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Holistic Nursing and Mental Health With Kathy Holloway

Holistic Healing: Interview with Author Kathy Holloway

There’s one comment that we get over and over again at Ameritech: Our instructors care deeply about their students’ success. We hear about professors responding to student texts and emails on the weekends and in the evenings, and how many teachers stay in contact with students long after they graduate.

Our instructors get high marks because they care, and it goes beyond student support.


Meet Kathy Holloway, DNP, RN, PC, CNE, AHN-BC. Holloway recently published an article in the American Holistic Nurses Association journal (December 2016) on a related subject she feels passionately about: Mental health nursing should have a holistic approach.

Related resource: What is Holistic Nursing?

Mental health assessment is every nurse’s job

Holloway started as an RN in 1979 and went on to get her BSN, and later, a doctorate. It was when she started working at a college campus health clinic that she really started getting interested in mental health issues.

“Any nurse, not just a mental health professional, can learn to assess patients for a variety of mental health issues,” Holloway says. “Nurses are afraid of mental illness at times. They seem to think mental health assessment is not their job.”

The Ameritech instructor was recently at a conference and sat in on a behavioral health presentation. As the audience commented and asked questions after the presentation, Holloway was surprised to hear most everyone say they deferred all mental-health related things to a psych specialist.

“Any nurse should have the basic knowledge to care for these patients,” she says. “Even those with chronic mental illness. They shouldn’t just push it off on someone else. It’s a fear of mental illness that plays on an old stereotype: ‘People with mental issues are scary, they’re dirty, etc.’ But we should think of these people as human beings. They’re mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. How would you want your family member treated?”

Related resource: Tips for Being Empathetic When Providing Care

Mental health resources for nurses

Holloway points to a resurgence of mental health resources, most of it offered in a community setting. There are fewer in-patient facilities for chronic mental illness, as health reform leads a transition from acute care to community or home-based care.

“Nurses need to understand that they’re going to be seeing more and more patients who have mental illness,” she says. “In addition to whatever else they’re going to the doctor for.”

Holloway has some advice for nurses regarding the mental health issues they’re going to encounter:

  1. For nurses that are uncomfortable with mental health issues, educate yourself. Do some reading, or consider continuing education. If you want to know more, the resources are there.
  2. Get over the stereotype of mental health. It’s just like physical health issues: It’s a health issue.
  3. Holistically assess the needs of the patient by listening to their chief complaint, bearing in mind that it may not be the real reason that they are seeking care.

The American Psychiatric Nurses Association has a wealth of resources and information for all nurses. The American Nursing Association is another great place to learn how to best care for patients’ mental health.

Related resource: 8 Benefits of a Holistic Education

For Kathy Holloway and so many others, it always comes back to care and compassion. To demonstrate, she relates a story about a project she did during her doctoral program.

A demonstration of care

“I did a pre- and post-survey on nursing students about their attitudes toward mental health,” Holloway explains. “I taught them about a few of the main types of mental illness, including depression and psychosis. We used a teaching strategy called ‘readers theater,’ in which students could choose the part of the audience, or the part of a nurse, the depressed patient, or the patient’s daughter. I developed a script that demonstrated what the patient and family were going through and demonstrated what a caring nurse would do and assess. It really helped develop empathy and compassion.”

While all nurses must step up in caring for mental health, Holloway believes holistic nurses are particularly suited to the challenge. “We focus so much on the mind, body, and spirit. That includes emotions, the social construct, and sometimes the physical symptoms, if they are present.”

Mental health care is the responsibility of all nurses, especially those who follow holistic principles, which are a tenant of the Ameritech education.

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Holistic Nursing and Mental Health With Kathy Holloway