Integrative Palliative Care: Whole Person Supportive Care

By Leila Kozak and William Collinge

Integrative Palliative Care is whole person care at its best. Integrative Palliative Care is Whole Person supportive care because it addresses all dimensions of being: body, mind, spirit and relationships. 

Integrative Palliative Care offers crucial support to people dealing with life-limiting illnesses bringing care that is the best of both worlds: using pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions side-by-side. Integrative Palliative Care encourages patients and families to advocate for their care preferences, and encourages partnerships between patients, families and providers.

Integrative Palliative Care provides care that is respectful of, and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs and values, and ensures that the patient’s values guide all clinical decisions. Integrative Palliative Care brings together conventional and integrative approaches to care for people facing life-limiting illnesses of all types, from cancer to Parkinson’s to arthritis and beyond.  Integrative Palliative Care also supports those who need extra care because of age-related conditions or at the end of life. 

Whole Person Approach to Treatment – Body, Mind, Spirit and Relationships

Western medicine has dedicated the last 300 years to the understanding of the complexities of the physical human body – the “material” aspect of our humanity. As such, medical technology has made amazing contributions to help people survive accidents and overcome complex illness through surgery, drugs and other medical interventions. The advances of western medicine have provided resources unimaginable a century ago – from vaccines that protect from deadly diseases, to complex surgeries that extend life, to organ transplants and the promise of regenerating organs via stem cells. 

Combining technical advances in medicine with evidence-based non-pharmacological interventions results in an integrative approach to care that leaves nothing behind. This implies using the best technology while attending to every aspect of what we call “wellness” or wellbeing. 

For example, the field of cancer care is rapidly evolving into an integrative model of care

Integrative oncology is no longer a fringe concept. In 2024, it is increasingly common that cancer centers offering  cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and surgery will provide at the same time acupuncture, massage, yoga, tai chi and music to deal with treatment side-effects and to support the patient’s healing and well-being. 

It is well known that the effect of these integrative therapies on quality of life is so profound, that in some cases, patients and providers credit the power of non-pharmacological approaches to the ability of patients to endure the side-effects of the treatments. It is not uncommon that patients reported they were able to complete their cancer treatment because of the support provided by integrative therapies.

One clear example of the ongoing transformation towards an integrative care model is the recent endorsement by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) of the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO) evidence-based clinical practice guidelines on integrative therapies during and after breast cancer treatment.

What are the approaches used within Integrative Palliative Care? 

The most common evidence-based therapies used in Integrative Palliative Care have been studied in a variety of palliative care populations such as patients with cancer, Parkinson’s, dementia, cardiac conditions and other life-limiting conditions. These therapies include: 

  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Biofield Therapies
  • Expressive Arts
  • Massage and Touch Interventions
  • Mind-Body and Contemplative Therapies
  • Movement-Based Therapies

Other non-pharmacological interventions that are extensively used in palliative care but may be considered a part of conventional medicine are animal-assisted therapies and dignity therapy.

In addition, “healing environments” may also be considered as an intervention that can contribute to integrative palliative care. Modifications to the physical environment that provide a sense of peace, tranquility and beauty are used to support relaxation, comfort and connection with others. These modifications include expressive arts, such as live music (usually harp or piano music), art installations, providing access to open green spaces that invite to quiet our minds and reflect, and even access to gardening (horticulture).

At the Integrative Palliative Care Institute our mission is to inform, educate and advance a whole person care model within hospice and palliative care settings, geriatrics and any environment that provides care for those who are suffering from life-limiting illnesses or can benefit from supportive care. 

We advance our mission by providing outcome-tested education and resources that raise awareness and increase providers’ knowledge of non-pharmacological (integrative) therapies.  

Learn more by exploring our courses for professionals, our consultations for health care organizations and our courses for patients and caregivers.


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