Mental health and physical health are inextricably linked. According to the World Health Organization, treating mental health is an integral and essential part of treating a person’s overall health.1 As a result, many of those working in the healthcare field have begun emphasizing the mind-body connection in order to provide comprehensive care to their patients. Counselors are at the forefront of establishing holistic routines for their patients that help to contribute to their overall well-being and health.
Counselors who maintain a holistic approach to treatment take the entire human being and their life experiences into consideration for assessment and treatment purposes. Holistic counselors focus on the relationship between mind, body and spirit, and prescribe treatment plans based on the analysis that issues in one area of a person’s life can lead to concerns in other areas.
How Are Mental Health and Physical Health Connected?
Although the mind and body are sometimes thought of as being separate entities, issues that affect the mind have the potential to impact your physical health as well. Counselors who recognize this are able to maximize their treatment efforts to best suit the well-being of the client.
“Physical well-being and subjective well-being are two sides of the same coin,” writes Howard Friedman, author of “The Longevity Project,” a research-based book exploring which populations live the longest and why. “Mental health affects physical health, and physical health affects mental health.”2
There are a number of ways in which physical and mental health are connected.
One clear example lies in the correlation between longevity and mental health. Numerous studies have reported that those with mental health conditions are likely to die much earlier than their neurotypical counterparts.
Schizophrenic adults, for example, are far more likely to develop addictions, have a higher risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and are more likely to be unemployed. These factors, alongside dealing with side effects from the disorder itself, can decrease life expectancies anywhere from 14 to 20 years.3
Chronic mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety can also have a lasting impact on the body, causing problems with the digestive system, cardiovascular and immune systems, and the central nervous system.4
Chronic mental health conditions aside, overall happiness and well-being has a drastic impact on one’s physical health.
“Take negative emotions, for example,” Laura Carstensen, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, tells U.S. News reporter Angela Haupt. “While they may not cause disease, they appear to accelerate its progression…We’re only beginning to understand the potential mechanisms that could be involved. But it’s clear that people who are more positive are more likely to survive, and to survive longer.”2
There are numerous reports and studies to back this claim. In one study, older people were up to 35 percent less likely to die during a five-year period if they reported feeling happy, excited and content on a typical day – regardless of factors like chronic health conditions, depression and financial security.5
In addition, a recent Harvard University study reported that those who are optimistic, hopeful, happy and experience life satisfaction are less likely to develop heart disease and stroke.6
It’s clear that there are correlating factors that link the mind and body, and that in order to treat the whole person, an individual must prioritize both their mental and physical health.
How Does Holistic Counseling Work?
Holistic counseling is an approach to treatment that focuses on the entire human being and their life experience as a means to assess and treat a patient’s symptoms. Where traditional counseling may rely on only the psychological aspects of a person, holistic counseling assesses and treats individuals from a physical and spiritual context as well.
Holistic counselors look at a client’s symptoms and evaluate how the physical body is involved and affected with the goal of facilitating an overall sense of physical well-being. Counselors can suggest a number of complementary and alternative therapies that aid in their client’s well-being, including yoga, guided meditation, chiropractic techniques, massage therapies, acupuncture, and adjustments to diet and exercise.7
Holistic counselors acknowledge that spirituality is an integral part of healing the whole person. Sometimes this spirituality is founded in religious practices, while other times, counselors help their clients to discover integral parts of themselves.
“I am a validator, cheerleader, encourager,” writes Marianne Clyde, a holistic psychotherapist based in Warrenton, Virginia. “I ask questions so that people can discover who they are and answer the questions themselves. I create an environment where people are free and they can find the truth that is deep within them…We begin wherever the client is within their spiritual journey: Everyone believes something. I work with what people bring me. I then ask them things like: Is that working for you? Does that feel right for you? Or does it give you a stomach ache? We explore what their beliefs are. I live what I am working with my clients on. I have to follow the truth that I perceive, so people can do that with me.”7
Holistic counselors help their clients explore themselves more thoroughly and find a deeper connection with the spiritual components of their person.
Holistic counselors are also highly concerned with the psychological wellness of their clients. As mental health practitioners, counselors are well-equipped to provide their clients with the psychological support they need moving forward.
Through a combination of spiritual, emotional and physical treatment, counselors can help individuals work in harmony to support their day-to-day function. Clients who undergo holistic treatment often find themselves to be more self-aware and have higher self-esteem and self-acceptance.8
Holistic therapies can be used to address a number of challenges that clients may face, including depression, anxiety, mood regulation, somatic ailments, stress and trauma.8
When it comes to treating a number of health issues, it’s important that the mind-body connection be considered. Counselors who practice holistic medicine are ahead of the curve when it comes to understanding this phenomenon, and are able to help their clients put their best foot forward in their day-to-day experiences physically, mentally and emotionally.
If you’re interested in helping heal the whole person, holistic counseling is a lucrative and growing career field in need of passionate individuals. Wake Forest University’s Online Master in Counseling program works hard to ensure that their graduates are the most qualified and prepared when it comes to becoming leaders in this field.