Does Holistic Health Education Exist?

Tanya Zilberter, Ph.D. and Michelle Bannister

The Natural and Holistic Study Group-Heidelberg

"Holistic philosophy is so diverse that practically every theorist can claim holistic credentials."

(Kolcaba R, 1997).


Before we try to answer to the above question -- if holistic health education exists -- four problems will call for definitions:

1. What is holism?
2. What is holistic health?
3. What is holistic education?
4. What is holistic health education?

1. Holism

Holism is first of all a philosophy. As such it proclaims the wholeness, let it be a human body, education, civilization, or ecosystem, and doing this it opposes the reductionism (Pruessner HT, Hensel WA, Rasco TL , 1992; Gunderman RB, 1995) and dualism (Jorgensen J, 1993; Adler RH, 1996). In the case of medicine, dualism means an acute distinction between soma and psyche, structure and function, from which it is evident that the dualism in medicine is not based on human nature. Rather, it is the result of the development and training of the observer (Adler RH, 1996). The last remark leaves no doubts about the nesessity of discussing the character of modern health education.

2. Holistic health

General considerations

Being widely used in empirical sense of the word, the term 'holism' nevertheless is infrequently specified accurately. People who identify themselves, for example, with holistic health practitioners in most cases mean their belonging to one or another alternative healing modality (Table 1). The entity of holistic educators in it's own turn occasionally includes holistic health practitioners (Fig. 2), especially those concerned with body-mind model of a human being and Arts Therapies (e.g., Holistic Education: an interdisciplinary focus based in the department of curriculum, OISE homepage, 1997). Historically, the adjective "holistic" in medicine is assimilated by the practice of comprehensive and humane nursing care. However, even in such well defined and particular a field, the meaning of at least three "holisms" can be isolated:

  • As a practice-centered discipline, nursing gives a central role to whole-person holism. If mainstream medicine integrates the doctor-patient relationship and studies it scientifically, its model will change from a biomedical to a biopsychosocial one, thus satisfying many of the patient's needs, which were so far neglected (Adler RH, 1995).
  • In so far as nursing approximates medicine, it incorporates systemic holism emphasizing the importance of striking a balance between reductionist thinking (that dominates medical education) and whole-systems thinking (Pruessner HT, Hensel WA, Rasco TL 1992)
  • From its basis in biology, nursing imports organismic holism (e.g., even "vascular holism", Barnes RW, 1995).
  • The three holisms seem incompatible because of the contrasting concepts of a human being, a system per se, and organism's internal (functional) systems. This contrast is based on the presumable incompatibility of metaphysical, scientific and ethical axioms (Kolcaba R, 1997)

    Holistic Education.

    Who is who in holistic education.

    Both social science and medicine share, in differing ways, the uncertainty produced by the complexity of human characteristics. Within those who identified themselves as holistic educators or concerned with holistic philosophy in education, vast majority belonged to professional teachers and educators including holistic educators:

  • artists & art therapists 5%

  • computer scientists 5%

  • dancers 3%

  • ecologists 3%

  • educators 11%

  • holistic educators 7%

  • musicians 7%

  • philosophers 5%

  • physicians 4%

  • poets & writers 5%

  • psychologis 4%

  • psychotherapists 5%

  • researchers 5%

  • social workers & activists 3%

  • teachers 22%

  • What does holistic education do?

    Jack Miller, a recognized leader in holistic eduction and holistic curriculum (Miller J 1998, 1993) recently defined holistic education as rooted in holism, or the concept of an interconnected reality (Miller J 1997). Holistic education focus includes problems of: Language, Ethics, Sociocultural and Eco-Counsciousness Theories, Holistic Arts Therapies, Arts Education, Science and Technology Education, Holistic Curriculum, Religious and Non-Religious Perspectives of Worldview and Cosmology Education: "Holistic instructional strategies include visualization, cooperative learning, creative problem-solving and drama " (Holistic Education: an interdisciplinary focus based in the department of curriculum, OISE homepage, 1997). The key topics of the current discussion on holistic education were:

  • aethtetics

  • anthropology, cultural perspectives

  • attention

  • awakening

  • awareness of different realities and the form of reasoning required for understanding sacred sites

  • awareness training

  • awareness, transpersonal and spiritual practices

  • Baha'i education model of holistic educatin

  • balance in the mind and spirit

  • body movement

  • body's ways pf knowing

  • body-mind-spirit

  • body-senses

  • breath

  • breath and body-awareness program for in-patients on the Affective Disorders

  • Buddhist educational principles

  • Buddhist mindfulness awareness meditation

  • connectedness

  • cosmologies

  • creative arts

  • creative dance, kinaesthetics

  • creative visualization, mental imagery and feeling sculpture

  • creativity

  • creativity, intuition and ritual

  • culture

  • curriculum integration

  • discipline

  • drawing, journaling, meditation and commitment

  • dreams, sleep, meaning

  • East-West

  • ecology

  • education, mathematics

  • education as a religious activity

  • educational reform

  • educational/therapeutic contexts for awakening

  • emotions, body-senses, creativity

  • family dynamics

  • group exploration process

  • group therapy

  • guided imagery

  • guided visualization

  • holistic curriculum

  • holistic theories of learning

  • imagery

  • integating approaches to science, the spiritual domain and world affairs

  • Intelligence

  • intentions of education, nature of the participants

  • intuition

  • kinaesthetics

  • letting go

  • literature

  • Martial Art

  • meaning

  • meditation

  • mind and spirit

  • mindfulness

  • movement, play

  • music, alternative methods

  • music, secondary

  • music, social psychology of

  • pain management

  • pedagogy

  • philosophy of holism

  • play

  • poetic/kinaesthetic sensibilities

  • poetry, storytelling, art, music, and small group discussions

  • problem-solving, literature

  • reasoning

  • religion

  • ritual

  • ritual, re-Earthing

  • science

  • self

  • self-discipline, introspection and creative self-expression

  • Shamatha and Vipassana meditation, Qi Gong, blending Eastern and Western approaches

  • sleep

  • spirituality

  • spirituality in the Islamic context, Muslim education

  • stress disorder, post-traumatic

  • theater

  • therapeutic contexts

  • transpersonal

  • transpersonal, direct contact with

  • value

  • virtual education

  • virtual reality

  • Waldorf pedagogy

  • wisdom

  • wisdom-based relationships with children from conception to 23

  • mysticism

  • ethics

  • transdisciplinary

  • Holism in health and education: superimposing fields

    Holism in academic medical education.

    Dr. Freedman (1995) considers holism as leading to a more humanitarian medicine. Holism is being discussed from the point of view of curricula of professional medical education (MacLeod RD, 1997). The philosophy of holistic care underpins health education, and relates primarily to psychosocial interactions. This leads to a narrow perspective on holism, and creates an impression that the debate cannot be applied to other aspects of health and well-being. The principles and application of holistic care, and an understanding of the bases of health education practices can be appreciated only by viewing from much wider perspective (McVicar A, Clancy J, 1996). Medicine has to correct its bias by bridging the gaps between scientific-technical intelligence and humanities and human culture, between academic and complementary medicine (Nager F, 1996).

    Holism in health and education

    The slogan that can be recognized from the point of view of both health and education practitioners, is: "Our bodies and minds have a natural wisdom that can heal and guide us." (Nusbaum L, 1997).

    Practical applications of this common idea in the area of facilitating "embodied awareness", "transpersonal and spiritual practices", and "heart, mind and consciousness" is being achieved by utilizing the imagery of the subconscious in bringing mind, body and spirit together (Jones N, 1997).

    Spirituality is a universal human phenomenon, yet conceptual confusion, ambiguity and scientific skepticism have prevented adequate investigation into its potential healing effects. A recent resurgence of interest in non-medical sources of healing and holistic medical practices is causing increased speculation regarding the nature of spirituality (Goddard NC, 1995).

    Cultural aspects of human well-being is the concern which is common for healers and educators (Cohen R, 1997; Elshof L, 1997; Kassam A, 1997). General wellness is seen as the objective of holistic care to facilitate the restoration of the internal well-being (Rinomhota AS, Cooper K, 1996).

    Eco-counsciousness (e.g., Fox W, 1997; Ash A, 1997) is one more area where the fields of holistic education and health care overlap. Environmental factors were almost totally discarded as health determinants in science-based medicine. While on the contrary, for the vast majority of mankind since the time of Hippocrates, harmony with environmental reality remains the most important determinant of health as well as one of the key to general wellness (Prost A,1995; Maxwell M, Romkema J, 1997). Eco-wellness represents a creative, challenging and empowering approach for facilitating a sustainable future for people and their environments (Avery A,. 1996).

    East and West differnences in philosophies, healing schools and educational traditions, as well as their merging, are now being recognized by both holistic educators and healers. In the Western countries, spirituality and humanistic psychology have been widely used as treatment modalities. Western approaches, which are rather psychosomatic, and the Oriental approaches, which are rather somatopsychic, are considered to be complementary within the framework of a holistic and integrative therapeutic model (Nagakawa T, Ikemi Y, 1982; Dillon P, 1997; Yoshida A et al., 1997).

    M. Traynor (1996) argues that the issue of a philosophical and moral base for holism is particularly crucial at a time when so-called market rationalism dominates not only in health care but in an increasing range of human activities (e.g., Bethel L., 1997). The discussion on a tension between the generally accepted theoretical move towards holism and the practical reality of applying holistic ideas in a society which continues to hold the scientific paradigm in high regard assumes that the difference between scientific and holistic is a principal one (Phillips S, 1996).

    Popular culture often promotes uncritical and deterministic attitudes toward technological consumption, in both hi-tech medical education and general education. By Leo Elshof, holistic education should be seen "as pointing the way forward out of the trap of the "techno-fix" that is promulgated as a solution to the social, ecological and economic problems that are facing communities today." (Elshof L, 1997).


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