At best, “So … what is it that you do … exactly?” or something along those lines is what people ask when they stop at my table in MBS events. All have heard of counselling; many have tried it; few have anything good to say about their experience of it; fewer still have seen it associated with the word “holistic”. At worst, I receive messages telling me that there is no such thing as holistic counselling, that I am either a qualified counsellor or practising unregulated therapy.
What is Holistic Counselling?
Defining holistic counselling is not an easy task, for every holistic counsellor brings his own individual spin to it. The general consensus is that, where traditional counselling concentrates on the psychological aspect of issues and behaviours, holistic counselling takes into account the physical, emotional and spiritual contexts, as well as the psychological ones. Its aim is to treat all individuals as whole human beings, made of a mind, body and soul, to help them break free from behaviours that limit them at all levels, so that they can find within themselves the strength and resources to make the changes necessary to overcome their difficulties and move their life forward.
Although more and more counsellors nowadays claim to use integrative approaches, what this generally means is that they no longer keep to one approach, as was traditionally the case, for example humanist, psychodynamic or behaviourist, but combine several approaches to better suit the needs of their clients. Some are also starting to add complementary therapies to their services, such as reflexology, aromatherapy or mindfulness, to name only a few. Although integrative methods are unsurprisingly proving more successful, this form of counselling still concentrates mainly on the mental, emotional and physical aspects of difficulties.
Holistic counselling differs in as much as it considers that all aspects, mental, emotional, physical and spiritual, are connected and must be considered, therefore treated, as a whole. Unfortunately, and although transpersonal psychology is gaining momentum, spirituality is more often than not misunderstood, feared and ignored as a result. Yet, spirituality, not to be confused with religion, although this could be the topic of an article of its own, should be acknowledged for the immense and invaluable source of strength, comfort and hope that it is for individuals facing difficult times.
Whatever spirituality is in the eyes of its beholder, it has become obvious that it can no longer be overlooked when dealing with an individual’s general wellbeing. Many societies around the world, African, Asian, Indian, American Indian etc., following the teachings of their ancestors, have long understood that the body and the soul are not to be separated. Yet, this dualism, instilled in our cultures by philosophers such as Descartes, has unfortunately become ingrained in the Western world, reinforced by the shortcomings of both religion and science.
Slowly, scientists are starting to prove that body and spirit are connected. The works of neurobiologists Eleanor Maguire from University College London and Mario Beauregard from the University of Montreal, to only name a couple, have shown that having a system of beliefs and activating it affect the functioning of the brain and modifies the cerebral anatomy, demonstrating that the part of the brain where intense emotions are triggered when one experiences very distressing events, and which uses a lot of energy firing these intense emotions, literally switches off as soon as the patient starts praying. As spirituality differs from religion, so the definition of praying is unique to the individual who practises it, whether it be prayers in the religious sense as we commonly understand it, thoughts, wishes, meditations, or whatever else one prefers to call it.