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As an independently licensed marriage and family therapist, I run a private practice specializing in families, couples, and individuals. Additionally, I serve as an on-site clinician for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital employees through Spring Health.
My focus on mental health extends beyond individual challenges, considering each person’s complete and holistic well-being. Beyond mental health, I consider various aspects of their lives including family dynamics, spirituality, finances, physical health, and work.
Individuals are more than their immediate mental health challenges. Their emotional well-being is intricately linked to different facets of their lives. For employees, mental health support often involves therapy, but it forms just one element of a comprehensive and holistic approach to well-being.
What is a holistic approach to mental health?
Mental health is affected by many factors. A holistic approach to mental health support means addressing all of these elements in treatment rather than solely focusing on the individual’s symptoms. From this perspective, overall health encompasses physical, mental, spiritual, and social well-being.
When developing a holistic treatment plan, it’s crucial to consider traditionally overlooked aspects of mental health, such as social relationships, spiritual well-being, physical health, nutrition, exercise, cultural factors, and lifestyle.
These facets are interconnected, shaping a person’s mental health. In the workplace, they intersect with an individual’s identity and work experiences, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive approach to mental health support.
Holistic mental health support in the workplace
As a manager or HR leader, a natural inclination is to take action when an employee exhibits visible challenges like absenteeism or tardiness. However, a more holistic strategy could be more beneficial.
- Proactively gathering information about employee needs, regardless of current challenges
- Providing benefits that cater to those identified needs
- Considering comprehensive benefits that extend beyond mental health
- Cultivating a workplace culture that encourages open communication about mental health
- Implementing preventative measures, including coaching, therapy, and efforts to prevent burnout
This holistic approach proves effective in prevention, addressing employees’ needs before challenges escalate. Now, let’s discuss specific aspects of implementing this strategy.
A strengths-based approach focuses on identifying and harnessing strengths rather than fixating on weaknesses. This philosophy proves particularly effective in the collaborative integration of coaching and therapy within a holistic framework.
For example, during my sessions, I emphasize an individual’s strengths, skills, and tools. I don't focus on their deficits or where they're lacking. Instead, I empower clients to develop and enhance their capabilities while creating new tools to navigate challenges.
Our sessions might involve working on mindful self-compassion, emotional regulation, and understanding the interplay of thoughts, behaviors, and fears. This strengths-based therapeutic method fosters a sense of agency, enabling individuals to actively address their struggles rather than feeling helpless or defined by their challenges.
Therapy helps address the whole person
Therapy typically revolves around addressing mental health challenges or diagnoses, although initiating therapy doesn’t necessarily require a specific diagnosis. Therapy focuses on emotional health—exploring symptoms and treatments and developing coping skills to facilitate progress.
Session may delve into self-empowerment, learning practical skills, and tools related to compassion, goal-setting, and boundary-setting. A holistic approach remains relevant in this context.
For example, a shift toward holistic exploration occurs if challenges persist over multiple sessions without improvement in talk therapy. By examining the broader picture and considering various aspects of their life, we often find avenues for growth beyond the initially identified challenges.
Coaching helps set goals
Coaching revolves around goal setting and creating strategies to achieve those goals, covering areas like nutrition, career advancement, weight loss, and financial planning. While coaching and therapy maintain their distinctions, they often complement each other, proving particularly efficient when integrated.
For example, during client discussions about goals, my focus lies on their emotional responses, while a coach actively guides them through goal setting, planning, and establishing pathways for achievement. Collaborative coaching and therapy provides a well-rounded approach to addressing personal development’s emotional and strategic aspects.
In-person therapy is another dimension of comprehensive workplace mental health support, offering intimacy that can be challenging to achieve in telehealth. The nuances of body language and nonverbal cues become more evident to the provider.
In particular, employees with children requiring therapy may find in-person sessions especially beneficial. Young children may struggle with virtual conversations about their emotional well-being, making hands-on techniques more relevant than traditional talk therapy.
For children, methods involving play, acting, or drawing are often more effective in an in-person setting.
While advantages and disadvantages exist for both in-person therapy and telehealth in adult contexts, a flexible approach can leverage the benefits of both based on clients' work schedules and responsibilities. Depending on their needs, many clients seamlessly integrate in-person and telehealth sessions.
Many individuals live in areas with a shortage of providers or struggle to find specialists for their specific challenges. In-person therapy often poses barriers due to factors such as:
- Difficulty attending sessions due to mental health conditions
- Demanding work schedules
- Childcare responsibilities and other commitments
- Limited access to transportation
- Physical limitations
Online therapy is a convenient solution, enabling individuals to overcome these challenges and access care. It also offers a broader range of options, freeing individuals from the constraints of therapists in their immediate vicinity. When contemplating ways to support individuals, it’s essential to consider their lives and address these practical considerations.
The role of exercise
A holistic approach to mental health includes exercise. There's a strong connection between mental health and physical activity. Exercise triggers the release of dopamine and serotonin, promoting a positive mood without reliance on substances or social media.
It’s crucial to acknowledge that everyone possesses different physical abilities and limitations. Engaging in exercise isn’t reserved for those in peak physical condition with years of workout experience.
While I'm not a physical therapist, it’s worth highlighting the creativity available to adapt exercise routines to accommodate diverse needs across the spectrum of physical abilities. Seeking guidance from a trainer or exercise scientist can be beneficial. Additionally, there are numerous ways to integrate physical activity into daily life.
Integrating a holistic strategy into the workplace
In my experience as the on-site clinician for Cincinnati Children's Hospital, I've witnessed the transformative impact of employers adopting a holistic approach to employee mental health.
The hospital goes beyond a one-size-fits-all therapy model, actively addressing workplace changes by involving on-site clinicians in discussions with employees about resilience during transitions.
Regular meetings with department heads provide insights into employee needs, leading to the implementation of diverse support measures:
- Open office hours
- Table sits
- Webinars and trainings
- Exercise-related benefits
The hospital considers the broader well-being of individuals by offering childcare, nutritional planning, financial planning, fertility planning, and concierge services. This comprehensive approach reflects a genuine commitment to viewing individuals as whole beings.
Connecting workplace well-being and holistic health
The positive impact of Cincinnati Children’s holistic approach to employee well-being is evident in the appreciation expressed by employees. They recognize and value the hospital’s excellent benefits, fostering a sense of being valued and a desire to work there.
This connection between well-being at work and holistic health aligns with findings from the McKinsey Health Institute. In a recent survey spanning 30 countries and 30,000 employees, those with positive work experiences reported enhanced holistic health, increased innovation, and better overall performance in the workplace.
The correlation between workplace well-being and holistic health is a testament to the significance of comprehensive support in fostering a positive and productive work environment.
People are more than symptoms
Enhancing employee mental health requires a shift beyond a narrow focus solely on mental health symptoms. While treating such symptoms is crucial, an exclusive concentration may obscure other factors in an employee’s life that contribute to mental health challenges or hinder their overall well-being and success.
A comprehensive approach acknowledges and addresses the interconnected parts of an employee’s life to foster holistic mental health.
Empower your team’s growth journey by sharing our self-reflection tool with your employees—to help foster their personal and professional development.