Criticism of the Holistic Wellness Model in Psychobiographical Research

Like any other concepts, concepts of positive psychology in general, wellness as well as the HWM, have been criticised extensively (Fouche, 1999). However, critics target the holistic wellness movement as such and might have misunderstood the model as belonging to the biopsychosocial and life-style movements (Fouche, 1999). These movements have been criticised, according to the author, in terms of reductionism, the neglect of socio-historical, cultural and economic factors that they do not seem to address, as well as the rather shallow explanation of coping and stress management. The debate about these movements seems to be ongoing (Fouche, 1999; Mayer, 2011).

In parallel, Fouche (1999) mentions the limitations with regard to the use of the HWM in psychobiographical research, such as the lack of wellness indicators regarding cultural background, gender or developmental stages and the lack of an exploratory framework of holistic wellness development. In addition, the author criticises the lack of critical stages for the development of wellness, as well as the failure to address the influence of the immediate ecological environment.

Nel (2013), in her work on Helen Suzman, described the criticism of the biopsychosocial movements more extensively, which is not repeated here, since this study focuses on the HWM within the positive psychology paradigm.

Savolaine and Granello (2002) point out that most wellness models do not include and integrate the general construct of meaning, which should be investigated further. This might also be a limitation of the HWM, since meaningfulness is only explored as a sub-task to spirituality.

Other authors (Gold & Mansager, 2000; Mosak & Dreikurs, 2000) have criticised the labelling of the life tasks of spirituality and self-direction as life tasks and their inclusion into the HWM. Mansager (2000) and Mansager et al. (2002) support this criticism by pointing out that spirituality is the foundation of life tasks rather than a life task itself. Other authors (e.g. Hawks, 2013), however, define spirituality as a subcategory of social and emotional health rather than as a foundation of a holistic health concept. Therefore, the critics do not turn against the concept of the HWM or against spirituality, but rather criticise the location of spirituality in the concept.

Finally, Myers and Sweeney (2008) highlight that the values in the HWM tend to be universal, referring to previous concepts of Adler (1956) and Maslow (1970). In a later publication, Myers et al. (2000) acknowledge the impact of cultural identity on holistic wellness. They emphasise that culture plays an important role when it comes to terms, concepts and subjective experience of health and well-being. In other research cultural identity has also been pointed out as highly influential in mental health and well-being (Mayer & Geldenhuys, 2014). The HWM might therefore not necessarily be culturally adequate and individuals from other cultures might not agree with this US and Westernised approach and concept of holistic wellness. Research studies are needed to explore holistic wellness across cultures and the applicability of the role of spirituality in concepts of health and wellness in specific cultural contexts (Mayer & Viviers, 2014a).


In this chapter, the concept of wellness and the framework of the HWM as a theoretical model to explore wellness in the context of psychobiographical research are discussed. Basic concepts are defined and the HWM is described. The model is discussed in terms of the WOW, its conceptual life tasks and the life forces and global events affecting wellness. The IS-Wel is presented and the use of the HWM in psychobiography is explored. Finally, the potential value and critics of the model are addressed and its limitations are recognised.

The findings from the application of the HWM to the life of Paulo Coelho will be discussed in Chap. 7 with regard to the life of Coelho and in Chap. 8 with regard to selected creative works. The following chapter focuses on the second theory applied: The FDT described by Fowler (1981).

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