What is Holistic Health?

“Holistic” becomes fashionable term lately in healthcare industry, and I am curious on how this term derived from and what is the meaning. Therefore, I do some research on it. But I found “holistic”, “holism”, “wholistic” and “wholism” are the terms used interchangeably, these confuse me.

According to studies, “holistic” also refers as holism. It is a term coined by General Jan Christian Smuts, prime minister of South Africa, in 1926. He defined holism as “the tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts through creative evolution.”

Merriam-Webster defined holistic as: “relating to or concerned with complete systems rather than with individual parts.” Menninger mentioned that: “… holistic medicine that integrates knowledge of the body, the mind, and the environment …”

Wade summarized “holistic” healthcare into two concepts, one is considering as a whole system and another concept viewed as alternative medicine.

Therefore, it can be concluded that holistic health means creating a balanced lifestyle by integrating the mind, body, and spirit for the attaining whole health. “Harmonize” and “wholeness” principle are appreciated in this context, it take in the account of how one eats, sleep, thinks and connected to God, etc.

It also seems that “Wholism” and “wholistic” terms is used primarily in church based and they seem to have the same concept as above. Correct me if I am wrong.

Becoming healthy require becoming whole. Career, love, health, religion … etc all these are part of our life. If one of the aspects is unhealthy, it will affect each others.

I remember the book I read on an interesting concept presented by Richard Nisbett in his book “The geography of thought: how Asians and Westerners think differently… and why”. The children were asked to categorize the given pictures of “grass”, “chicken” and “cow”. As a result, the Chinese kids grouped “grass” and “cow” together and the kids from US categorized “chicken” and “cow” as one group.

The research concluded that the Chinese kids tend to see things from the relationship perspective (wholeness), whereas, US kids tend to see things as individual agency. It was a quite an interesting research, but I am not sure whether this concept is still apply for Asians as most of us are now influenced by Western thinking.

What I want to bring out is…

The influences of ancient Greece (Westerners) and traditional Chinese or Hindu (East Asian) created different school of thoughts. Westerners value individualism and freedom. They tend to have linear thinking, strong interest in categorization and good in logical thinking. Dermatologist, neurologist, gastroenterology, cardiologist… are the products from the linear thinking and categorization.

In contrast, Easterners or ancients tend to think in a broad context. They view the world as complex and a host of factors might plays part affecting the whole.

Thus, they believe they can’t understand the part without understanding the whole. They value harmonious, search for relationships between things, and believe things are in constant change state. Traditional Easterners thinking is more complicated.

This is where Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine concept of elements can be influencing each other and the disease will change. The most important is to maintain the homeostasis (balance) of a patient’s body. One of the great thinker and physician I like, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) is a polymath. He had a wide range of knowledge in astronomy, alchemy, geography and geology, psychology, Islamic theology, logic, mathematics, physics and poetry.

There are no good or bad regarding the system of thought. Every system has their strengths and weaknesses, if we can combine these two thought system, this will be a better way. This is where the holistic health approach regains their popularity in late 20.


Puff. R, 2013. Holistic Health. eBooklt.com

LaFay, D., 2012. Holistic Health Quickbook 10 Elite Health Strategies You can start Today! Lulu.com

Robinson, T., 2015. Health Promotion Disease Prevention and The Role of Allied Health. Review of Allied Health Education. University Press of Kentucky

Wade, D. T., 2009. Holistic Health Care. What is it, and how can we achieve it?

Nisbett, R., 2003. The geography of thought: how Asians and Westerners think differently… and why. The Free Press.

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