Holistic Nursing - Everything You Need To Know

If you are interested in the nursing profession and have a deep drive to provide comprehensive care to patients, you may want to consider holistic nursing.

What is Holistic Nursing?

Holistic nursing is the practice of healing the whole person and not just the body, according to the American Holistic Nurses Association (AHNA). Holistic nurses are registered nursing professionals who have a specific philosophy and approach to treating patients. Any nurse in any environment or specialty can practice holistic nursing.

Holistic nursing is a specialty practice recognized by the American Nurses Association since 2006. The modern-day practice is based on the teachings of Florence Nightingale. It is not a specialty practice dedicated to a certain setting, population, patient group or condition; it is a practice that is useful in all settings and for all populations.

How Holistic Nurses Set Themselves Apart

Holistic nursing differs from traditional nursing care by focusing on healing the whole of a person, according to the AHNA. In addition to healing a person’s physical body, holistic nurses also tend to the patient’s emotional, mental, social and spiritual well-being. Holistic nurses are meant to be instruments and facilitators of healing.

Another aspect of holistic nursing is internal. Holistic nurses are encouraged to incorporate self-care, self-responsibility, reflection and spirituality into their daily lives. They are encouraged to care for their whole selves as well as their patients.

The basis of this approach is that a nurse’s attitude and feelings impact how they interact with patients. Nurses who are tired and emotionally unavailable might create an unhealthy environment for themselves and their patients. Nurses who prioritize self-care might be better rested, more emotionally available to their patients and better able to facilitate a healing environment.

The Core Values of Holistic Nursing

The current Standards of Holistic Nursing described by the American Holistic Nursing Association include five core values:

  1. Holistic Philosophy and Education. Holistic nursing is based on the philosophical principles of holism and a commitment to education, knowledge and reflection.
  2. Holistic Ethics, Theories and Research. Holistic nursing is based on theory, research and ethical principles, which enable a thoughtful and competent practice.
  3. Holistic Nurse Self-Care. Holistic nursing believes nurses must practice self-care to be better able to serve others.
  4. Holistic Communication, Therapeutic Environment and Cultural Competence. Holistic nursing requires nurses to engage with patients to promote mutually agreed upon goals for the patient’s healing.
  5. A Holistic Caring Process. Holistic nursing embraces an evolving process that uses assessments and care that address patients’ needs, problems and patterns in a caring environment.

A Brief History of Holistic Nursing

Charlie McGuire formed the AHNA in January 1981 after witnessing problems within the nursing and medical communities throughout the 1970s, according to the association. The founding meeting was held in Houston, Texas, and included 33 nurses from eight states. The AHNA now serves over 5,500 members and is accredited by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. It provides continuing education opportunities and materials through the Journal of Holistic Nursing.

Holistic nursing and the AHNA, however, have roots much further back. Current practices are based on the work and theories of Florence Nightingale.

Florence Nightingale was a British nurse, statistician and social reformer who lived from May 1820 to August 1910, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Nightingale was religious and felt she was called by God to reduce human suffering. After receiving her nursing education and acting as an administrator, she was placed in charge of care for British and allied soldiers during the Crimean War.

Through Nightingale’s observations, experiences and detailed recordkeeping and statistics from nursing wounded soldiers, she helped to create formal and science-based nursing education. Much of her work is the basis for modern nursing today, including the holistic nursing specialty.

What Holistic Nurses Do?

Holistic nurses perform the typical treatments provided by registered nurses. However, they also take additional steps to help their patients heal physically, emotionally, mentally, socially and spiritually. Retrieved from Holistic Nursing: A Way of Being, a Way of Living, a Way of Practice, Lucia Thornton, former president of the AHNA, reveals what it means to be a holistic nurse:

Acknowledging a sacredness of being. Holistic nurses believe people are sacred and spiritual beings. This can be directly contributed to Florence Nightingale’s view of individuals as a reflection of the divine.

Committing to self-care and self-awareness. Holistic nurses examine and reflect upon themselves and their lives to pursue a healthy lifestyle. This includes reflecting on self-doubt, low self-esteem, attitudes, and beliefs based on social condition and early life experiences through meditation, mindfulness practices, journaling and other forms of introspection.

Committing to caring for the environment. Holistic nurses advocate for caring for and healing our planet because its health is linked to people’s health. This also extends to creating a healing environment for patients, which includes fresh air and clean surroundings.

Setting intentions. Holistic nurses are encouraged to center themselves and set intentions for the healing process with patients. This encompasses setting aside other thoughts and concerns, being present in the moment, connecting with their feelings and breathing deeply. By setting intentions, holistic nurses set aside their personal concerns and focus their attention and best efforts on patients.

Being present with their patients. Holistic nurses are encouraged to be fully present with their patients and connect on an emotional and spiritual level.

Using complementary and alternative medicine. Holistic nurses work closely with patients to determine whether any complementary or alternative therapies would benefit the patients’ healing.

Treatments and Practices in Holistic Nursing

There are myriad practices holistic nurses may incorporate into their own lives and their patients’ treatment plans. According to the University of California, San Diego, complementary and alternative medicine therapies include:

  • Therapeutic touch
  • Massage
  • Reflexology
  • Exercise and movement
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Guided imagery
  • Biofeedback
  • Aromatherapy
  • Energy therapies
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Lifestyle counseling
  • Stress management
  • Breathing and relaxation techniques
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • Music and sound therapy
  • Art intervention
  • Acupress

How To Become a Holistic Nurse

Step 1: Become a Licensed Nurse

Holistic nurses are legally licensed nurses. You must meet the educational and training requirements for becoming a registered nurse in your state. You do not have to become certified to practice holism, but certification designates your professional knowledge and experience to others.

Step 2: Obtain Certification

If you wish to specialize in holistic nursing, you can obtain a holistic nurse certification through the American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation. The levels of certification are:

  • Holistic Nurse Board Certified (HN-BC)
  • Holistic Nurse Baccalaureate Board Certified (HNB-BC)
  • Advanced Holistic Nurse Board Certified (AHN-BC)
  • Advanced Practice Holistic Nurse Board Certified (APHN-BC)

According to AHNCC, to be eligible for HN-BC, you must have:

  • Graduated from a nationally-accredited nursing program
  • A registered nursing license
  • At least one year in full-time practice or 2,000 hours of part-time practice within the previous five years
  • At least 48 contact hours of continuing nursing education in holistic nursing theory, research, practice or related topics within the previous two years

The higher certifications require different levels of education and training. The HNB-BC requires you to have graduated from a nationally accredited baccalaureate nursing program. The AHN-BC and APHN-BC require a graduate degree and at least 500 hours of practice at an advanced level.

Once you are eligible, you must pass a qualitative assessment and quantitative examination.

Optional Step: Additional Education

You also have the option of pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree specific to holistic nursing. There are currently 15 AHNCC-endorsed nursing programs in the United States.

Careers in Holistic Nursing

You can practice as a holistic nurse in many settings and pursue a diverse range of career trajectories. Many holistic nurses practice in traditional hospitals and medical facilities. Others practice in a range of private settings. Holistic nurses can work in:

  • Hospitals
  • Hospice
  • Palliative care
  • Long-term care
  • Private practice
  • Consultancies
  • Birth centers
  • Academic/educational settings

Salary figures for holistic nurses depend on their specific position, setting or location. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics on registered nurses, the median pay for registered nurses in 2018 was $71,730 annually as of January 2019. Employment is expected to grow 12% between 2018 and 2028.

Holistic Nursing Certification / Licenses

There are a number of holistic nursing certifications you can pursue through the AHNCC.

Holistic Nurse Board Certified (HN-BC)

This is the most basic level of certification as a holistic nurse. This is available to all registered nurses who meet the criteria. The requirements for an HN-BC are as follows:

  • Unrestricted, current U.S. RN license
  • 2,000 hours or one year of full-time practice within the last five years
  • 48 certified nurse educator hours in holistic nursing theory, research, practice or related topics
  • Graduate of nationally accredited nursing program

Holistic Nurse Baccalaureate Board Certified (HNB-BC)

An HNB-BC is a holistic nursing certification for those with a baccalaureate degree. Requirements for an HNB-BC are as follows:

  • Unrestricted, current U.S. RN license
  • 2,000 hours or one year of full-time practice within the last five years
  • 48 certified nurse educator hours in holistic nursing theory, research, practice or related topics
  • Graduate of nationally accredited baccalaureate nursing program

Advanced Holistic Nurse Board Certified (AHN-BC)

An AHN-BC is a certification for nurses with a graduate degree. Requirements for AHN-BC are:

  • Unrestricted, current U.S. RN license
  • 2,000 hours or one year of full-time practice within the last five years and a minimum of 500 hours at the advanced level
  • 48 certified nurse educator hours in holistic nursing theory, research, practice or related topics
  • Graduate of nationally accredited graduate nursing program

Advanced Practice Holistic Nurse Board Certified (APHN-BC)

An APHN-BC is the certification for advanced practice registered nurses. An APRN is a nurse who has a master's, post-master's certificate or practice-focused doctor of nursing practice degree. This is the most advanced certification for holistic nurses. Requirements for an APHN-BC are the same as the AHN-BC.

Do you have to be certified to practice as a holistic nurse?

No. Certification is not required to practice as a holistic nurse, but it does signal to employers that you have experience and demonstrated knowledge in holistic nursing. To be certified by the AHNCC, you need a minimum of 48 hours of certified nurse educator training in holistic nursing topics.

Additional Resources for Holistic Nursing