What is the BHMA?

The BHMA (British Holistic Medical Association) was formed in 1983 by a group of medical doctors and students.  It is now a network of mainstream healthcare professionals, CAM practitioners and members of the public.

Over the years the BHMA has organsied conferences, run educational activities and promoted local groups.  It has always had a journal and a members newsletter.  It continues to publish three issues of the Journal of holistic healthcare annually and a monthly e-mail newsletter.

The vision is to continue to have a strong enthusiastic network of like minded people promoting holism in healthcare.  The focus has always been on care that honours the connection between mind, body and spirit and  offering patients a wide range of therapies that can benefit them. 

Our motto of ‘physician heal thyself ‘ is as relevant today as has been over the last 30 years to encourage self care for practitioners.

We believe that the biggest threat to health globally is of climate change and we are engaged in encouraging a sustainable healthcare system. (See our Sustainability page)

Find out about membership of the BHMA

What does holistic mean?

It is generally conceded that the South African Jan Smuts coined the term ‘holism’ in 1926.

The dictionary definition of holism (from the Greek holos) states that nothing can be fully understood unless one sees the whole system of which it is part; that is the whole is always more than the sum of its parts. It has the same linguistic roots as whole, holy and health. 

Beyond that information, the word holistic is impossible to define, because a definition imposes a boundary, and therefore excludes. It is a way of seeing and knowing the world. The holistic approach in medicine considers the whole person, both he or she seeking help and the practitioner who aims to provide help, whatever form that may take. It is caring for yourself, caring for others, and caring for the planet. It is being part of the living organism that is our Earth and every creature and organism that lives in this wondrous place.

The holistic view of course includes the objective scientific explanations of physiology and accepts that that people have inner experiences that are subjective, mystical, spiritual or religious, which affects their well being and their beliefs.

This website feature provides the ‘dimensions’ of being holistic. This describes this challenging word in terms of the qualities of the human – especially applicable to those who are unwell and those who care. See the front page to access this exploration of the human relationship in sickness and in health.

Read Being Holistic by Chair William House, published in JHH Spring 2016

What Patients say:

“I think holistic care is humane care where it is about individuals not their illness.”


I want a holistic doctor to look after me, someone to really listen and try to understand me. 

Someone who is caring as well as being good at his or her job is being holistic.


“I have a holistic nurse. She went to so much trouble to help me sort my life out, you know, that bit extra effort to find something that might help, even phoned me at home to see how I was getting on.”

”Instead of just printing out a prescription we talked about how I could do things for myself, no one’s done that before.”

What we say:

“Holism is more about relatedness rather than separation, taking a broader view rather than reducing individuals to disease labels. A holistic approach recognises that our relationships, our culture, our immediate and global environment all profoundly affect our health and well-being.”
Prof David Peters, Editor of the Journal of Holistic Healthcare 

“A willingness to use a wide range of interventions … an emphasis on a more participatory relationship between doctor and patient; and an awareness of the impact of the ‘health’ of the practitioner on the patient.” 
Patrick Pietroni, founding Chairman of the BHMA writing in Practitioner in 1997

“It’s time to replace over-reliance on pharmaceutical ‘magic bullets’ with diverse approaches for creating health. We need to support well-being, self-care in chronic disease and the well-being of health-workers. Above all we have to embrace effective and sustainable solutions for the millions who need more than biomedicine alone can offer.” 
Simon Mills, BHMA trustee

” ‘Holistic’ is a good and useful word. For a start it does not mean a particular religion, faith or belief. What it means is a general approach — an approach that is open-hearted, open-minded, recognises the connections between all aspects of life and respects the essence of all the world’s various spiritual traditions. It is also a word that recognises the links between spirituality, health and wellbeing; and supports our care and love for the natural world.” 
William Bloom, Author and educator

Holistic healthcare today?

In 1983, whilst a group of woman activists were setting up the Greenham Common protest camp, a group of doctors and healthcare workers formed an organisation called the British Holistic Medical Association (BHMA). At the time it was perhaps a reaction to the growing trend in medical care towards viewing patients as diseases rather than as individuals.  However they were full of idealism that peoples suffering needed to be cared for in a way that all aspects of their being and their environment was taken into account. In addition they felt that the doctor or therapist responsible for dealing with the patient needed to part of the healing process and adopted as their motto “Physician heal thyself’’.

The focus has been to promote holism through education, and over the years conferences and workshops were held and a regular newsletter and journal produced.  A new co-operation flourished between registered practitioners and alternative therapists. The mind-body connection was important and spirituality and its place in healthcare explored.   The BHMA’s Journal of holistic healthcare has been at the forefront of innovative ideas for healthcare, and although the BHMA is a small organisation, it has made a huge impact in promoting compassionate competent care.  

So ‘Where is holistic healthcare today?’ If you are a pessimist you will despair at the industrialisation of our medical institutions and the growing influence of Big Pharma.  If you are an optimist you can see many examples of compassionate integrated care throughout our healthcare system.  Many challenges are ahead, particularly climate change which is the biggest threat to health on our planet.

Since late 2013, the word holistic is being used increasingly in mainstream healthcare. Some of this is a reaction to the Mid-Staffordshire Hospital tragedy in which many patients were severely neglected by the hospital teams. There were many other less publicised scandals in other hospitals and care homes. It is clear to us, however, that holistic has often been used in the very limited sense of taking social circumstances into consideration when treating the patient in an otherwise biomedical, reductionist way. Read more about the meaning of holistic HERE. 

During 2015 and early 2016 we have been developing a major new website feature that shifts the focus from types of therapy towards the qualities of the practitioner and the patient as human beings. This new feature has now launched – we welcome your feedback!

We promote holistic healthcare in many ways through the website and through the Journal of holistic healthcare (JHH). The BHMA produces three issues of the JHH per year and members receive a paper copy and access to all the issues over the last 10 years for £48/year. E-membership at £25/year means you can access and download pdf copies of articles. This is excellent value and useful for CPD, but also you will be keeping alive and helping to increase the understanding and the practice of the ideal of holistic healthcare.

Dr William House, Chair, BHMA