A general approach to human behavior based on the view that man is a unified organism in whom biological, psychological, and sociocultural aspects are fundamentally integrated. Also an approach to science in general which emphasizes the study of wholes or totalities.In psychiatry and psychology holism originated as a reaction to the many approaches which fragmentize and seg- mentalize behavior. These include, among others: (1) faculty psychology, based on separate mental functions such as will, intellect and emotions; (2) the Cartesian dualism of mind and body; (3) the reduction of behavior to a set of reflexes, instincts, conditioned responses or sensory elements. In contrast, the holistic approach maintains that emotions, drives, perceptions, and physical reactions have an essential effect on each other, and the only way to understand any phase of behavior is to view it in its relation to the total organism immersed in its environmental setting. Only through a comprehensive approach can we arrive at a full explanation of behavior and do justice to the integrity and uniqueness of the individual.The holistic point of view was developed primarily by Adolf Meyer, who created the theory of psychobiology, and Kurt Goldstein, who originated the or- ganismic theory. Their work, however, is part of a general trend based on a great many observations and developments, such as the following: (1) biological theories, including that of Hans Driesch, which view maturation in the light of the total organism; (2) observations in physics and chemistry—for example, the fact that the properties of salt cannot be predicted from those of its ingredients, sodium and chloride;(3) Gestalt psychology, which emphasizes the organism’s basic integration of experience into patterns and configurations, and demonstrates that perceptual and other wholes cannot be reduced to a sum of their parts; (4) the gradual rapprochement between the organic and functional approaches in both psychiatry and general medicine as expressed in the idea that every illness is a condition of the total organism and that the doctor should concentrate on the man and not merely on the disease; (5) the development of organic treatments for functional illnesses—for example, electroshock therapy and psychotropic drugs; (6) the observation that the course of physical illness can be influenced by volitional factors such as the will to live; (7) the psychosomatic approach, which shows that emotional factors are often deeply involved in such conditions as peptic ulcers, migraine, and asthma; (8) the observation that the course of severe brain disorders such as general paresis, senile dementia, and cerebral arteriosclerosis can be affected by the patient’s attitudes and disposition; (9) the recognition that emotional factors are involved in perhaps fifty per cent of all ailments for which patients seek treatment; (10) studies that show a different incidence of mental disorder on different socioeconomic levels and in different cultural environments; (11) investigations that reveal different types of mental disorder in different societies—for instance, latah and running amok—as well as in different historical periods.All these factors, and more, have brought the holistic approach to the fore. As a result, science now draws heavily upon a variety of research areas,including physiology, neurology, sociology, anthropology, and psychology in its attempt to understand human behavior and treat mental disorder. The integration of these disciplines is continuing, and there is no doubt that the comprehensive approach of holism is one of the major trends in the contemporary study of man. See GESTALT PSYCHOLOGY,PSYCHOBIOLOGY, ORGANISMIC THEORY, SOMATOPSYCHOLOGY, PSYCHOPHYSIOLOGIC DISORDERS, EXOTIC PSYCHOSES.
Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "HOLISM," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/holism/ (accessed March 21, 2023).