Have you ever noticed how we tend to reduce people—even ourselves—to a single characteristic? Tom is our rich friend, and Sarah is our poor acquaintance. Joan is the pretty sister, and Jenny is the smart one. Billy is good at school, and Jason is good at sports. There are any number of traits and characteristics that can be used to define a person, and we tend to zero in on just one as a kind of shorthand for how we think about individuals.
People Are Complex
But the truth is that every single person can be described by myriad characteristics. In fact, there is no way to understand a person—including ourselves—without taking into account an extensive range of features and flaws. A whole person cannot be reduced to a single defining trait.
This is important to keep in mind in all sorts of settings—classrooms, workplaces, artistic ensembles, sports teams, houses of worship, and more. It’s especially essential in a medical and/or therapeutic setting.
When medical professionals and therapists see a patient or client as definable by a single detail, they may miss crucial information that gives a fuller picture of a person’s physical and/or mental health. Maybe they focus too much (or not enough) on a person’s anxiety. Maybe they focus too little (or too much) on a person’s eating habits. Maybe they focus too much (or not enough) on a person’s family history.
That kind of reductive thinking can have serious consequences, indeed. And that is why it is absolutely imperative that healthcare providers take a “whole person” approach to care.
What Does It Mean to Treat the Whole Person?
When it comes to our mental and physical health, an array of factors are in play, ranging from our family history (genetics) and individual biology to the physical and social environments in which we grew up, work, or currently reside. Our approach to dealing with stress, our dietary habits, our appetite for exercise, our relationships with others—all of these things and more have a complexly interwoven impact on our health.
Treating each factor singly is misinformed and can be dangerous. For example, imagine a person who sees one doctor about debilitating headaches and another about anxiety. The anxiety and the headaches may be related conditions, but neither doctor may be aware of this. As a result, their suggested treatments may be at odds with one another. In the worst case scenario, the patient doesn’t get relief from either condition—or their condition worsens.
One Caregiver’s Story
In a 2019 article entitled “Treating the Whole Person,” Allison White (ACSW, LCSW, CCDP-D) writes about her mother’s misdiagnoses and tragic early death from cancer that resulted from a far too narrow approach to thinking about care. White writes about the importance of integrated care—which is another way to describe a commitment to treating the whole person.
“As doctors and mental health professionals, it’s our job to dig deeper, peel the layers of the onion and address the core issues that keep people from living life to their fullest. Whether that’s uncovering childhood trauma that hasn’t been addressed or substance abuse that helps numb overwhelming symptoms or pushing past a mental health diagnosis to see a possible physical health diagnosis, addressing ‘one side’ of a person’s care is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Fortunately, as White points out, more integrated approaches to healthcare are becoming the norm rather than the exception. Still, it is important to do your homework so that you are aware of whether your healthcare providers are engaged in treating the whole person.
Peak View Behavioral Health Is Committed to the Whole Person Approach
If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental health disorder and/or a substance use disorder, Peak View Behavioral Health is here to help—and we are wholly committed to treating the whole person. We’ll listen to you so that we can get a full picture of your current physical and mental health and the factors—past and present—that may be contributing to it. We are equipped to address co-occurring disorders (like a substance use disorder), childhood or ongoing trauma, and more.
We know you cannot be defined by just one characteristic. We will always treat you like the complex individual you are.