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  • Gonzalo Laje

National Wellness Month

We hear the term “Wellness” used in connection with health, and it is often used in relation to mental health. It represents an important shift away from an exclusive focus on illness and injury in healthcare. Wellness looks holistically at the patient, asking what each individual’s best life looks like in terms of health in the broadest sense of the word. Mental health support based on Wellness, while not ignoring underlying illness when present, seeks results that put a person on track to living their best life.

Wellness as a Medical Term

The concept of Wellness gained popularity in the United States after World War II and involved concepts of “health, morality, and responsibility” that strongly resonated with the population at that time. Wellness was first used by the medical establishment in a 1959 article by Halbert L. Dunn, “High-Level Wellness for Man and Society,” explaining that Wellness was based on a holistic model that focused on maximizing potential in the individual. Since then, Michael O’Donnell identified Wellness as a “dynamic balance of physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual health.”

Wellness Builds on Strength

Prior to the 1950s the standard teaching and philosophy of medical care focused on illness and injury. For generations, these aspects of a patient’s health were based in a deficit-based model of care. Wellness, however, takes an approach that is more holistic and positive, as it considers a person’s interests, skills, and abilities. The Wellness model is also more strengths-based. It relies on the individual's motivation and strives to increase optimism in the belief that this will establish a baseline of positive health as well as bring an additional curative effect to treatment. Thus, Wellness is seen as an empowering approach to treating patients and living well. Wellness does not mean ignoring an illness or challenges in a patient’s life. However, it does include looking at the whole person, incorporating spirituality and community (when desired), and helping a person regain a sense of peace in their life. Wellness is about moving beyond a label of illness or incapacity.

The IS-Wel Model

Wellness is not an abstract concept in patient support. Specific protocols and criteria guide a Wellness-based approach. First introduced in 1991 by Sweeny and Witmer, the Wheel of Wellness is an integrative model that includes five interrelated life tasks: “spirituality, self-direction, work and leisure, friendship, and love.” An evidence-based model was developed over 12 years, called the “Indivisible Self-Model of Wellness,” also referred to as the IS-Wel Model. The model, shown above, incorporates the 17 Wellness dimensions in the Wheel of Wellness, with multiple layers or ‘orders’ of Wellness. This model can be used as an education tool, promoting and identifying factors that contribute to an individual’s overall Wellness. Counselors and therapists also use the model to help patients identify strengths and build self-esteem.

How Wellness Relates to Self Esteem

Self-esteem is how an individual feels about themself and is shown to be affected by factors such as social network, activities, what one hears about themselves from others, and psychological health. In a study conducted by Myers, Willse, and Villalba in 2011, an individual’s views of their coping skills, social interactions, and creativity strongly impacted their self-esteem. The study strongly suggests that a holistic and Wellness based approach to care can impact a person’s well-being at their core. Therapeutic approaches that emphasize Wellness seek an increase in self-esteem as an important outcome.

Wellness builds on a person’s context, strengths, and self-esteem to bring about a whole and healthy individual. At WBMA, our integrated and collaborative approach strives to support whole-person Wellness. We believe this approach leads to positive outcomes for our patients that have a lasting impact on their mental health and overall well-being. If you would like to learn more about our practice to see if a Wellness approach matches your needs, contact us today for an appointment.


Kirkland, A. (2014). What Is Wellness Now? Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, 39(5), 957–970.

Myers, J. E., Willse, J. T., & Villalba, J. A. (2011). Promoting self-esteem in adolescents: The influence of Wellness factors. Journal of Counseling & Development, 89(1), 28–36.

Swarbrick, M. (2006). A Wellness Approach. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 29(4), 311–314.


Bridget Dromerick, LGPC

Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor


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