overwhelming evidence both directly and indirectly that a treatment model which sees a patient problem in its overall context delivers better outcomes for that person. Such an holistic approach is not only effective in treating an established disorder but can prevent and reduce recurrence of such a disorder.

Let us take a simple example. A single mother with three children under 5 years of age develops a system profile of poor sleep, comfort eating, reduced energy, cries easily, readily slips into being angry and loses interest and pleasure in pretty much everything she once enjoyed. Once a week her mum used to come over and look after the children so she could go and see her best friend. She no longer does this. She doesn’t have the energy or the motivation. She is depressed.

She consults a health professional. She needs an anti-depressant. This is prescribed and she takes it. But if her treatment is limited to this and her entire situation not the subject of examination and change through treatment, the evidence is overwhelming - her outcome will not only be poorer but the risk of subsequent episodes of depression higher. What are these additional holistic factors? Well, individual help in dealing with stress, advice about parenting, advice about diet and exercise to help her lose the weight she has gained from comfort eating, advice and linking with community groups which fit and are appropriate to her circumstance such as joining a support group. The list is extensive.

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