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Richard B. Patterson, Ph.D.

Many of us grew up with a limited understanding of health. We tend to view health as a phenomenon of the body, disconnected from mental or spiritual events. As such, we may pay close attention to our physical health while neglecting other areas of human experience. Yet increasingly we are finding out that the state of our mind, emotions, and spirit have significant impact on both our health and our recovery when illness strikes.

The concept of holistic health has become generalized to include many things: the use of herbs, the use of mental imagery, the use of hypnosis, to name a few. Some people equate the concept of holistic health with the New Age movement. What I'd like for us to consider here is the idea of holistic health as consisting of an attitude of wellness in ALL areas of human experience -- body, mind, emotions, and spirit. With that notion of holistic health in mind, let's take a health inventory. I'll pose a few questions to you in each domain and a few examples.

Think of your body for a moment. In general, how is your health? Do you cope with a chronic health problem? If so, how responsible are you as far as medication is concerned? Do you miss or skip doses frequently? Now think of stress. What kind of regular stress do you experience? Where do you feel it in your body? (Muscles? Stomach? Headaches?) What do you do to pleasure your body on a regular basis? (Bubble baths? Exercise? Massage?) Are any of your physically pleasurable activities potentially destructive or addictive in the long run? (Drugs? Overeating? Alcohol abuse?) How aware are you of your senses? Can you list five pleasurable experiences for each sense? If you wanted to relax, which sense would you engage? (Listening to music? Watching TV? Smelling the flowers?)

Now think about your world of attitudes and ideas -- your inner mental world. Do you harbor resentments toward anyone? Do you have a little voice inside your head that is constantly passing judgment of you, criticizing you at every turn? Do you accept the conclusions of that voice without question? Do you ever use your imagination to picture relaxing scenes? Do you often spend time thinking about what-ifs? Are many of those what-ifs unpleasant ones? What are your gifts? What is your reaction if I ask you "What have you done for yourself in the past week?" What do you like to read? When is the last time you read something for pleasure? For personal growth?

Now think about your emotional world? How often do you get angry over trivialities? Do others see you as moody? What are your biggest fears? What do you do to celebrate? Is your way of celebrating in any way self-destructive? (Alcohol abuse? Overeating?) What do you do when you feel like crying? Let it flow? Bottle it up? When was the last time you cried? Who are your favorite comedians? When was the last time you heard a good joke? Can you tell a funny story about yourself?

Now think about your spiritual world? Do you ever meditate? When was the last time you did? If prayer is meaningful to you, do you allow yourself prayer time on a regular basis? How often do you indulge in activities which cause you great guilt or shame? How often do you feel on the edge of despair? Do you regard yourself as a good or a bad person? If you have a belief in God, do you find comfort or fear in that relationship? Are you or have you ever been angry with God?

There are many more areas within each domain of human experience which enter into the concept of health. The challenge is to consider each domain, not just that of body, when you ask yourself, "How am I feeling today?"

Richard B. Patterson is a clinical psychologist in private practice in El Paso, TX. He is the author of three books on psychology and spirituality.


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