Holistic Health,  Holistic Occupational Therapy

What is Holistic Occupational Therapy?

First, Occupational Therapy is a form of therapy that helps people with what ‘occupies’ their time. This covers every aspect of a person’s life, from the cradle to the grave. It includes activities of daily living such as sleeping, eating, cooking, working, playing, relationships, and spirituality.

If a person is having difficulty engaging in any of these activities an Occupational Therapist is trained to assist the person be able to function as best they can in all areas of their life. Occupational Therapists can assist people in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, in the person’s home, and other settings.

I was trained by St. Catherine University to be creative and think of areas where Occupational Therapists can provide care that hasn’t typically been seen before. After graduation, I applied to complete one of my internships in a ‘non-traditional’ setting – a homeless shelter. I worked for a summer practicing assessments and creating group therapy for homeless individuals supporting them in many areas of their lives. This pilot program was successful and continued the summer after I was there. This experience taught me to think outside of the box.

Occupational Therapy is already a very holistic profession as it can assist a person with all aspects of their life. With the ‘alternative therapy’ field expanding in the past 10 years, consumers and practitioners are exploring these approaches and are integrating them in to care.

The nursing profession is a prime example of this. They have embraced the term holistic so much that they actually have a special Holistic Nurse Certification. This includes special training in holistic therapies and the nurses wear the acronym, HNC after their names with pride.

All health care professions, including Occupational Therapy can take a cue from the nursing profession to embrace this approach and the wonderful therapies that can help people feel more empowered with more options for care.

Okay, so back to what is Holistic Occupation Therapy? I will do my best to put forth what I feel it is.  It is a new specialty for Occupational Therapists, and the definition may alter as we move forward. I propose that it combines the best of ‘traditional’ Occupational Therapy practice with mind-body-spirit approaches such as guided imagery, meditation, energy healing, acupressure, reflexology, massage therapy, aromatherapy –  just to name a few of the many wonderful mind-body-spirit approaches. Holistic Occupational Therapy can assist people physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. They can support the body’s innate ability to heal itself. Holistic Occupational Therapists can help people in ways that go beyond what we have originally thought possible.

It is my hope, and I am seeing some evidence of this, that more health care providers will learn holistic therapies, and that it will be a specialty in all professions. Perhaps, in time the term holistic will be absorbed in to best practices for care.

I plan to write more on this subject. I am available for consulting on how to integrate holistic care in to Occupational Therapy practice. Emmy Vadnais, Holistic Occupational Therapist and Intuitive Healer [email protected].

Update March, 2015
There is a thriving Holistic Occupational Therapy Community happening! Thank you for enjoying my services and blog posts here on www.emmyvadnais.com. Please also visit HolisticOT.org. I am now a regular contributor to the “Holistic OT” column in ADVANCE Magazine for OT Practitioners, and continue to write new blogs connecting far and wide.

Emmy Vadnais, OTR/L has over 20 years experience providing Holistic, Integrative Health, Wellness and Prevention Care in a variety of settings. She is a Holistic Occupational Therapist, Intuitive Healer, Health Coach, teacher, consultant, and writer. She provides holistic and integrative healthcare and intuitive development education to healthcare practitioners and organizations. She is the founder of the Holistic OT Community and is in private practice in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is available for individual sessions, tutoring, classes, and consulting. She can be contacted at [email protected]. Visit her websites at EmmyVadnais.com and HolisticOT.org.


  • Denise alkire

    Emmy, my son has been in a motorcycle accident. He needs physical and occupational rehab, but lives a wholistic life. Do you know of a facility where he could reside for a month of rehab, with organic food, meditation, wellness programs, etc. thanks Adam’s mom

    • Emmy Vadnais

      Hi Denise,

      I am very sorry about your son’s accident.

      The only establishment that I know of is Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, MN which has the Sister Kenny Rehab Institute with Integrative Medicine (holistic) care coordinated inpatient and outpatient. It may serve you and your son well to make a call to the Sister Kenny Institute (http://www.allina.com/ahs/ski.nsf) and to call the Penny George Institute for Health & Healing (http://www.allina.com/ahs/anw.nsf/page/ihh_home) to see what accommodations they currently feature that you are looking for. When I worked there last, in 2005, they did incorporate holistic care, but I do not know if they currently have organic food options. Also, the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing may be able to answer your questions and help you find the right establishment.

      I wish you and your son all the best. Please contact me if I can be of any further assistance.

      Emmy Vadnais,
      Holistic Occupational Therapist & Intuitive Healer

  • Angela

    Hi there Emmy!

    My name is Angela and I am currently going to school at San Jose State University. I am graduating next fall with a BA in Child and Adolescent Development, and thereafter I will go (once accepted) to SJSU’s Occupational Therapy Master’s program. I have been learning a lot about eastern medicine the last few months, and am finding it amazing to experience first hand how much that world can open your mind up to. Yesterday, while watching a DVD lecture from Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming’s teaching of the fundamentals of Qigong, I couldn’t help but feel like I had an epiphany of all epiphanies. Why SHOULDN’T Occupational Therapy practices work hand in hand with holistic medicine?

    After running into your insights about Holistic Occupational Therapy I am elated to others in the field so passionate about this. Do you have any advice for a future Occupational Therapist beginning their OT studies? I have been wanting to do some volunteering/job shadowing in the field, do you happen to know of any Holistic Occupational Therapy clinics in the south bay in California’s bay area? Also do you recommend any helpful resources I could read about and study regarding this specialized field? Thank you greatly for any insight on this Emmy!


    • Emmy Vadnais

      Hi Angela,

      Nice to hear from you! I whole-heartedly agree that the Holistic paradigm can work hand in hand with Occupational Therapy and all Health Care approaches.

      Yes, we have much to learn from all of the healing practices from around the world. We are in the apex of understanding how the mind, body, and spirit interact, affect each other, and are one in the same.

      QiGong, Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic, and other healing principles are truly amazing. They can create astonishing results.

      Our society, here in the states, is slowly embracing these healing arts. There are many barriers, I see, feel, and experience, that keep Holistic Healing from spreading more rapidly.

      It is up to you, me, and others, who see their value, to educate and share their benefits. Yes, research is needed. However, at times, it seems that the Holistic Healing Arts have been held to a higher standard of research than the more dominant forms of “health care” in this country.

      Continue to follow your passion. Continue to listen to your drive to learn more. Delve deeply in to the healing methods that inspire you. You, among others, are the hope that will bring these methods forward. Do not get discouraged. Continue to let these beautiful methods inspire you.

      In regards to Occupational Therapy, I am not in the academic setting. So, I cannot speak to what the current OT programs are teaching. If your program is not teaching Holistic Healing methods, then I would suggest that you ask your professors to create sections on this. If they do not feel qualified, perhaps it could be a subject of your thesis.

      I have had several OT students and OT’s contact me in the last few months. So, there is hunger for this. There is change happening. It is always happening. We are a part of it, and we are the ones who get to also spin the wheels.

      I am in the process of creating Holistic Healing continuing education courses for Health Care Professionals.

      As far as reading materials, there are many topics within Holistic Healing. I would be happy to suggest some reading if you can share which aspect you’d like to learn more about i.e. reflexology, energy healing, guided imagery, intuition, acupressure, aromatherapy, etc. I am not aware of any books on Occupational Therapy and Holistic Healing; CAM – Complementary/Alternative Medicine, as the medical community likes to refer to it as such. There may be research articles ‘out there’ and perhaps some of them have been done by students.

      I would be happy to chat with you in person at any time, or send me an e-mail if I can be of any further assistance to you.

      Please keep in touch.

      Wishing you All the Best!
      Emmy Vadnais
      Holistic Occupational Therapist & Intuitive Healer
      [email protected]

      • michel burke

        I am interested once I complete the OT masters program, I will be completing the OTA program July 2018. I currently have my bachelors in health service administration. And have always been interested since Ive read Ellen G. White books on the benefits of holistic medicine I wanted to know how I can get certified or take additional classes to be a holistic OT as you are.

        Best regards,

        Michel Burke
        [email protected]

        • Emmy Vadnais

          Hi Michel,

          Great goals! Once you’re done with school, continuing education in holistic approaches also known as complementary/integrative health or medicine will get you on your way. While you’re in school, visiting with holistic practitioners for your care and developing your own self care will go a long way when helping others. Here is an article I co-wrote about how to get started brining these approaches into your practice http://holisticot.org/become-holistic-ot-youre-interested-cam-approaches-best-place-start/

          I am happy to have you take any courses I offer or are offered through the Holistic OT Community when you’re ready. Please let me know if you have any other questions.

          All the best to you,

  • Heather

    Hi there,
    I am currently an OTA student here in the Twin Cities . I need to write a research paper and I am very interestend in the holisitc approach in O.T. Are there any journal articles or websites you would reccommend?

    Thanks, Heather

  • Monique Portanger

    Hi Emmy – please let us know if and when you do set up a Holistic Healing continuing education course. I am an Occupational Therapist and would be interested in it! Thanks Monique

  • Sarah Myers


    I also believe in the positive impact of Holistic Occupational Therapy and enjoyed reading this. Recently I have become more interested with the effects of aromatherapy and overall well-being on an individual. What is your opinion on the benefits of aromatherapy and do you have any more information on it? Thank you for your time.

    Sarah Myers
    OTA Student

    • Emmy Vadnais

      Hi Sarah,

      I definitely believe in the healing, calming & uplifting powers of essential oils and aromatherapy. I have used aromatherapy with clients and for my personal care for over 15 years. They have many healing properties physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

      It is good to learn about them so you know how to best use them. I recently wrote a piece on aromatherapy “7 Essential Oils to Energize and Calm” that can help get you started, and I plan to write more. http://holisticot.org/7-essential-oils-to-energize-and-calm

      If you google: “aromatherapy association” you will find many great resources. A great book I am really enjoying currently is “Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit: Restoring Emotional and Mental Balance with Essential Oils.” It gets into the energetic properties of the oils, in addition to their scents for healing and wellness.

      Have fun exploring the wonderful world of aromatherapy!
      Emmy Vadnais, OTR/L

    • Emmy Vadnais

      Hello, Sarah,

      Yes: meditation. Find yourself a good meditation teacher, preferably one who also is trained in intuitive approaches such as energy healing or guided imagery – who helps people find their own innate inner wisdom.

      I am available for tutoring or check out my “Power of the Mind in Healing” course. This will give you many skills for developing and managing your intuitive/empathic gifts.

      Please contact me with any other questions. Thanks!

  • Brittany

    Hi Emmy,

    My name is Brittany and I am currently going to school at Long Island University. I am in the Occcupational Therapy Master’s program, I am learning about different emerging field in Occupational Therapy and I think it’s interesting you take a different approach in treating clients using a integrative health. I love that you incorporate different healing practices from all over the world in understanding how the mind-body is interconnected. After reading a little about you and reading the comments, I was wondering if I can contact you for my school assignment regarding about your practice. I think it will be educational for my classmates to know about Holistic OT and how it can help wide-range of patients. Thank you for providing your insight on this topic. I look forward from hearing from you.

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