by Trina Laube, CWP and Suzanne Hunt, MPH, CHC, CWP

This is the third article in a six-part series on the role of competencies in wellness promotion.

Our world works in systems that influence individuals, groups, organizations, communities, and policies at a variety of levels. Systems include things like public health agencies, hospitals, community centers, local government support like EMS and police, schools, workplaces, and more. Professionals working to positively influence the health and well-being of others must recognize the impact of these systems, as well as the benefits of taking a whole-person approach to wellness. Yet being able to elicit positive change in others takes more than simply understanding the systems in which we live and acknowledging the whole person. Impact requires action.

While the first domain of the National Wellness Institute (NWI) Wellness Promotion Competency Model provides a foundational understanding of the role of authenticity and self-awareness in professional wellness practice, it is the second domain that focuses on how professionals can positively influence quality of life by intentionally applying whole-person and systems approaches in their work.

The eight competencies within this “Whole-person & Systems Approaches” domain assist wellness professionals and those who hire, train, and certify wellness practitioners in understanding the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to be most successful at influencing positive change in individuals and groups. By developing these competencies, professionals are better able to create and implement effective wellness strategies that are supported by evidence-informed practices, theories, and models.

Taking a whole-person and systems approach to wellness begins by expanding one’s knowledge about prominent theories and models that help us understand the influence of the systems that impact health and well-being, as well as the multidimensional aspects of wellness. Professionals can utilize models such as NWI’s Six Dimensions of Wellness Model and Multicultural Wellness Wheel to assess and approach wellness from a whole-person perspective. Applying Self-determination Theory and Cognitive Behavioral Theory, as well as other evidence-based models and theories, also helps support the potential success of change initiatives as they draw from research and best practices. Additionally, the Social Determinants of Health and Social-Ecological Model are essential for professionals to consider when they are working to create systems changes and make an impact at the individual, organizational, or community level.

Wellness professionals must recognize, however, that a perfect model or theory does not exist for every situation or every individual. Rather, they can use the tenants and elements of these theories to inform their work in an evidence-based way to ensure their wellness initiatives are considering the right strategies, approaches, and influences for the highest rate of success of the initiative.

Once professionals have a solid understanding of a variety of theories, models, and evidence-based resources and how to apply them to wellness or change initiatives, they must adopt person-centered communication practices that consider the whole person and the factors that influence an individual’s wellness journey. This includes ensuring communications are culturally, linguistically, and developmentally inclusive. Doing so helps professionals to meet a person “where they are” and to provide individuals and groups with relevant health and wellness resources and education.

Finally, an important aspect of taking a whole-person and systems approach to wellness is to incorporate strengths-based, humanistic, and cognitive-behavioral techniques that support the evolution of wellness through the lifespan. This requires the ability to draw from evidence-based resources to educate and support individuals and groups. Whether a novice or a seasoned professional, developing competencies that support the application of whole-person and systems approaches is essential for anyone supporting the well-being of others. These competencies enhance the ability to engage with and plan for specific interventions for individuals and communities to cultivate change while encouraging individuals to be active participants in their wellness journeys.