The holistic nursing taboo


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Should healthcare providers start talking more about the “woo woo” specialty?

As a hospital nurse, holistic nursing always seemed so separate from what I did. It was a taboo subject among my coworkers, not to be taken seriously by conventional healthcare.

But holistic nursing goes much deeper than complementary nursing modalities such as aromatherapy, therapeutic touch or guided imagery. In fact, it may just be the thing to stave off burnout and improve the care I give in my nursing practice. And because holistic nursing is a supportive specialty, it can be used in a variety of settings: hospital, home care, ambulatory center and private practice.*

What is holistic nursing?
According to the American Holistic Nurses Association (AHNA) website (, the American Nurses Association officially recognized holistic nursing as a nursing specialty in 2006 because of “its scope and defined set of standards that distinguishes it from other nursing practices.”

Holistic nursing embraces the concept of holism. It encompasses the entire nurse-patient-family relationship because it takes into account the journey through illness for everyone involved, while using the holistic nursing process.

The holistic nursing process is no different than the traditional nursing process (assessment, nursing diagnosis, planning, implementation, evaluation), but it has the potential to offer a wide range of support to patients and families through a long list of complementary modalities backed by evidence-based practices and nursing research. It’s not uncommon for nurses to say holistic nursing is a way of life for them.

Benefits for the nurse
Holistic nursing strengthens my practice of nursing because it supports my own sense of self-care. I may take a few moments to breathe and center myself prior to speaking to a patient or family member. Breathing techniques diminish stress and allow me to focus and be present for the patient or family. Sometimes I do yoga as a source of renewal between my nursing shifts or write in a journal to help clarify my experiences as a nurse.

Since self-reflection is an encouraged practice in holistic nursing, I can better address any feelings of burnout and take action to lessen stressors in my life. Listening to music or watching comedic YouTube clips are also beneficial during work breaks. Holistic nursing advocates a “take-care-of-yourself-as-you-would-your-patients” attitude.

Benefits for the patient
As a nurse who embraces the concept of holistic nursing, I ultimately hope for patients to be as active in his or her own healthcare as possible. I see myself as a guide for the patient through the journey of health and illness while recognizing that each person’s journey may be completely different.

This is especially helpful when assisting someone with a chronic, irreversible diagnosis, such as end-stage congestive heart failure, who wants to cope with the illness to the best of his or her ability. I can help an individual achieve a wellness goal through support and education. In addition, I can provide one or more complementary modalities, which may be an activity a person can do on his or her own to lessen the stress of illness and improve coping.

Examples of complementary modalities:

  • Use of lavender aromatherapy inhalers to promote relaxation before surgery
  • A how-to on creating a guided imagery script to help improve immunity
  • Journal affirmations to lessen feelings of anxiety related to a new cancer diagnosis
  • Use of classical music and breathing exercises prior to an injection to lessen anxiety
  • Guided autobiography sessions to grieving family members

The complementary modalities for wellness that a holistic nurse has in his or her arsenal are unique to each nurse.

Each holistic nurse should be adequately educated and/or certified in a specific modality according to the AHNA that offers a 64-hour holistic nursing home study course. The American Holistic Nurses Certification Corporation also provides Holistic Nursing Certification.

I appreciate holistic nursing because it ignites a sense of creativity in my nursing practice. It allows me to blend my love of science and art. My hope as a holistic nurse is to see the specialty become more mainstream in the near future.

*Review your state’s Nurse Practice Act to determine the scope of nursing care and how holistic nursing safely fits into your state’s nursing practice. Visit the AHNA website,, for more information and review AHNA’s Holistic Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice (2007).

Amy Drouin, RN, BSN
Amy Drouin, RN, BSN, is a freelance writer, storyteller and Registered Nurse. She has worked in various nursing specialties over the past 13 years, including critical care, home care, hospice and telehealth. She is a member of the American Holistic Nurses Association and also contributes to the Visiting Nurse Service of New York's "A Day in the Life" blog. She has a special interest in holistic nursing, health information technology and social media.

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