Holism in nursing and health promotion: distinct or related perspectives? – A literature review

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The concept of holism is central in health promotion as well as in nursing. Holism or a holistic view on health was identified as one of the key principles of the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion and is linked to social ecology and the determinants of health.


To explore how the term holism was defined and/or described in Nordic articles with a health-promotion approach, and how holism aspects were related to nursing and health promotion, and to the other key principles of the Ottawa Charter.


Abstracts were first identified by the search word ‘health promotion’ as a keyword. The search was limited to 1986–2008 and abstracts written in English by authors with a Nordic affiliation. Abstracts/articles for this study were subsequently selected from these abstracts using the search words ‘holism’ and ‘holistic’ and analysed by quantitative and manifest qualitative content analysis.


The sample included 23 articles: one theoretical, two reviews and 20 empirical studies. Sixteen articles included a hospital setting or nursing perspective. A holistic perspective could be extracted from most articles. No larger but several minor differences were identified in the way holism aspects were related to nursing and health promotion respectively.


There is a risk that the individual patient perspective of holism in nursing may result in less chance of reaching larger groups of patients with chronic diseases and mental health problems, not least the most vulnerable ones.

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