I first encountered holism as a concept in high-school when I was assessed by a cognitive psychologist. I was underperforming relative to my parents expectations and they wanted to know why. My most vivid memory of the tests was one where I had one minute to say as many words that started with the letter F as possible, which is the most unfair letter to give to a 17-year-old. At the end of the assessment he told me that I was a holistic thinker. Holistic thinking is characterized by seeing the whole picture, and taking a broader view. This stands in contrast to analytic thinking, which breaks down a bigger picture into its constituent parts.
So why is this important for aesthetics? Most cosmetic modalities are primarily (or exclusively) focused on what other people can see. At a basic level, that makes sense, if someone is having an issue with their skin they want that issue fixed. The problem is that in many cases, the outward symptom is an expression of a different problem. Dermatology is a lot like geology, in that all of the action is underneath the surface. Our skin forms, develops and is gradually expressed outward, and in the end the topmost layer is the results of processes that we can’t see. To make lasting change, we treat what’s underneath.
One of my early Mei Zen facial rejuvenation acupuncture cases involved a young woman with a series of sub-acute digestive issues. These are the sort of small complaints that many of us have but that don’t necessarily warrant a direct clinical intervention. In her case, she’d feel unwell after eating certain foods, all easily manageable. She was extremely knowledgeable about skin care products, and had a solid self-care regimen, but wasn’t achieving the results she wanted. Through our time working together, the quality of her skin improved, she had fewer acne breakouts, and had a general improvement in the health of her skin, but her digestion also improved which led to a significantly higher quality of life. And therein lies the power of a holistic approach to healthcare; rather than divide the patient into a series of discrete systems, if we look at them as a whole we can make small adjustments that can profoundly impact the way someone looks and feels.
Oftentimes holistic practitioners see the big picture, but miss the details. From far enough away every surface looks smooth. In my view, a genuinely holistic practice sees both the big picture and the fine details, because without the context, we can’t address the whole issue, but if we miss the details we don’t really know what we’re trying to achieve.
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