How holism can help us understand behavior (2023)

In psychology, holism is an approach to understanding the human mind and behavior that focuses on looking at things as a whole. It is often contrasted withreductionism, which instead tries to break things down into their smallest parts. This approach suggests that we can only understand the parts by looking at them in relation to the whole.


When it comes to psychology, the holistic view suggests that it is important to look at the mind as a whole, rather than trying to break it down into its component parts. Each individual part plays its own important role, but it also functions within an integrated system.

Wholeness essentially suggests that people are more than just the sum of their parts. To understand how people think, the holistic perspective emphasizes that you need to do more than just focus on how each individual component works in isolation. Instead, psychologists who take this approach believe it's more important to see how all the parts work together.

Integrity in Psychology

As an approach to understanding systems, holism is used in psychology, as well as in other fields such as medicine, philosophy, ecology, and economics. A keyword that sums up the key idea behind the holistic approach is: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

For example, the field of holistic medicine focuses on treating all aspects of a person's health, including physical symptoms, psychological factors, and societal influences.

In order to understand why people do the things they do and think the way they think, holism suggests that it is necessary to look at the whole person. Instead of just focusing on one aspect of the problem, it is necessary to recognize that different factors interact and influence each other.

One reason it is so important to look at the whole being is that the whole can possessemergent properties. These are qualities or qualities that are present in the whole but cannot be observed by looking at the individual pieces.

For example, think of the human brain. The brain containsmillions of neurons, but just looking at each individual neuron won't tell you what the brain can do. Only by looking at the brain holistically, by looking at how all the parts work together, can one see how messages are transmitted, memories are stored, and decisions are made.

what is memory

Even looking at other aspects of the brain like the individualstructuresdoesn't really tell the whole story. Only by taking a more holistic approach can we truly understand how all the pieces work together.

(Video) Psychology Issues & Debates: Holism and Reductionism

In fact, one of the earliest debates in the field of neurology revolved around whether the brain is homogeneous and cannot be further broken down (holism) or whether specific functions are localized to specific cortical areas (reductionism).

Today, researchers recognize that certain parts of the brain act in specific ways, but these individual parts interact and work together to create and affect different functions.

How experience changes the brain

How it is used

When considering psychological issues, researchers could take a holistic approach, considering how different factors work together and interact to affect the whole person. At its broadest level, holism would consider each and every influence that could affect behavior or functioning.

For example, a humanistic psychologist might consider a person's environment (including where they live and work), their social connections (including friends, family, and colleagues), their background (including childhood experiences and educational level), and their physical health (including current well-being and stress levels). .

The goal of this level of analysis is to not only consider how each of these variables might affect overall well-being, but also to see how these factors interact and influence each other.

In other cases, the holism could be a bit more focused. Social psychologists, for example, struggle to understand how and why groups behave the way they do. Sometimes groups react differently than individuals, so a more holistic view of group behavior allows research to assess characteristics that may be present.

An overview of social psychology

(Video) How cross-cultural understanding can help us to see each other | Simone Buijzen | TEDxSittardGeleen


Just like the reductionist approach in psychology, holism has both advantages and disadvantages. Holism can sometimes be helpful, for example, when looking at the bigger picture allows the psychologist to see things that he might otherwise have missed. In other cases, however, focusing on the big picture can cause them to miss some of the finer details.

Some of the key benefits of this perspective are:

It involves many factors

One of the great benefits of the holistic approach is that researchers can assess multiple factors that might be contributing to a psychological problem. Instead of just focusing on a small part of a problem, researchers can instead look at all the elements that may play a role.

Ultimately, this approach can help them find solutions that take into account all contributing internal and external factors that could affect a person's health. This is sometimes more effective than addressing smaller components individually.

By looking at people holistically, healthcare providers can address all of the many factors that can affect how a person feels, including their mind, body, and environment.

It looks at the big picture

When researching a topic, it's often helpful to step back and look at the big picture. Reductionism tends to focus solely on the trees, but holism allows psychologists to look at the forest as a whole. This can apply to both research and treatment of mental health problems.

For example, when trying to help a patient with symptoms of a psychiatric illness, looking at the patient holistically allows mental health professionals to see all the factors affecting the patient's daily life and also how the patient interacts with their environment . With this type of approach, therapists are often better able to address individual symptoms.

Human behavior is complex, so explaining it often requires an approach that can accommodate that complexity. Holism allows researchers to provide comprehensive answers to difficult questions about how people think, feel, and behave.


While holism has a number of key advantages, there are also some important disadvantages to consider. Some of them are:

It tends to be non-specific

When trying to solve a problem, it is often important to focus on a specific aspect of the problem in order to find a solution. Holistic tends to be more generalized, which can sometimes make accuracy difficult. Scientists in particular must be able to focus their research on clearly defined variables and hypotheses.

(Video) Reductionism vs Holism (Psychology Debate Explained) #Alevel

Going a bit too broad can make it difficult to test using the scientific method, mainly due to the fact that so many different factors and influences are involved.

It can be overly complex

Because holism is so all-encompassing, it can make scientific investigation very challenging and complex. There can be many different variables to consider and a plethora of potential interactions. This can sometimes make this approach unwieldy.


There are a number of examples in the field of psychology of how holism can be used to look at the human mind and human behavior. The early schools of thoughtstructuralism and functionalism, are good examples of reductionist and holistic views.

Structuralism focused on breaking down elements of behavior into their smallest possible components (reductionism), while functionalism focused on looking at things as a whole and considering the actual purpose and function of behaviors (holistic).

Throughout history there have been other perspectives and branches of psychology that have also taken a holistic approach.

Majors in Psychology

gestalt psychology

gestalt psychologyis a school of thought rooted in holism. The Gestalt psychologists not only believed that human behavior must be viewed as a whole; They also worked to understand how the human mind itself uses a holistic approach to make sense of the world.

DieGestalt laws of perceptual organization, show that the way individual elements relate to each other can affect how we see them. For example, when similar objects are viewed together, the law of similars suggests that people perceive them as components of a whole.

This approach can also be applied to the treatment of mental health problems.gestalt therapyis a person-centred approach to treatment that emerged from the Gestalt school of thought. Rather than breaking down aspects of a person's past to understand their current problem, this therapeutic approach looks at all aspects of the person's life in the here and now.

(Video) Holistic meaning in Hindi | Holistic ka kya matlab hota hai | daily use English words

humanistic psychology

humanistic psychologyis a branch of psychology that emerged in the 1950s in part as a response to behaviorism. Where frombehaviorismhad taken a reductionist approach to explaining human behavior, humanistic thinkers are more interested in looking at behavior holistically.

This psychological approach looks at all of the factors that contribute to how people think and act, as well as how all of these different components interact.

Abraham Maslow is famoushierarchy of needsis an example of a humanistic theory that takes a holistic view of human motivation. This theory does not focus on a single aspect of motivation. Instead, it involves many aspects, including environmental, social and emotional influences.

What is motivation?

social psychology

social psychologytends towards a holistic approach as it considers individuals in their social context. In particular, this branch of psychology examines how group behavior often differs from individual behavior, which is a good example of emergent properties and that the sum is greater than its parts.

Holism vs. Reductionism

One way to see how holism and reductionism are used is to observe how these approaches can be applied in the study of a specific psychological problem.

Imagine that researchers are interested in learning more about itDepression.

  • A researcher using the holistic approach might instead focus on understanding how different contributing factors might interact, such as examining how thought patterns, social relationships, and neurotransmitter levels affect a person's level of depression.
  • A scientist using the reductionist approach might look at a highly specific factor that affects depression, such as neurotransmitter levels in the brain.

A word from Verywell

A large part of the appeal of holism lies in its ability to integrate all of the elements that make us who we are. Humans are infinitely complex and diverse, and holism is able to address all of the external and internal factors that affect our past, present and future.

Different areas of psychology often tend to focus on either one approach or the other. While reductionism and holism are often pitted against each other, both play important roles in helping researchers better understand human psychology.

Main Schools of Thinking in Psychology

(Video) I&D - Lesson 6: Holism vs Reductionism


What are the benefits of holism? ›

One of the big advantages of the holistic approach is that it allows researchers to assess multiple factors that might contribute to a psychological problem. Rather than simply focusing on one small part of an issue, researchers can instead look at all of the elements that may play a role.

What is holistic behavior? ›

​At a glance. A holistic approach means to provide support that looks at the whole person, not just their mental health needs. The support should also consider their physical, emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing.

How does holistic perspective help us in daily life? ›

A holistic approach to life gives people the opportunity to live a complete, complete, harmonious life and to take greater control over it and their own health, because it empowers a person to take responsibility for the development of their abilities.

What is an example of holism in psychology? ›

Consequently, some cognitive psychologists also take a holistic approach. For example, within the area of perception, visual illusions demonstrate that humans perceive more than the sum of the sensations on the retina.

Why is being holistic important? ›

Benefits of holistic living

Improved overall physical health. Sustained and balanced emotions. Reduced levels of stress, depression and anxiety. Relief of chronic pain.

How is holism used in society? ›

Holism means that an anthropologist looks at the entire context of a society when analysing any specific feature. For example, to understand the Japanese tea ceremony, anthropologists might investigate Japanese religion, aesthetics and history, as well as the economy, social relations and the politics of gender.

What is holistic understanding of child's Behaviour? ›

Holistic approaches to teaching and learning recognize the connectedness of mind, body and spirit. When early childhood educators take a holistic approach they pay attention to children's physical, personal, social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing as well as cognitive aspects of learning.

How do you form a holistic understanding of the child's Behaviour? ›

For a better understanding of this method of holistic development of children and to even use it with your children, follow the tips below.
  1. Recognize your child's interests. ...
  2. Create a fun and interactive environment. ...
  3. Use a variety of approaches. ...
  4. Ask them open-ended questions. ...
  5. Encourage their dreams and visions.

What are the concepts of holism? ›

The attributes of holism are total, balanced, mind, body, spirit and whole. The word total means “the whole amount of something or the entirety” [14]. The premise of holism regards the human being as more than the sum of the parts. Understanding the individual requires looking at the total picture.

What is an example of holism in everyday life? ›

Holistic thinking has a tendency to view systems as too complex to manipulate such that they should be left open and unpolluted. For example, solving an environmental problem such as global warming by ceasing the major activities that are causing it such as burning carbon fuels.

How do you practice holism? ›

Holistic Medicine: Types of Treatments

This may include diet, exercise, psychotherapy, relationship and spiritual counseling, and more. Complementary and alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, homeopathy, massage therapy, naturopathy, and others. Western medications and surgical procedures.

What is the best example of holism? ›

An example of holism is a theory that believes you cannot break things down to study them, but instead that everything has to be understood in relation to the whole or the sum of its parts. A practice based on such theory or belief.

How can holistic view help us become a better person? ›

The holistic view helps us to become more aware and patient people.
  1. A holistic view is when people see their actions and their lives as a part of a bigger picture.
  2. They start observing that everything in this world is interconnected and that they are not alone in this big world.
Sep 2, 2020

What is the importance of understanding child's behavior? ›

It is critically important to guide children's behaviour in ways that support them to develop understandings and skills that assist them to manage their emotions and control their behaviour by themselves.

Why is holistic approach important for children? ›

A Holistic Development approach in EYFS motivates children to learn about a subject in greater depth. It instills curiosity and allows children to learn naturally and creatively. This results in a child who has developed better communication and social skills, and greater confidence.

What are the benefits of holistic development early childhood? ›

One of the main aims and benefits of holistic development in Early Years is preparing children for future life, especially with the move to primary school. Practitioners teach youngsters necessary skills for future life, such as independence, self-confidence and communication through a range of activities.

What is holistic development in early childhood examples? ›

Babies and young children can learn anddevelop holistically, meaning that many areasdevelopall at the same time usually during one activity. For example, when a child can use a spoon it meets a physical need, which then leads to greater independence and increased self-esteem which meets and emotional need.

Which of the following takes a holistic approach to the study of human behavior? ›

Anthropology is the study of what makes us human. Anthropologists take a broad approach to understanding the many different aspects of the human experience, which we call holism.

What is holistic learning in early childhood? ›

Holistic Development in EYFS is an approach to learning that emphasises the importance of the physical, emotional and psychological well-being of children. It helps children to connect with the world around them and learn in a way that differs from the conventional form of schooling.

What is an example of holistic thinking? ›

For example, when asked to describe a dining table, an analytic thinker might say it is made of dark wood and can seat six people. A holistic thinker may instead explain it is a space for getting together and sharing a meal.

What is holism and what is its importance in anthropology? ›

Holism is the perspective on the human condition that assumes that mind, body, individuals, society, and the environment interpenetrate, and even define one another. In anthropology holism tries to integrate all that is known about human beings and their activities.

What are the benefits of Holistic Nursing? ›

Holistic nursing can improve patient care because the practice delves into how a patient may reduce their chances of being stricken with a disease or injury, and it increases the likelihood of a positive outcome.

What are the five essential parts of holism? ›

The five aspects of holistic development are physical, intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual development.

What is the best definition of holism? ›

holism. noun. ho·​lism ˈhō-ˌliz-əm. : a theory that the universe and especially living nature is correctly seen in terms of interacting wholes (as of living organisms) that are more than the mere sum of elementary particles.

What are explanations of holism? ›

holism, In the philosophy of the social sciences, the view that denies that all large-scale social events and conditions are ultimately explicable in terms of the individuals who participated in, enjoyed, or suffered them.

Why is a holistic approach to care important? ›

Importance of patients as individuals

Thinking of patients holistically means thinking about each patient as an individual; a person with his or her own medical history, desires, values, family situation, social circumstances and lifestyle, all of which play into his or her experience of a health condition or disease.

Why is holistic approach to health so important? ›

Rather than judging a person's condition by the presence of pathology or even of a particular competence, a holistic health and wellbeing perspective considers the extent to which the person has adapted to thrive in their environment despite their range of physical and mental capabilities.

What does holistic care focus on? ›

Working definition of holistic care

It refers to the provision of care to patients that are based on a mutual understanding of their physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual dimensions.

What are characteristics of holism? ›

The attributes of holism are total, balanced, mind, body, spirit and whole. The word total means “the whole amount of something or the entirety” [14]. The premise of holism regards the human being as more than the sum of the parts. Understanding the individual requires looking at the total picture.


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