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From the Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients
January 2006

Pathways to Healing
by Elaine Zablocki

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Holistic Nurses Are Part of the CAM Healthcare Team
Barbara Dossey, RN, PhD, started out as ICU nurse, and did bedside critical care nursing for ten years. She continued as a part-time critical care nurse and critical care educator for another 15 years. At the same time, she has always been committed to holistic nursing, which means nursing that has enhancement of healing for the whole person, from birth to death, as its goal.

Barbara DosseyHolistic nurses are sometimes thought of as "those woo-woo people." The expression "holistic nursing" first came into use in the late sixties and early seventies, to describe nurses who use complementary methods. In fact, holistic nurses have solid traditional nursing skills, and holistic concepts have been part of nursing from its very beginning, Dossey says.

From the start of her professional career, she's used mind-body skills and other holistic tools as throughout her nursing practice. "For example, in a critical care unit a patient comes in with acute myocardial infarction, and you give them morphine," she says. "They're still anxious and scared to death. How do you, as a nurse, continue to facilitate their healing process? After I give the medication I tell them, 'here's something you can do right now that will help you. Just take a breath in, and as you exhale, feel yourself getting a bit more relaxed. Allow the mattress to support you. Let yourself sink into the bed and watch your breathing.'" This sort of breathing exercise can help any patient who is feeling anxious and scared. The holistic perspective isn't something you tack on at the end of the day, Dossey says. "In holistic nursing practice we strive to facilitate healing for the whole person. You hope to create a healing environment, internally and externally. Nurses who embody a holistic perspective recognize themselves as instruments in the healing process."

Holistic Nursing Consultants Advise on Curriculum and Programs
Dossey was a founding member of the American Holistic Nurses Association. Today she serves as the director of Holistic Nursing Consultants, working together with Lynn Keegan, RN, PhD, and Cathie Guzzetta, RN, PhD. She and her partners consult with hospitals, schools of nursing and interested lay audiences about the role of nurses and their holistic perspective within the integrative practice movement. They have a special interest in curriculum development.

They've also written an exhaustive compendium of materials on holistic nursing,
Holistic Nursing: A Handbook for Practice, now in its fourth edition. This book discusses strategies for using self-assessments, relaxation, imagery, nutrition, exercise, and aromatherapy to aid patients, and also addresses self-healing and self-care for caregivers. Online holistic nursing web modules accompany the text; see for more information.

Holistic Nurses Are Part of the CAM Healthcare Team
As healthcare organizations add mind-body methods and other CAM interventions to their array of services, they should remember that holistic nurses can be a valuable resource, Dossey says. Many nurses are trained in a wide range of methods, including:

  • Aromatherapy
  • Art Therapy
  • Counseling
  • Exercise and Movement
  • Goal Setting and Contracts
  • Guided Imagery
  • Healing Touch
  • Meditation
  • Music and Sound Therapy
  • Nutrition Counseling
  • Relaxation Modalities
  • Self-Care Interventions
  • Smoking Cessation
  • Weight Management

"We are in a time right now where we can truly have an integrative healthcare collaboration," Dossey says. "Nurses have a background that can complement almost everything other practitioners are doing. Use us."

Florence Nightingale, Founder of Holistic Nursing
Many of us think of Florence Nightingale, who organized a nursing corps during the Crimean War, as the romantic "lady with a lamp." In fact, she was a formidable organizer who founded the profession of nursing, and was a pioneer in public health and sanitation, holistic health, health statistics and evidence-based practice.

Dossey has been inspired by Nightingale for many years, and in 2000 she published
Florence Nightingale: Mystic, Visionary, Healer. This book focuses on Nightingale's entire life and her deeply personal spirituality, which supported her through the challenges of her enormous pioneering work load, plus her own chronic illness.

Recently Dossey and others have published
Florence Nightingale Today: Healing, Leadership, Global Action, which includes two of Nightingale's major works, her letters to nurses (originally published over a 28-year span) and her 1983 essay "Sick-Nursing and Health-Nursing." In this essay, Nightingale calls for a perspective that goes beyond caring for the sick and treating symptoms, and also looks at "the art of health, the cultivation of health." Nightingale writes that "health is not only to be well, but to use well every power we have." These ideas are as important for us all today as when they were first written. The book includes a valuable chapter by Deva-Marie Beck, RN, PhD, on the historical circumstances surrounding the essay, and the implications of its ideas. Although this book is primarily intended for nurses, there is much in it that would interest other healthcare practitioners and the general public.

Nurses As Resources for People with Chronic Illness
Dossey is excited about the initiatives consumers are taking these days to learn about and monitor their own illnesses. "Consumers are so knowledgeable today, and everybody has access to the Internet." She advises them to be as clear as possible about their symptoms. For example, keep a diary. "If it's something that's chronic and building up, track that pattern for three or four weeks. Then when you see your clinician, you can describe the pattern of symptoms accurately, and your information may assist in creating the best treatment for you."

"Don't go in there with fifty pages you've downloaded from the internet," she adds. "Do bring a one-page summary of the symptom patterns you've observed."

Each nurse has a different mix of training, skills and experience. To find a nurse who has holistic nursing skills, or a special interest in a particular disease, contact your state nursing association, and your local help line.

Holistic Nursing: A Handbook for Practice (4th edition, 2005, Jones and Bartlett) Visit for more information on web-based modules to accompany this book.
Florence Nightingale Today: Healing, Leadership, Global Action (2005,, a publication of the American Nurses Association)
Florence Nightingale: Mystic, Visionary, Healer (2000, Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins)

Elaine Zablocki is the former editor of CHRF News Files and Alternative Medicine Business News.


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