Episode 145 Why You Should Integrate Holistic Modalities Into Your Clinical Sessions: Solo Episode By Chris McDonald

Sep 29, 2023

What are the benefits of integrating different holistic modalities into sessions? How can a more comprehensive care approach be beneficial for both clients and healthcare professionals?


In today’s episode, I will discuss how utilizing more holistic modalities can benefit you and your clients in session.

  • Traditional therapy vs. holistic therapy
  • The importance of meeting your clients where they are
  • What is the Polyvagal Ladder?
  • What is a bottom-up approach in therapy?
  • What are we missing as clinicians when we don’t further our holistic education?
  • How does spirituality come into therapy?
  • What are the many benefits of integrating holistic practices in therapy?
  • The importance of looking at clients as a whole person
  • The importance of teaching clients to use these modalities outside of sessions
  • What are some common holistic modalities?

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The Art of Breath: How to Integrate Breathwork Techniques for Effective Therapy Sessions with Chris McDonald, LCMHCS

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Chris McDonald: Have you been on the fence about incorporating holistic modalities in the therapy? Are you hesitant and worry if they'll be beneficial or if you can do it? In today's episode, I'll be exploring why mental health therapists are embracing a more comprehensive approach to healing, one that goes beyond traditional talk therapy, and the benefits that can be found in integrating holistic modalities.

So grab your favorite beverage, find a cozy spot and prepare to be inspired by the transformative power of integrating holistic modalities into mental health therapy on today's episode of the Holistic Counseling Podcast. This is Holistic Counseling, the podcast for mental health therapists who want to deepen their knowledge of holistic modalities and build their practice with confidence.

I'm your host, Chris McDonald, Licensed Therapist. I am so glad you're here for the journey.

Welcome to today's episode of the Holistic Counseling Podcast. I'm glad to be here with you today. This is going to be a solo episode, so no guests will be here. It's just me. And as I record this episode, so amazing.

to walk and not be dripping with sweat. So we're getting over all the heat in North Carolina. I hope you are well, wherever you are. And for today's episode, I wanted to bring you some information on why you should integrate holistic modalities in therapy if you haven't already. And if you already are, why you should consider even integrating.

other holistic modalities considering more integration with different things. So we're going to be digging into that a little bit. And I know some people might be on the edge like, should I do this? Especially if you're a student just starting out, or maybe you just got your licensure and I like, Hmm, I've heard of this.

I don't know about this. Or maybe you've been a traditional therapist for a while. There is no judgment. I will say that. So traditional therapeutic approaches all have their place and talk therapy is. beneficial, but sometimes a holistic approach can take things a little bit further, in my opinion, and can really be effective.

Certain populations of clients as well, I think, can really benefit from some of these practices that they use in their lives. So it's meeting the client where they're at and having an open space where clients can be. themselves. So I think there is a move towards more holistic counseling overall, in my opinion.

At least I live in the United States. I know here in my country, I'm not sure other countries, I've talked to listeners in South Africa, in the UK, Australia, I know is really open to holistic modalities. Love you, Australia. But yeah, I know there's more of a, a move in other, some other countries as well. I think it's slow going.

But we're getting there. It's much different from, man, I think back when I was in grad school, I graduated in 1995, yes, I'm aging myself now, but there was no talk of holistic, somatic, any of these different modalities that you hear about now. mainstream, right? And mindfulness, what? Mindful what? That didn't come up.

So now I hear about this everywhere. You see trainings everywhere about more somatic approaches and even yoga and counseling and therapy. I know that's been a little bit slower to get moving, but it is going there. And that's something that I'm working on is a yoga course for therapists. So I'm very excited about that because I think there is a need.

And I think science has caught up with, we know so much more about the brain and the nervous system and it integrates well with like polyvagal theory, which talks a lot about, you know, the fight or flight response and the nervous system, the vagus nerve and shutdown mode as well as safe and being at the top of the polyvagal ladder, which is more of the safe and social mode.

And we got like the window of tolerance. I think more therapists are learning and understanding more and integrating that into their therapy. To me, that's all holistic, right? If we talk about the nervous system with clients, I think we're moving out of traditional therapy, in my opinion. And I think that psycho ed piece is so beneficial for clients to help understand themselves a little bit better.

And I think about bottom up versus top down, if you're not sure what that means. So when we feel stressed and anxious and thinking of the polyvagal ladder when we're down into fight or flight mode. The front of our brain goes offline. The prefrontal cortex, where our thinking, our executive functioning, how we manage things, organize.

It's difficult to form sentences, and when people come to therapy, it can be difficult for them to engage fully, because if they're in that mode, how can we expect them to fully be present, to fully engage with the session? Just something to think about. Versus more bottom up approaches. Which is more like somatic experiencing, getting into the body, any of these somatic practices, EFT is a great modality, yoga, of course.

Let me give you an example. So I do have a, I work with anxiety and trauma a lot. So I see a lot of my clients, I know before they even get on the call, I see a lot virtual. I do some in person, but. Or if they come in person, I already know before they get there that they're going to be anxious. Most of the time, not always.

I usually know who is on that, on a continuum, right? More anxious more often. So if they come in and I know they're going to be tense, you can see it in their body language. Their shoulders might be up to their ears. Their hands might be clenched. I see a lot of this on video. I mean, if you see my video, I'm rocking back and forth.

But if you're just listening to my audio, yeah. that it could be some of that anxiety, anxious energy, or I see a lot of people with attention deficit disorder too, so it's hard to pay attention. So if we get into the body and doing some of these, even brain spotting EMDR practices, to me, those are holistic, that we're able to get to the deeper parts of the brain.

We're able to help calm the amygdala, hopefully. And that puts the prefrontal cortex back online. So just remembering the science based stuff. If you don't like learning about all this stuff, I apologize. I just, I put, I know you didn't know that this would be getting into this, but I think it's important to understand why there's a move towards more holistic therapy because we're learning more and more how effective it can be to treat the whole person instead of just talking about.

Cognitive approaches, CBT, we can CBT ourselves to death sometimes and only get so far in therapy, in my opinion, in my experiences, and I have over 25 years experience. So, and the other part that's missing from traditional therapy is spiritual component. I think a lot, I do talk to some listeners who have started to integrate some spirituality into sessions with clients, if that's where clients want to go.

And they said, it's been absolutely. positive results. I know many of you are still afraid with that and are afraid you don't want to push your values on people or just the word spiritual people tense up. I don't know. It feels uncomfortable. I'm not used to it. So it can be difficult sometimes, especially if something new, right?

And of course, any holistic modality is going to be new. But once you get trained and, and on your way, and hopefully if you can get supervision. And talk to people in the field who are already using that, you're doing your due diligence ethically to use modalities, holistic modalities, or other modalities.

But as far as research for spirituality, it shows that a therapist's inclusion of an individual's spiritual beliefs. may assist in therapy and in the process of healing. I can link this um, article too on spirituality and counseling in the show notes. And also, spirituality can help people find support and comfort in periods of grief.

I treat clients in grief as well, and I have to say that those that have spiritual beliefs or religious beliefs, they actually seem to move through grief a little bit easier. Not that it's an easy process ever, but They do seem more, I'm trying to think of the word, grounded, settled, able to make more sense of it, I guess, to find the meaning.

And of course, spirituality can help people find meaning and purpose in life as well. It can be part of a treatment plan. So it can be that they use whatever their spiritual practices are, because maybe, They like to pray and that's brought them comfort and they've gotten away from it. So maybe that could be part of their coping skills.

And sometimes it can be part of their social support. So if they go to church or maybe they found a community of people with their spiritual beliefs and they go out weekly and meet people in that, and then they've. They actually make friends there or find their partner. So the support piece is so essential to mental health.

So I think that having that piece in there is so important. So if you're not comfortable talking about spirituality with clients, even just asking them in the initially, if they have a spiritual practice, you can just do as part of assessment. You don't have to go into it, if that makes sense. So just. as part of your assessment, just kind of see where they are, right?

So what are the benefits? Oh my lord, let me count the ways. There are so many benefits. I feel like it's changed me as a person and as a clinician to integrate and fully learn and embody these practices. Everything that I teach, I do. So I use breathwork. I use meditation, mindfulness. I exercise. Am I 100 percent perfect?

No. And nor should you expect that of your clients. So progress with these, right? If we want to integrate these for our personal lives and professional. So I think the more we can do these and really be present. With all of these modalities that we want clients to use, the more it's going to be helpful.

Okay, so reasons. So remember the interconnectedness. Everything is connected. If we're drinking soda, if we're only eating fast food and not exercising, it's going to impact your mental health. You're going to feel more tired, run down. It's going to be harder to get through your day. Maybe focus will be affected, but if you're able to get to that place where you can eat more healthy, nutrient dense, I should say, foods, and exercise at least some movement, get some movement in your life.

And maybe some spiritual practices, it's going to help you, it's going to help your overall mental health, especially to do on a regular basis, because most people I talk to, most clients I see, they do things occasionally, which is great. At least they're doing it, right? But it's the consistency that's going to help, that that brings change.

Right. So if all these things are interconnected, it would make sense if you're a mental health provider and you want to treat the person and be the utmost best assistance to them to look at all parts, body, mind, spirit, so you can better understand what's going on with them. Because as an example. Let's say you have a client who's tired all the time.

I get that a lot. Oh, Chris, I'm so tired. I have no energy to exercise or do anything else. And then I find out that they're staying up till 2 a. m. getting up at 6 a. m. for work every day. So let's talk sleep. That's a whole other sleep hygiene, right? If you're not assessing that, that would be difficult, I would think, to treat that tiredness, wouldn't it?

If we're just talking about what are ways to build your energy during the day. So we have to look at Are there other causes? To me, it's part detective work as a holistic therapist. What is really going on? Or maybe they can't sleep because they're drinking, um, two six packs of Coke a day, or they drink coffee all day long into the evening and the caffeine keeps them up.

So really, I always ask about soda intake. What are the, are they drinking water? Cause maybe they're not drinking enough water. I know for me, I hit a wall. I will feel that tiredness come on and I'm just so drowsy. I can't keep my eyes open. So really. knowing that there's so many different reasons for some of these things that may not just be because they're depressed, they're tired.

So I think with, um, another benefit is the personalization with holistic treatment. So I get a lot of people that are interested in holistic modalities that come to me because that's really big on my website. I talk about that, especially my about me page, because I think it can be tailored to things that they're interested in.

As an example, I have a lot of people that use tarot cards regularly. So I've been using those in some of my sessions with certain people, not everybody, but people that may be open to that. And we use it ethically. I'm not doing readings. These are more as projective devices. And I just have to say the impact is just amazing.

They are so excited that this part of them can be shared in therapy and we can integrate it. So for me, that builds almost a little more bonding in some ways, cause they don't feel like they can, they have to hide it. Cause I know there are some people that are haters, shall we say, against holistic modalities.

Even in therapy, too. So sometimes it can be that little, oof, I feel hesitant to share. Just like therapists sometimes are hesitant to incorporate holistic modalities into therapy because I think it's ancestral. We think back to the witch trials. Anything out of the ordinary during those times, you're a witch.

You could be burned at the stake. I feel like that's in our DNA to a point. And we have to remember that, that sometimes it can be hard for people to even bring it up. That's why I put on my intake form. I ask about holistic modalities because it's okay, this is a place you can be safe and hear these things.

To me, the personalization, it's like opening it up. All parts of you are welcome. Just like in IFS, there's no bad parts. All parts of you are welcome. So these can be also another benefit. Additional coping strategies. Part of what I do as a holistic therapist is we do these in session. Let's say that I teach them a few seated yoga poses.

Great. But that doesn't end there. If it did, that'd be nice. Oh, I feel good for, you know, a few hours. Wonderful. No, that needs to carry over. So I try to help clients come up with ways to use them daily, if possible. Now I meet them where they're at. So if they're really low motivated, and let's say they have depression, it's just too much.

Let's just, let's just try for five minutes. You know, maybe we could do that a couple of times a week before we meet again, something like that. But let's say that, you know, they're in a fairly decent place. So let's move it, see if they can do five minutes for every day to do a little bit of yoga. But to do it preventatively, don't wait until you're on that scale one to ten that you're so activated and so anxious.

It's not going to work or it's going to not work as well. Use it then, of course. But hopefully you, if you use these regularly, it's going to help build up that inner resilience so that you'll be less reactive to stress. And you can tell clients that. So you get more used to these modalities like breath work or yoga and.

If they do it every day, their body's used to it. So when they go to use it during those moments, they're going to calm down quicker because their body is like a muscle with exercise. Their body is used to it. So that's what can be a great way to add to their toolbox of coping and creating some of these practices more often.

And that's a whole other thing I talk about in therapy. How can you do these more often? And for the sake that these practices Are so beneficial in so many holistic ways, physical ways to which we'll get to in a moment. What are some of the holistic modalities? Let's say you're just tuning in today and you haven't heard of a lot of these and you're like, what is this crazy podcast about?

So some. Like I mentioned breathwork. A lot of therapists use that. I know that's a great gateway, by the way, if you haven't used any holistic modalities to use in therapy to start out with because there's not, you can get some training, but you don't have to get like a 200 hour yoga training. You can get some, some training and practice some and you'll be good to go.

Yoga is a little more involved, of course, but there is yoga you can use in therapy. And I just want to. Say the caveat with that is that you're not doing it the whole session. That would be a yoga private session. That's something totally our yoga class, right? So it's integrating. And I think just remembering with all of these modalities and it's an integration part of the session.

It's not the whole session. So integrating interweaving it. Think of it that way. And I find the more that you use these together and integrate different ones, the more beneficial it can be. That's been my experience. Cause you never know how somebody's going to react to different things. And some things may not work for someone.

I have a lot of clients who hate counting their breath. The one, hold for three, four. No, they're just like, Oh, I ain't doing that. or OCD, right? If we have obsessive compulsive thoughts, that can be really challenging to do that. So not every modality is good for every client, keeping that in mind. So mindfulness, of course, it feels almost old school now.

It's been around more, a little more popular, but that's still going back to the basics with that I think is so helpful. And of course, EMDR and brain spotting takes some special training and supervision to really Bring it most effectively, but that's, those are amazing to integrate with brain spotting. I integrate yoga, breathwork, mindfulness, grounding with my brain spotting.

It's awesome. Energy healing. You, like I mentioned, tarot cards is more up and coming. Essential oils. Oh, I used to love doing that in person and have them pick an essential oil blend or scent from what I had in my office. I'm only in office one day a week. So I have some of my oils. I haven't really used them just yet.

Um, but yeah, I would love to start using them again. I think that, that can really set the scene. I do spray my office though. I do like to have some kind of scent in there and it's not heavy. It's not anything that would really cause problems with allergies as far as I know. Self awareness is the other benefit.

So you're able, often, especially with somatic. To tune into your body more, to know what's there, that interoceptive awareness. What is happening in my body right now? What does my body need? And how can I help fill that need? Let's say your stomach's grumbling. Maybe you need to get a snack. That's a basic need, right?

But sometimes people with trauma especially, those interoceptive cues. go offline. So just remember that integration with self awareness can really help people to get back into their bodies in a safe way because we don't want to force people. But if they're willing to work on this and to really know what emotion is there, what am I feeling?

And to develop a more positive relationship with their emotions because a lot of people I just wanna get rid of anxiety, get rid of depression, see, wipe their hands of it clean. Bye. But just remembering that we're human, that these are always gonna be here to some extent. How can I live with them? How can I befriend them?

Which people look at me like I'm crazy when I say that, but it's true. And just being more aware, like I said, bodily sensations, knowing what's there. And thoughts too. What thoughts are coming up. Sometimes I think people don't pay attention to what. beliefs are underneath some behaviors. Um, example, I'm treating a client for smoking.

So sometimes there are beliefs, right? Under that, that they feel like they have to do this. It becomes such an ingrained habit. Of course, I know it's an addiction too, but you know, there's other behavioral components to these things. Okay. So yeah, self awareness. So also benefit stress reduction and reducing anxiety tension.

So I don't know about you, but after a yoga class, I feel dynamite and amazing, and I do some yoga every day, but I usually, if I do 10 to 20 minutes, I don't feel as much benefit. I do feel some, but when I do a full class, oh, there's nothing like that post yoga feeling. And I know with a lot of other holistic modalities, people feel great after even energy healing, right?

Reiki can be so relaxing and soothing. Let's go to the physical health benefits of holistic modalities. I gotta tell you a story about this. I, uh, I have a Fitbit Versa. And I track on there, my heart rate. So my resting heart rate, I usually mine has been about 60 or so, which is good. Right. That's on the low end.

I think our average heart rates are 60 to 80, if I'm not correct. Um, but then I noticed for a few months that. It was lower than that. It was like 55, 50. I'm like, am I alive? Resting heart rate is really low. And I've always had more on the low blood pressure end. But then I, life got busy this fall. I missed some yoga classes because I was traveling.

And then I think it was a holiday and they were canceled. I noticed for a few weeks that my resting heart rate went. Uh, instead of down, I was like, Huh, what is happening? And then recently back to my normal routines, back to my yoga class, doing my, I do a online class on Sunday mornings to use some subtle yoga with Christine Weber.

And uh, so I do two yoga classes a week and then most days I do some yoga pretty much every day. But. So you know what I noticed? My resting heart rate went back down to the mid 50s, on average 55 56. How amazing is that? That I'm able to control my resting heart rate by how much yoga I do. Think about the impact for you and your body and for your clients.

These have physical Impacts all of these things that we're doing. If let's say you're working through something in EMDR trauma and you're able to help them heal, to me, it's going to impact them physically, right? If they have less anxiety, less of a heart rate going up, their breath rate's going to go down.

They're going to feel calmer. They're going to want to do more things, engage with life more. So many benefits. And cognitive functioning, right? That's going to help the brain get back on line, the prefrontal cortex. If we're feeling like the, like I mentioned, the post yoga, I don't want to say high, but feeling, feeling good, right?

So it's the empowerment piece too, that self. Efficacy. It really can empower them to get that sense of control over their mental health, that they can use these tools to best help them no matter what they face in their lives. That they have it within them. And especially if you're doing more internal work with clients and that maybe they can use like some IFS tools, talking to parts of self or using more than just the CBT.

Really going deep within themselves, inner child work, I'm thinking. Um, if you heard my adult chair model episode with Jenny Janssen, I can't think of the number, but that, that's a great episode for you to, to, if you want to learn more about the inner work that you can do with clients. For some of these, you can empower them how to work on these things.

on their own. So prevention is another benefit. The more you can use them as prevention for clients that they can develop these practices on their own, the more it's going to help their mental health overall and build that resilience, which we're all striving to do for our clients. So that no matter what comes up, what life challenges happen, that they can handle it.

They're going to find a way. They're going to figure it out because they have found the internal strength and resource. And another piece is that holistic growth as another benefit. Clients may discover new interests, passions they didn't have before. And maybe they'll take a whole interest in, let's say, yoga.

And they want to become a yoga teacher. Now that becomes part of their lifestyle in life. Or maybe they want to become a Reiki provider. You never know what it can lead to in the future. And they may find a calling with some of these things. And I think just, uh, another warning is just remembering not everybody, every client is interested in and also will not benefit from every holistic modality out there, period.

I know I had


Chris McDonald: client once who couldn't visualize things, so I had to, in my mind, make sure not to suggest visual meditations or do those. Those are really hard for me because I use a lot of imagery and visualization. So that's how I see the world. I'm more clairvoyant. One of the clairs as my strength is I see things visually.

So I had to really figure out the best way to reach this client and I did, but still it can be challenging. And just because you love it doesn't mean they will. And some clients that don't like breath work or yoga mindfulness are like, I can't do that. No matter what you do, they just are not open to it.

And that's cool. Let's find something that you can do. Right. And again, I actually do have some clients that we just do traditional therapy and that's okay. We can still adapt as therapists to meet the client where they're at. So I hope this was a helpful episode. I feel like I went on some tandems I didn't expect, but I hope it wasn't too far off for you.

So what are your reasons for wanting to use holistic modalities in therapy? I would love to hear from you. Feel free to email me at chris at holistic counseling podcast. com. I love getting emails from my listeners or I'm on Instagram as well at holistic counseling podcast. But that brings us to the end of another episode.

Be sure to tune in next Wednesday when another episode drops. And again, thank you for sticking with me and for your continued support. If you're a new listener listening, I want to say welcome. As a listener, you have access to my free nine part email course, How to Build Confidence as a Holistic Therapist.

In this course, you will explore different holistic modalities, how to boost your confidence as a holistic therapist, and how to manifest your holistic practice. You'll also get bonuses, including a free script to teach a yoga asana, and journaling prompts to guide you through. Enhance your holistic journey today.

Go to hcpodcast. org. Forward slash holistic therapist. That's H C podcast. org forward slash holistic therapist. Thanks again for listening. This is Chris McDonald's sending each one of you much light and love till next time. Take care. Thanks for listening. The information in this podcast is for general educational purposes only, and it is given with the understanding that neither the host, the publisher, or the guests are giving legal, financial counseling, or any other kind of professional advice.

If you need a professional, please find the right one for you. The Holistic Counseling Podcast is proudly part of the Site Craft network.

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The Art of Breath:  How to Integrate Breathwork Techniques for Effective Therapy Sessions 

Have you been wanting to integrate breathwork into your sessions but are unsure how?   Or maybe you want to refine your technique? Join me on a remarkable journey as we delve into breathwork techniques and how to integrate them safely and ethically into sessions. 

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Self-Care for the Counselor - a holistic guide for helping professionals by Christine McDonald , MS,NCC,LPCS