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Promoting Holistic Healing in Post-Secondary Education

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

W/holistic* Healing Initiatives in Colleges and Universities:

The rapid growth of holistic healing has transformed many human services. The range of these healing practices, practitioners, theoretical perspectives and research methods has grown dramatically in recent years. Many of these holistic practices are ancient based upon traditional healing, while other cutting-edge approaches are new. Indigenous peoples are reclaiming traditional holistic practices as part of a process of decolonization. In a world that is often divisive and dehumanizing, holistic practices and ideas emphasize interdependence, wholeness and balance. These practices promote inclusion and connection, rather than separation and isolation. They bring ways of healing and methods of social change at individual, community, national and global levels (Dunn et al., 1999).

The term holism is now widely used in public discourse. Despite this increase interest, many individuals can only find education and training in holistic healing in the community and not in colleges and universities.

The academy is only slowly changing and seriously lagging behind what is happening outside its walls. At the same time, there are some remarkable exceptions and new approaches being pioneered in post-secondary education.

Social Change in Education

I was a professor at the Faculty of Social Work, Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada for thirty (30) years before I recently retired. I became interested in holistic healing because of my own healing journey. I discovered a whole new world of holism when I started meditation practices about 25 years ago. The doors opened for me to body work, energy work, transpersonal practices, and many different forms of healing. I started going to a naturopath, eating healthily, and learning yoga and Tai Chi. Spirituality and dance became great joys in my life, and I released a great deal of emotions through a variety of healing techniques. In addition, I participated in and studied healing at many major healing centres in Canada, the United States, Great Britain, and Southeast Asia. As a result of these experiences, I designed an MSW course about holistic healing at individual, community, national and global levels. Students were extremely excited about this course, but felt that it was essential that these concepts should be implemented throughout the social work curriculum and the university.

It became clear to me that considerable social change is required in post-secondary education.

Since then, I have advocated for teaching holistic healing concepts and practices throughout post-secondary education. I have written a textbook, Holistic Healing: Theories, Practices and Social Change with over 30 scholars/practitioners from diverse fields of study. This book addresses critical issues such as colonization, human rights, the environment, peace and conflict, and equity and inclusion. It is a timely and practical resource for post-secondary students of social work, psychology, Indigenous studies, health, holistic healing, and sociology and is also a great resource for professional practitioners and those interested in the field (e.g. Indigenous traditional practices, meditation, bodywork, energy work, expressive arts, connections with nature, transpersonal practices, natural health, nutrition and broad societal change). Also, I have organized in collaboration with others three conferences on this topic and developed a holistic healing website to promote this vital field. The website provides an overview of the theories, research, and practices for human service practitioners and the general public as well as outlines how we can begin to transform post-secondary education to be more inclusive of these concepts and practices.

Series of Blogs on Holistic Healing:

As part of these efforts and in consultation with others in this field I decided to organize a series of blogs about holistic healing. The purpose of these upcoming blogs will be to promote holistic concepts and practices in colleges and universities. Models of holistic healing programs in post-secondary education will be described to illustrate what is possible and some of the approaches that are being utilized in North America. I have only had time to research programs primarily in Canada and the United States (Turtle Island). There are many other models throughout the world. Each month a different approach will be discussed including challenges and possibilities. Later examples of the holistic practices of graduates of these programs will be described including how these approaches are different and their benefits. The first examples will be of Indigenous post-secondary education in social work.

Overview of Holistic Healing in Post-Secondary Education

Education in North America still emphasizes the mind, rationality and competition, rather than broader holistic approaches and values.

Many medical students still do not take even one class about natural medicine. A research study of 125 U.S. medical schools in 2013 revealed that nearly half (45.4%) of these programs did not offer any courses on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), an additional 26.9% only offered one course and most of these courses were electives (Cowen & Cyr, 2015). One study found that 84 % of physicians felt that increased education about CAM was needed during their training to adequately address patients’ concerns and issues (Khamis & Ribeiro, 2015). Furthermore, nursing schools seldom emphasize holistic approaches and practices. Mariano (2009) believes that with increased use of CAM by the American public, both nursing students and faculty require far more knowledge and skills in holistic nursing.

Eurocentric knowledge is the main approach in post-secondary education. Traditional healing theories and practices from around the world are often not valued or included in human service education such as psychology, social work and sociology. Even if human service education includes some holistic practices such as mindfulness these efforts are often not linked to other holistic theories or practices and are treated as separate and not as a broader field of study (Dunn, 2019). Eurocentric concepts are often not critiqued (Moodley & West, 2005).

Social work education should incorporate Indigenous history and world views and be premised upon traditional sacred epistemology. Education should utilize a decolonizing pedagogy directed at mitigating and redressing the harm of colonization (Sinclair,2019)

Klein and Wall (2019) explain that Western education emphasizes the intellect and a materialist worldview which often does not include other ways of knowing and is a limited way of understanding our human experience. Despite the rapid growth of holistic practices in North American most colleges and universities have not integrated holism into their curriculum or culture, despite its potential positive impact on student wellness as students grapple with a variety of academic, personal, and social pressures. Different cultural theories and practices that emphasize interconnection and cooperation are often not valued in an atmosphere of competition and accumulation. There are considerable differences in holistic concepts and practices for people from different cultures and/or nations, but basic values link these ideas together. Eurocentrism is often assumed and not even questioned.

Holism represents a different paradigm of knowing and education, so it is often very difficult to change established educational practices.

There is little room for a holistic approach that would also include the physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of knowing. In addition, the growing emphasis of post-secondary education with corporate backing is upon training students for the job market and not personal growth and development or critical thinking.

Nevertheless, there has been a slow but growing emphasis upon integrated medicine, a combination of Western and alternative medicine, in medical schools. In 1999 Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine and Health was founded to promote integrative medicine in medical schools and institutions including Harvard, Stanford, Duke, and the Mayo Clinic. In 1999, the National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institute of Health invested $ 22.5 million to fund medical schools, nursing schools, and the American Medical Student Association with the goal of incorporating CAM education methods into the medical curricula. Plus, there are several universities and colleges that have created general holistic healing programs in psychology and social work. In addition, Indigenous educators have developed programs and degrees that utilize decolonizing pedagogy based upon traditional epistemology. Mainstream programs are increasingly offering mindfulness courses and other related holistic programs. Plus, the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACMHE) was founded in 2008 to increase mindfulness and contemplative insights and actions in the realm of higher education.

Today the concepts of holism are widely understood with the majority of the Canadian population utilizing natural health products and methods (Government of Canada, 2021). Holistic practices are being incorporated into many professions. Yet post-secondary education is slow to change and embrace these concepts. Holistic healing continues to be marginalized at colleges and universities. Practitioners are still primarily educated and trained in the community including by Indigenous knowledge holders and/or through their own individual efforts.

Hopes, Dreams and Social Change:

Our hope is to use a series of blogs to promote holistic healing in colleges and universities as one way of bringing about social change.

We cannot achieve this daunting effort on our own. We ask for your ideas, participation and support. We realize that there are important initiatives that have been undertaken that have already created considerable social change. However, we feel that dramatically more work still needs to be undertaken to create a home for holistic healing in post-secondary education which will in turn impact the thinking and practices of graduates of these programs.

What are your views and reactions? Please kindly share below. Thank you very much for any of your thoughts and collaboration.

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October, 2021 Blog by Peter Dunn, PhD Email:

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