Following this news story I heard on Radio 4 about other words which people would like to ban. “Holistic” was one of them. Below is an outline of my own thoughts on this.
“Holistic” is a term that has, in the past decade or so, been horrendously maltreated. As an Occupational Therapist I trained for three years in order to provide holistic treatment for the patients, clients or service users with whom I work. But what does “holistic” actually mean? And why is it now used in a way for which it was never intended.
A dictionary definition of “holism” is “Med. the treating of the whole person including mental and social factors rather than just the symptoms of the disease”.  This has traditionally been the realm of the Occupational Therapist. The models which I use to structure my practice in mental health take in an individual’s person, environment and occupation (P-E-O model)  and their volition, habituation and performance capacity (MOHO) . Let me explain further.
The P-E-O model states that an individual is a complex amalgam of who they are, their environment – social, physical, temporal –and their occupation (the things that they do). The Occupational Therapist therefore needs to look at each of these areas of the individual’s life in order to establish how best to carry out an intervention.
MOHO considers an individual’s motivation, their readiness to interact with their physical, social and temporal with a consistent pattern of behaviour (habituation) and their ability to carry out these occupations.
Both of these models (and, indeed, all of the other models of Occupational Therapy which I have not listed here) consider the individual as a whole person, rather than focus solely on their particular problem. The individual is not “the broken leg in bed 3” but “Mrs Jones in bed 3 who has a fractured femur”. This is the meaning of holistic in Occupational Therapy practice and it is essential in order to understand the needs of the individual and provide the individualised treatment that they need.
“Holistic” has, unfortunately, been hijacked, mainly by complementary therapies and wooster nutritionists. It now appears to be applied to anything that is ethereal, woolly and unscientific. Occupational Therapists need to reclaim “holistic” and ensure that its true meaning is restored, otherwise there is a real danger that Occupational Therapy will end up being bracketed with Reiki, Hot Stone Therapy and the like.
 Reader’s Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder (1993), 712.
 Law M, Cooper B, Strong S, Stewart D, Rigby P, Letts L (1996) The person-environment-occupation model: a transactive approach to occupational performance. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 63, 9-23
 Kielhofner G (2002) Model of Human Occupation. 3rd ed. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.