Whole health education can be a valuable tool when applied to stress management because it addresses the needs and condition of the whole individual.
Stress can come from a variety of sources and affect an individual in many ways. Quite frequently, a person does not realize how much stress he is under until he is forced to sit down and think about it. He might be having somatic complaints such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or abdominal pain. Ruling out an underlying disease process, these kinds of somatic complaints can often be related to stress. Finding healthy ways to manage stress can improve an individual's overall health and quality of life.
Whole health education is a method of relating to other people on a one-to-one basis through respectful and unconditional listening. The specially-trained counselor creates a safe and comfortable environment in which the client can lower his defenses and speak honestly about himself without fear of judgment or reprisal. The client is allowed to vent his frustrations, examine his overall condition, evaluate his needs, and set realistic goals for himself. The counselor does not interject an opinion or offer advice, but merely sits by and offers his presence. In this way, the client has a chance to take responsibility for his own healing.
The counselor respectfully asks questions which address five aspects of the client's life: physical, nutritional, emotional, environmental, and spiritual. His role is to compile the data, do research, and provide an information packet which is tailored to the needs and wants of the client. The client then decides for himself what he can do to improve his health and quality of life.
If a client needs information about stress management, for example, the counselor helps him to evaluate his overall lifestyle and pinpoint those areas of his life which are causing him stress and those which could be enhanced to reduce his stress. The counselor does not tell the client what to do, but provides him with information, alternatives, and choices. The client becomes empowered to set his own goals and design his own program to achieve those goals.
Developing good listening skills is the key component of whole health education. Sometimes, all a client really needs is for someone to listen to him with mindfulness and respect. In the process of sharing information, the client may draw new conclusions about himself or discover that he had the answers at his fingertips all along. The more the client can do for himself, the better chance there is for a positive outcome.
Whole health educators do not take the place of doctors or other healthcare practitioners. On the contrary, they work within the framework of traditional medicine to provide healthcare information and counseling. Their work complements traditional medicine.
In the acute care setting, where I work, it is usually not possible to take the time required to sit down and address the holistic needs of the individual. The focus is on physical complaints, and if a person is suffering from stress, the symptoms are treated with anxiolytics and anti-depressants. This addresses the symptoms, but not the cause. The use of drugs simply makes the person more manageable while they are in the acute care setting.
There is so much pressure in the acute care setting on staff to get persons in and out, that patient education often suffers. Even doctors, if they are part of an HMO, are pressured to see a high volume of clients during the day, and this can mean that the quality of the visit with each individual suffers in the process. There simply is not enough time to address each person's fears, anxieties, and concerns. It is much easier to write a prescription and hope that the person takes it.
But this is not healthCARE or WELLness. While Western medicine is greatly advanced technologically in treating illness, we have fallen short when it comes to promoting wellness and good health. Usually, a person decides to pursue this on his own through books or videos. Hence, the popularity of self-help gurus like Deepak Chopra and the high volume of sales at health food stores. Today, it seems like people are searching for an alternative to traditional healthcare treatments, and this trend is sure to continue into the future.
In Zen Buddhism, mindfulness is a very important concept. Mindful listening to oneself and others is key to growth and communication.
I was greatly impressed to see this concept applied to health education. And ever since I watched the [class] video, I have been more conscious of it in my own communications with others. All of a sudden, I do not mind taking a few minutes to listen to my husband's problems at work, no matter how tired or stressed I feel myself. I do not mind listening to my daughter's boyfriend troubles, no matter how annoyed I may feel. I do not mind taking a few minutes at work to listen to a patient or a co-worker vent about their personal problems. The act of just being there and listening helps the other person, and that, in the long run, helps me. Sometimes, I gain valuable insights about my own problems by listening to someone else.
Watching this [class] video also reminded me of one of the reasons why I became a nurse: to help others. In the day-to-day pressures of working in a hospital, I have lost some of the compassion and humanity which brought me to nursing. My focus has become saving myself from stress-related illness. My focus has been just getting through the day without losing my cool. Is this a healthy way to live? NO!
The concept of whole health education has led me to go back to school and seek a bachelor's degree in natural health. [Did it!] I am now very hopeful of making a more positive contribution to the world and to myself.
Dawn Pisturino, RN
New England School of Whole Health Education
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