What is Holism?

In psychology, holism is an approach to understanding human mind and behavior that focuses on looking at everything as a whole. Often contradicted by reductionism, instead it tries to break things down into their smallest parts. Holism suggests that humans are more than just the sum of their parts. The entirety suggests that more needs to be done to understand how people think than to focus on the function of each component in isolation. Instead, psychologists who take this approach believe that it is more important to look at how all the parts work together.

Holism as an approach to understanding systems; It is used in psychology as well as in other fields such as medicine, philosophy, ecology and economics. A key statement that summarizes the main idea behind the holistic approach is that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. It is thought that it is necessary to look at people in a holistic approach to understand why people do and think what they do. Rather than focusing on just one aspect of the problem, it is necessary to admit that various factors affect each other. One reason why it is so important to consider the whole being is that all can have immediate characteristics. These are attributes or traits that exist as a whole but cannot be observed by looking at individual parts. For example, considering the human brain, the brain contains millions of neurons, but just looking at each neuron does not tell what the brain can do. Just by looking at the brain holistically, looking at how all the parts work together, one can see how messages are transmitted, how memories are stored, and how decisions are made. Even looking at other aspects of the brain such as individual structures is not enough to truly tell the whole story. It can only be truly appreciated how all the pieces work together while taking a more holistic approach. In fact, one of the earliest debates in the field of neurology focused on whether the brain is homogeneous and cannot be further fragmented (holism), or whether certain functions are localized in certain cortical regions (reductionism). Today, researchers know that certain parts of the brain act in certain ways, but these separate parts interact and work together to create and influence different functions.

How to use?

When looking at questions in psychology, researchers can take a holistic approach, considering how different factors work together and interact to affect the whole person. At the broadest level, they look at each effect that can affect the holistic behavior or functioning. A psychologist may, for example, consider the background and physical health of a person’s social connections, including friends, family, and work, the environment, including where they live and work, their childhood experiences and educational level. And this includes current health and stress levels. The purpose of this level of analysis is not only to consider how each of these variables can affect overall well-being, but also to see how these factors affect and affect each other. In other cases, holism may be a little more focused. For example, social psychologists try to understand how and why groups behave like that. Sometimes groups react differently than individuals, so a more holistic view of group behavior allows research to evaluate the features that may be present.


Just like the reductionist approach to psychology, holism has both advantages and disadvantages. For example, when looking at the big picture, allowing the psychologist to see things that they might have otherwise missed, integrity can be helpful. However, in other cases, taking the whole may cause them to overlook some of the finer details. Some of the main benefits of this perspective are:

• It has many factors:

One of the great advantages of the holistic approach is that it allows researchers to evaluate many factors that can contribute to a psychological problem. Instead of focusing on just a small part of a problem, researchers can look at all the elements that can play a role. This approach can ultimately help them find solutions that address all internal and external factors that can affect an individual’s health. This is sometimes more effective than handling smaller components individually. By looking at people holistically, healthcare organizations can address all the factors that can affect how a person feels, including their mind, body, and environment.

• Looks at the big picture:

When researching a topic, it’s often helpful to step back and look at the big picture. Reductionism tends to focus only on trees, but integrity allows psychologists to see the entire forest. This can be true for both investigation and treatment of mental health problems. For example, when trying to help a client with symptoms of a psychiatric disorder, for example, looking at the patient holistically allows mental health professionals to see all the factors that affect the patient’s daily life, as well as how the patient interacts with their environment. Using this type of approach, therapists are generally better able to respond to individual symptoms.

Human behavior is complex, so explaining it often requires an approach that can explain this complexity. Holism enables researchers to provide a fully inclusive answer to difficult questions about how people think, feel, and behave.


While holism has a number of key advantages, there are also some important drawbacks to consider. Some of those:

Tends to be general

When trying to solve a problem, it is often important to focus on a particular aspect of the issue to find a solution. Holism tends to be more general and this can sometimes make the sensitivity more difficult. Scientists in particular should be able to focus their research on clearly defined variables and hypotheses. Looking at something too broad can make testing using the scientific method difficult, largely because it involves a wide variety of factors and influences.

Can be overly complex

Because integrity is all-inclusive, it can make scientific research very difficult and complex. There may be many different variables to take into account as well as an abundance of possible interactions. This can make this approach cumbersome at times.

Examples in Psychology

In the field of psychology, there are several examples of how society can be used to view the human mind and behavior. The first school of thought, structuralism and functionality are fine examples of reductionist and holistic views. While constructivism focuses on separating behavioral elements into their smallest possible components (reductionism), functionality focuses on looking at events as a whole and taking into account the main purpose and function of behavior. Throughout history, there have been other perspectives and branches of psychology that took a holistic approach.

Gestalt Psychology

Gestalt psychology is a school of thought based on holistic origin. Gestalt psychologists simply did not believe that human behavior should be seen as a whole; They also worked to understand that the human mind itself uses a holistic approach to make sense of the world. Gestalt laws of perceptual organization show that in what ways individual items are interrelated to each other we can influence how we see them. When similar items are examined together, the law of similarity suggests that people will perceive them as components of a whole.

Humanistic Psychology

Humanistic psychology is a branch of psychology that emerged in the 1950s, partly as a response to behaviorism. Where Behavioralism had taken a reductionist approach to explaining human behavior, the humanist thinker is more interested in looking at holistic behavior. This approach to psychology looks at all the factors that contribute to the different thoughts and behaviors of people and how all of these different components interact. Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs is an example of a humanist theory that takes a holistic view of human motivation. This theory does not focus on any particular aspect of motivation. Instead, it includes many aspects, including environmental, social, and emotional effects.

Social Psychology

Social psychology tends to take a holistic approach as it sees individuals in their social context. In particular, this branch of psychology looks at how group behavior differs from individual behavior; this is a good example of the resulting properties and it appears that the sum is greater than its parts.

Holism and Reductionism

One way to look at how holism and reductionism are used is to observe how these approaches can be applied when working on a particular psychological problem. Imagine that researchers are interested in learning more about depression, and the following can be observed:

• Using the reductionist approach, a scientist can look at a highly specific factor affecting depression, such as neurotransmitter levels in the brain.

• A researcher using the holistic approach may instead focus on understanding how different contributing factors may interact, such as examining how thought patterns, social relationships, and neurotransmitter levels affect a person’s depression levels.

The appeal of holistic attention lies in its ability to bring together all the elements that make us who we are. Humans are infinitely complex, diverse, holistic, and can address all the external and internal factors that affect our past, present, and future. Different areas of psychology often tend to focus on either one approach or another. While reductionism and holism are often pitted against each other, both play an important role in helping researchers better understand human psychology.


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