Why do we need a holistic approach?
Child development is extraordinarily complex. No two children will meet the same milestones at exactly the same time and variances in personality and dispositions mean that individual children will respond in different ways to the same stimulus. In my household we have four biological children – each has been raised with the same parents, lived in the same home and been fed the same diet. Why then does one of my children experience high levels of anxiety, one has some difficulties with learning, one requires much support for managing his emotions and the other one seems to live her life relatively carefree and with an extraordinarily positive disposition? We have four children with four distinctly different interests, personalities and needs. It is here that the nature vs nurture debate really comes alive and we must recognise that the two are actually completely interconnected.
When we talk about intervention and support for children, it is often done so using clinical language and rigid understandings of patterns of child development. This is hugely problematic given that child development is not linear and whilst we can be guided by broad developmental milestones, one must look much deeper to truly understand each child as an individual who has unique thoughts, understandings and needs.
Current systems are fragmented
Healthcare systems across the world are being overwhelmed by paediatric referrals to support agencies. Families can feel like tearing their hair out as they fight to access a range of services for their child including doctors, psychologists, nutritionists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists… the list is endless. Imagine one child who is accessing a paediatrician, a psychologist and a speech pathologist to help them to manage some challenging behaviours that have been identified by the child’s school. It is very rare that these agencies communicate and so a parent can be left with a range of diagnosis, medications and cognitive and behavioural interventions to administer without any one of these professionals looking deeply at what is going on for that child in a holistic sense. The support for the family and child becomes disjointed and often children are misdiagnosed or medicated unnecessarily as no one has bothered to explore the underlying factors or root causes of the behaviour.
Body and mind Vs Holism
Unfortunately, there has been age-old misunderstandings where the mind and body have been seen as completely separate entities. There is now a strong push for a shift towards a more holistic approach for the management of psychological and physiological health needs. Within a holistic approach, the person is viewed as a ‘whole’ and treatment will include the consideration of mental and social factors rather than just the symptoms of a disease (Shafran, Sophie, Bennet & McKenzie Smith, 2017). In essence, the strong connections that exist between mind and body are explored to determine interventions that treat the whole person simultaneously.
The Effectiveness of Holistic Interventions
Holistic approaches are far more cost effective and achieve better long-term results because they involve individualised plans which are inclusive of all the challenges a person is facing – rather than fragmented intervention programs that address isolated aspects of that person’s care. This makes perfect sense since we know that the existence of a long-term physical condition drastically increases that person’s risk of psychological distress – whilst the impact of psychological distress may also impact on a person’s chronic illness (Shafran, Sophie, Bennet & McKenzie Smith, 2017). We see this all the time in children especially, with stress manifesting as a tummy ache or skin conditions stemming from anxiety. When we understand the relationship between the physiological and psychological aspects of a person, it becomes clear how disconnecting the person from being treated as a whole is particularly concerning.
With growing numbers of children experiencing the impacts of trauma, we are in desperate need of a better way of responding to children and families who are literally crying out for help. This support needs to be inclusive of the involvement of families so that they can be an active part of the solution, increasing the likelihood of these interventions remaining effective in the long term. In addition to the provision of more holistic intervention support, there is also a desperate need for education professionals to grow their understandings around effective trauma-informed practices that support the whole child. Teachers have a very difficult job and are not trained to manage the complex behaviours that children often display within their classrooms. Without these understandings, it can be easy to focus on the behaviour alone rather than seeking to understand what is going on for that child on a much deeper level.
Fortunately, there are growing numbers of health and education professionals that are recognising the importance of treating people holistically. Incorporating a range of strategies that support and address both physiological and psychological concerns will ensure better long-term outcomes whilst lowering the overall cost of accessing a wide range of different health care professionals to treat the symptoms rather than the root causes. The research is clear, holistic intervention ensures a comprehensive approach that treats people like the complex beings that they are. One person with one plan – a better response for all.
At CPI, we weave this holistic approach into all of our learning and course materials. Have a browse of our range of online training courses for parents and professionals and see how you can integrate a holistic approach in your home, education of healthcare setting.
Shafran, R. Sophie, I. Bennet, D. & McKenzie Smith, M. 2017, Interventions to Support Integrated Psychological Care and Holistic Health Outcomes in Paediatrics, Healthcare, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 44.