Friday, November 14, 2014

What is a 'Holistically Oriented' Psychotherapy Practice?

My name is Cheryl Alexander, and I run a lively psychotherapy practice in downtown Chicopee, a small to medium-sized city, located on the Connecticut River in Hampden County, Massachusetts, USA. I feel exquisitely blessed to have people, from so many different walks of life drawn to me and the services I offer. Many of the folks I meet with are curious about the holistically oriented component of what I do. “What does ‘holistically oriented’ mean, exactly?" I am often asked. I will attempt to answer that question here!

As a holistically oriented psychotherapist, my interest lies in assisting people to strive towards becoming whole, integrated individuals, and responding to them in the same manner. When people come to me suffering from what they perceive to be a mental health issue - let’s say ‘depression,’ for example - I meet with them and offer them a space to process what they are going through; I validate their experiences, and, as a licensed behavioral health clinician, I am able to apply a number of different theoretical approaches including CBT, insight-oriented psychotherapy, self psychology, ego psychology or object relations to explore the particular manifestations of depression with the person. However, recognizing that the mind, emotions, body and spirit are inextricably linked, I might also ask them questions pertaining to how they exercise/move their body; what they are putting into their body (food, drink, vitamins, legal/illegal drugs, etc); whether they have had a physical and/or blood work done recently; what their social/support network is like and whether or not they maintain a spiritual/contemplative practice…and…I may make *suggestions and/or referrals accordingly.

In my view, an effective holistically oriented practitioner adopts and espouses an ideology of well-being which includes spiritual, mental, emotional and physical aspects of living - each of which are closely interconnected and carefully balanced - and understands that if *any part* of the person is out of balance, a chain reaction occurs which in some way affects the other areas. For example, a person who is depressed may fail to engage in proper hygiene, adequate exercise and/or healthy eating habits, potentially leading to physical problems, and a person who is in extreme physical pain may become significantly depressed. Likewise, somebody suffering with gastrointestinal or cardiovascular issues may benefit from gaining a greater sense of awareness as this pertains to recognizing the link between physiology and anxiety, and a person struggling with panic attacks, insomnia and/or mania could benefit from knowing that they might be able to offset any discomfort coming from these symptoms by reducing or eliminating their caffeine intake.

The saying “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is generally attributed to the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC), however, as it is frequently misunderstood I will try to highlight its relevance to health and wellness holistic thought here:

Imagine a circle. Divide this circle into four equal parts. Recognize that this circle represents a complete human being. Next, in your mind’s eye, label the parts of the circle ‘mental’, ‘emotional’, ‘physical’ and ‘spiritual’. If we consider the parts alone we are regarding four different fragments of a person, but the parts reassembled into a circle would once again represent a whole person, which as a single integrated system is greater than the four quarters (fragments) alone. In holistic healing we must remember that each of these fragments is part of a whole – the whole person – not a separate entity, and we cannot consider one without the other.

*As a holistically oriented psychotherapist I may refer people to other holistic alternative practitioners, such as acupuncturists, massage therapists, yoga teachers and naturopaths.
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***Reiki/Energy Psychology is a complementary and holistic therapy which brings about healing on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels. This service is currently offered in my practice.