Episode 4 An Overview of the Most Common Holistic Therapies

Mar 30, 2021

Are you aware of all the common holistic therapies out there? Which modality would be best suited to your client’s specific needs? What are the modalities that require a lot more intense training and supervision?


  1. Mindfulness/Grounding
  2. Breathwork
  3. Guided imagery
  4. Meditation
  5. Yoga
  6. Reiki
  7. Aromatherapy


This means being in the present moment, not worrying about the future or the past. You are just connecting to what is right here, right now.

You can do this by:

  • 5-4-3-2-1 technique (5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste)
  • Doing a body scan
  • Internally asking what you need at that very moment


Be extra careful with this modality, especially if you are working with someone who has experienced trauma.

Have your clients see what works for them and practice it outside of therapy, as much as possible.


Using this in therapy can be very powerful and a common one to use could be to think about a safe place, imagery for relaxation. And this combined with breathwork can really make a big difference.


There are so many forms of meditation and as always, there is no right or wrong way. You have to experiment and practice to see what works.

A few are:

  • Mindfulness
  • Transcendental movement based
  • Mantra
  • Loving kindness
  • Progressive relaxation
  • Zen
  • Sound


This is about helping the parasympathetic to engage, to settle down the nervous system, especially with anxiety.

It can be broken down into grounding practices (helps with anxiety, stress, feeling hyped up) and energizing practices (helps with depression, trauma, dissociation).


Energy healing helps physical, emotional, and spiritual issues. It comes from universal life energy force. It works with removing blockages and releasing negative energy.


This is using plant-based essential oils that help harmonize mind, body, and spirit and helps to heal.

You can inhale using a diffuser, you can combine different essential oils to cater to different needs such as balance, motivation, or relaxation. It can also be used on your skin (mix with a carrier oil first).

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Welcome to the Holistic Counseling Podcast, where you discover diverse wellness modalities, advice on growing your integrative practice, and grow confidence in being your unique self. I'm your host, Chris McDonald. I'm so glad you're here for the journey. .

Welcome episode four of the Holistic Counseling Podcast. I'm your host, Chris McDonald. Last week, I discussed how to integrate holistic strategies into clinical practice safely and effectively. If you missed that, be sure to check it out. So I had a lot of tips in there from how to start a session to how to introduce it as well as how to end it, so a lot of good information in there.

In this week's episode, I'm going to discuss the most common ways holistic therapists practice. So lots of different strategies, some of these you might already do, and you might be familiar with, and some might be new for you. I'll also share my personal experience and give you some general idea about some options for yourself. So I'm going to start, I think, with the most common and fairly easy to teach clients and some of the other ones I'll be talking about do require a lot more intense training and supervision. They do take a lot more involvement before you get started with clients.

So the first one I'm going to go to is one that I think a lot of you already, probably already do, and that is mindfulness or grounding. I think these are pretty easy to jump into. Doesn't take like a ton of training. I think, of course, it's always good to get training with all these concepts, but this one, I think you can definitely start with doing some reading, looking at videos and practicing on yourself first. So let's start with it. What is it? That's a big buzz word. We hear it everywhere. What is mindfulness?

So mindfulness in a nutshell is being in the present moment, so not worrying about the future or the past and just connecting to what is right here right now. Some ways we can do that is to use your senses and a very common technique, I know a lot of you might do this already is a 5, 4, 3, 2, 1; what are five things you can see around you, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, one thing you can taste and take a deep breath. Some people do those a different order, but that's okay. So just using your senses so really focusing on that. So if you were just to practice sitting outside, so looking at the trees, the sky, the clouds, hearing the birds, hearing the wind, touching a chair, touching a table, touching a pet, smelling the fresh air, or smell something you do like, like chocolate chip cookies and then one taste.

So you could think about a taste you have in your mouth from something you've eaten or putting a mint or gum in your mouth, and really just tuning in on that, focusing on it. I love the simplicity of it, but it is so difficult because we're in this go, go, go world, keep going and keep moving and not really pay attention to the details. And mindfulness is really pushing you and clients to get in touch with the details of life and stay there.

Another way, common way that people use is through a body scan. So it can be done either way from the feet, all the way to the head or head all the way to the feet. And there's no worse ways to do this. So you can think about a white light coming down from your head and go through each body part through your shoulders, arms, hands, torso, coming down the legs and feet, or starting with earth synergy coming from your feet all the way up to your head. I don't think it matters which way you do that. I think that the important thing is just getting the client to tune into the present moment.

Or you can do it with daily life activities. So there's mindful eating, walking, you could use it with chores like washing dishes, using all your senses. It's about being more than doing. And that's what I learned a lot in my training as well and practice. Instead of always having to do something, is trying to be in the moment or internally asking, what do I need right now and just listening to that interim wisdom of being present.

And somebody that I learned a lot from was Thich Nhat Hanh, who is a monk from Vietnam. He lives in France now, but he's got some amazing books. And I think there's an app you can also download and he's got videos on YouTube, but the books are You are Here, Peace in Every Step. Any book by him is awesome. I'll put that in the show notes too. And the Bible of mindfulness is Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I read that whole, it is really big. I'm not going to lie. It took me a long time, but it's really a great deep dive, really deep into mindfulness practices. I highly recommend if that's something that you're interested in and don't really do it in the moment. So that's the number one, I think most common.

The next one, I think a lot of people use, not everybody is breathwork. I think some people are intimidated if they've never used it before with others, but for me for some reason, this came naturally to me, maybe because I do have my own anxiety and have my own personal practice where I've done this a lot to calm myself down. And I thought it was an easy transition to teach clients how to use breath, to ease anxiety symptoms. My yoga training further enhances, because part of the limbs of yoga is also breath work and meditation. So we call it pranayama in the yoga tradition. Just know there's so many different kinds of breath work, tons, and I always tell clients too, to experiment. Try a bunch and see what works for you because I may teach one to them and they're like, "That made me uncomfortable."

It can be triggering as well. So if you have someone who has trauma, you got to be extra careful with breath work because they may have used the way they're breathing to help them survive their trauma. And then if you're trying to change that, that can be really triggering in the brain. So I usually teach a lot of different kinds of breath work to see what works for them and have them practice. And I always tell clients too, that it's great if you learn it in therapy, but part of therapy is taking it out of session and using it and practicing it as much as possible and to do it preventatively so you don't want to just have a bandaid approach and just do it when you're anxious or stressed or upset. So to make sure that you're practicing each day as much as possible, if not each day, as much as they can, just the body gets used to that, tuning into that relaxation response in the brain.

So it is research-based as a way to turn on the parasympathetic nervous system to calm yourself down and a great way to do this is to extend the exhale longer than the inhale. I used to teach the four square breathing for years and years and years. Once I got into yoga, I kind of moved away from that. It's not a bad thing, but if you teach clients how to have a longer exhale, they're going to calm down quicker because that's research-based as well. It's a little bit different way to teach instead of just the 4, 4, 4, but let me try out, we'll do it right now.

So just focus on your inhale for a count of four breathing in for four, hold for two, exhale for four. And again, you're just counting these numbers in your head. This time, we're going to move up to five on the exhale. So inhale for four, hold for two, exhale for 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. We'll do one more, inhale for four, hold for two, this time, exhale for 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and just allow your breath to go back to its natural rhythm. Just notice how your body feels after doing that breath, notice your energy, really pay attention and tune in. And the way you can teach this, too, is to go up to seven on the exhale and then go up to eight if they're comfortable, but just reinforcing, you never want to force your breath so you're gasping for air; to see where they're comfortable and then just like stairsteps coming back down from 8, 7, 6, and do each of those numbers one time back to one which was before. So this is something that they can also practice at home through the preventative means that I talked about.

Okay. So that's some breathwork that I thought might be interesting, good way to learn. And it does take some practice. I think that we talked about in the last episode, I talked about making sure to do your own personal practice, to feel most comfortable with it. And the next one I was going to discuss is guided imagery. I think this is very common and a lot of therapists use this. And again, knowing that the brain interprets imagined events very similarly to real ones, external stimuli with the same physiological reactions. So if I tell you to think about a chocolate cake and imagine that chocolate cake, your mouth might start watering. I love chocolate cake. I hear that, but using this in therapy can be very powerful.

And I know a common one is to use as imagery to think about a safe place, safe objects, any kind of pleasant imagery for relaxation. Now, combining it with breath work that really can make a big difference to really tune in, tap into that relaxation response in the brain or to use it through exposure therapy. I've used this before. I had a teenager I was working with about couple of years ago. She had a great fear of going to the doctor so I used some visual imagery to imagine her going to that doctor and what that would feel like and be like, but then imagining herself as being calm and handling it in a calm way and any kind of exposure therapy that guided imagery can be a great, great addition. And again, this is all research-based. So research shows 10 minutes of it can help fight depression and fatigue, reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, cholesterol, so many great benefits. And again, I think that's another one that's pretty, relatively easy to adapt and use in anybody's counseling practice.

And the next one, moving on to meditation. So many kinds of meditation. I was reading that there's hundreds, if not thousands of different kinds and there's no right or wrong way. Just like breath work, we got to find out what works best for our clients and their individual unique needs and experimenting, practicing to see what works. So some of the different kinds I was going to mention was mindfulness, meditation, imagery base, transcendental, movement-based, mantra meditation, loving kindness, spiritual, or Christian, progressive relaxation, Zen meditation, yoga meditation, and sound meditation, just to name a few.

The ones I'm most familiar with and trained in is mindfulness and loving kindness. And again, mindfulness is focusing on that present moment and just being the observer of thoughts. I think there's a big misnomer that meditation, oh, I have to clear my mind. No, no, no. It's about being the observer of your thoughts and teaching clients that and watching the thoughts go by just like clouds in the sky, just seeing them move on, letting them go using visualization can be part of that mindfulness, focusing on the breath so when thoughts come up because see it, and then imagine it floating away on the cloud and come back to your breath. And reminding them without judgment, that's the other big part of mindfulness meditation. So you're not going to internally say, 'Oh, I can't do this. This is too hard for me." Just, okay. My mind went off track. I'm going back to my breath even if you got to do it a hundred times. So without judgment.

Another kind of meditation I've learned a lot and still teach is loving kindness, also called Metta. I learned this through Buddhism and through my yoga training and it's just simply saying to yourself, first, may I be well. May I be safe. May I be at peace. May I be filled with loving kindness or any kind of positive message like that and then you send it to a loved one, have them picture a loved one in their mind and say the same words, except they say, may they be well, may they be safe and then think of someone they don't like, or is in a conflict with; this is an interesting one to see how they handle that because I've had clients make some faces and really struggle with that. But I think it's really helpful to do that. And then to end it with sending it to all living things, may they be well, may they be safe and so on.

And then again, you can always repeat and go through the whole loving kindness meditation. Again, this is especially helpful for clients who struggle with self-esteem issues, that have difficulty even saying things they like about themselves, that they could still say, may I be well, if they can't say anything nice about themselves right now. Kind of meeting them where they're at other meditations might include affirmations or just listening to music or sound, sound meditations. That's getting much more popular, sound healings, I don't know as much about that, but that would definitely be something that I want to look into if having someone a guest on the future episodes so that we can learn more and how that can help. I think meditation is one of those, takes a little bit more training and experience to really feel comfortable with it. It does take some time and practice, but you can get there. You know, I just, it really does take some dedication because I think that's one with a personal practice that makes a huge different in your comfort level.

The next holistic modality I was going to talk about was yoga and therapy. I also was going to mention somatic experiencing, I'm not trained in that, but from what I understand, I've taken a couple short trainings on it and it seems like there's a lot of crossover between somatic experiencing and yoga, not totally a hundred percent, but a lot of focus on the body and what is going on with it right now and what is coming up for you in this moment in your body, noticing those sensations tuning in more. And with yoga and therapy, it's about helping the parasympathetic to engage, to settle down the nervous system, especially with anxiety. So it can be broken down into grounding practices and energizing practices.

So grounding would help with anxiety, stress, feeling hyped up, energizing, can help with depression, trauma, dissociation. Sometimes people need both, so grounding and energizing depending on what's going on with them. So just remembering that. And when people get used to some of these practices and do it for a while too, it really can help with a lot of different physical conditions, lowering blood pressure, helping with insomnia, increasing overall wellbeing as well, increasing something called interoception hardware design. That just means, okay, what is going on with my body right now? I have a lot of clients that they get so wrapped up in their mind and overthinking that they stay in their heads too long and they don't know what's happening below the neck and their body. So yoga, especially is one way to really help them get in touch with what's happening in their body.

And then we also teach through subtle yoga, which I've learned is cross lateral or cross crawl movements, which is using opposite parts of your body, like raising your right arm and raising your left arm, doing that a few times with breath and then raising both at the same time. The cross crawl is crossing the midline of your body, like touching your right hand to your left knee. And this is so good for you. It's all brain-based stuff that helps both hemispheres of the brain to communicate better, helps integrate your brain and nervous system, reorganizing the mind body connection, can help if you're feeling off one day or not focused and help with any of those anxiety issues or depression. So that's part of what I teach too, with the yoga and therapy. It's just amazing results from that. I can't even begin to tell you from my experience how awesome that is. But again, yoga and somatic experiencing take a lot of training to really become competent with those. And personal practice is huge part of this too, so that you're comfortable with everything and that you build that competence of well, yes, I can do this.

And the last thing I'm going to talk about, first one was going to be Reiki. I'm not trained in Reiki. I was trained in Pranic healing, which is similar to Reiki and that it's an energy healing that helps physical, emotional, spiritual issues. It comes from life energy force, universal life energy force. With Pranic healing, it was about clearing the chakras, which are our little energy centers we have in our bodies, removing blockages or giving more energy where there is less. Because when these are out of whack, when there's too much going on or not enough energy that can cause physical symptoms, it can cause emotional symptoms.

So this tries to balance the energy, which from what I understand with Reiki, it does the same thing. It also works with removing blockages, releasing negative energy, but does it in a different way, I think. They're both alternative complimentary medicine, meaning it's not the primary thing that you do, of course always getting help from a primary care doctor for any kind of physical or mental issues and then spiritual issues. But you might go to also the spiritual issues and whatever they believe with their religion, you know to talk to a priest or someone else in their field, wherever they practice. [inaudible 00:19:40] Reiki. So there is no religious background. They don't have to believe in anything for it. The hands can be above the body or just touching gently on the body.

I've had my own Reiki sessions and you can have it in person or distance, which is really amazing. I love it. It's helped me so much and has helped with some physical issues that I've gone to a regular doctor for that they can't help me and nothing has helped. That's often when I've turned to Reiki or if I have chronic condition like migraines. I will tell you in the fall I went for Reiki in September, and I had the best fall ever as far as migraines go and went 52 days without one, which is tremendous for me when I get them usually four to six times a month. So that was huge. And I really believe it was after the Reiki that that made the huge difference. So it does work and it's just a relaxing, calming experience. The only thing you feel is like maybe some warmth or some tingling, just some of that energy moving, but it really is awesome to try. And if you're interested in learning that, I recommend just getting some sessions for yourself too, to see what it's like before you kind of jump in.

And the last thing, when I talk about, the last holistic modality, the most common is aroma therapy. And this has been growing a lot, I think, with counseling and therapy; so using like plant-based essential oils that help harmonize mind, body, spirit, help with healing. I've been studying and learning for a long time with these and use a daily practice for myself because I found it so beneficial. So you can inhale using a diffuser, which means you just add some water to these diffusers and add a few drops. You can combine different essential oils for different reasons like I have some that are for balance or motivation. Some are for relaxation, like lavender is a great one, or if you need more energizing, like wild, orange or Tangerine, and it can really help with depression, memory, increasing energy, healing overall, or you can use it on your skin.

You just got to be really careful with that making sure to mix with some kind of carrier oil, like coconut oil and applying it to wrists, back of the ears, bottom of your feet. It helps too, sometimes just to rub it a little bit in your hands, rub them together and just inhale for 30 seconds as you cup your hands over your nose. I don't know if you've had this before or you go to a massage therapist and they can use essential oils. Oh, I love that. It's so relaxing. Some people ingest it. This is kind of controversial. Some people don't think it's safe. Other people do, but ingesting internally, some people put under their tongue or in a veggie capsule putting some drops in there and swallow them. So use caution with that. I wouldn't recommend that to clients myself, but that could be part of your terms and conditions or informed consent because it could cause some physical problems. I don't know if they know all the damage that could cause potentially for some people or just some negative symptoms. So just be careful with that.

What I do each day, so in the morning, I like to sometimes use energizing, like my orange in the morning. During the day, if I have a headache, I use some peppermint on my temples. I also have a roller that has a mix of different essential oils to help with peppermint and some other ones to help relieve some tension if I get that at all. I also put on some different ones during the day, depending on what I need. I just keep some near my desk. If I'm having a really hard time with grief, something's happened in my life, I use one called console. It's just a blend from doTERRA. There's all these different companies you can use.

And that helps a lot. So it's kind of finding what you like and what works for you, what seems to really fit with who you are. I also use some lavender at night and I have another one that helps boost immunity with COVID still going on. I like to use that every day. So I think that's really helpful. That was a lot of different modalities.

So I just want to give you the brief kind of touch on these and how I've used some of these and give you some ideas and maybe build your confidence a little bit. And if these are unfamiliar to you, don't worry. It's okay. We got to start somewhere. You just give yourself that confidence and encouragement that you can do this right. That you can start somewhere and start with one thing. A lot of people go over the top and take on too much. So maybe just start with mindfulness and go from there and practice and start that process and get the trainings. Don't think you have to know everything either, because I know when I took the yoga training, it was 200 hours, the proper yoga trainings to really get yourself fully involved. It's a lot. 200 hours is a lot of training. That's what I realized when I did it. It's also of course a financial investment. So you have to make sure that's what you really want to do and use.

But I learned how much I don't know. Some of these practices and the essential oils, I know some, but man, once I dove into that, there's so much I don't know, so much more I can learn, which is exciting, but can be overwhelming. That's the only cautionary tale. You don't want to dive in and be like, "Oh my God, how am I ever going to have time to learn about this?" Just think about this as a lifelong journey of learning. This is the way I look at it anyways and you'll get there. And in some of these topics, I definitely am going to get some other guests on here too, to give you a little bit more detailed information on how they use it, some other therapists, how they use it in their practice and just some general practitioners who use these and the benefits that they've seen and how you might be able to get trained and learn more about for your holistic practice.

So I hope that was helpful and you learned a lot today and giving you some background of where we're going with this podcast. So next week is going to be the last solo episode of the top five foundational episodes that I'm giving you to start out this podcast. And I'm just going to kind of wrap up on what we discussed and also talk about what are the differences between newer holistic practitioners and those who are more advanced and how can you move yourself forward with your practice? So more about that.

And remember this podcast needs your support. If you have not done this already, please, please subscribe, rate and review today. I need your help with this to reach as many holistic practitioners as possible. And again, this is Chris McDonald sending each one of you some love and kindness today. Take care.

If you're loving the show, will you rate review and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform? We just started this and that helps other people find this show. Also, if you're feeling uncertain about your modalities and you want to build your confidence to be your unique self, why don't you to join my free email course, Becoming a Holistic Counselor over holisticcounselingpodcast.com. In my Becoming a Holistic Counselor course, you'll get tips for adding integrative care into your practice, what training you need and don't, and the know-how to attract your ideal holistic clients. If this sounds like the direction you are headed, sign up at holisticcounselingpodcast.com.

This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regards to the subject matter covered. It is given with the understanding that neither the host, the publisher or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical, or any other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.

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