paradigm shift from treating disease to promoting wellness

Changing the Health Paradigm from Illness to Wellness

In 1948, the World Health Organization defined health as, “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Therefore, on a scale, health would be the center point and illness would be to the far left. In this illustration, what would be on the far right of the scale? Health can be viewed as a neutral state and being ill as a negative state. How does a person describe a positive state beyond basic health? Since the process of being ill is called illness and the opposite of being ill is to be well, wellness was used to describe the state beyond basic health. What does that mean to be well and how can a person experience it in their life?


Wellness Movement


In the late 1950’s, Halbert L. Dunn was the first pioneer that began widely talking about wellness. Thus, Dunn became known as the “father of the wellness movement.” He published as a book titled High-Level Wellness in 1961. In 1972, Dr. John Travis read Dunn’s book, and it changed his perspective. Dr. Travis opened the Wellness Resource Center, in Mill Valley, California in 1975. Its purpose was to help people change their paradigm from treating illness to taking responsibility for their health. Then in 1977, Donald Ardell published the book High Level Wellness: An Alternative to Doctors, Drugs, and Disease. This best-selling book along with the 1979 “60-minutes” segment popularized the concept and made the word commonplace.


Dunn’s original idea of high-level wellness defined it as “an integrated method of functioning, which is oriented toward maximizing the potential of which the individual is capable, within the environment where he is functioning.” Wellness is not a destination to reach at the end of a journey. It is a process. Therefore, it seeks to actualize a person’s potential in all the aspects of their life given their current circumstances. Wellness may look different for someone that is 20 years old and someone that is 70 years old. It is possible for both people to experience high-level wellness in their context.


Dynamic Balance


Wellness is a dynamic balance between a person’s internal and external world. A person is an integrated system of physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects internally. Externally, people live in a world of different environments, philosophies and ideas, joys and sorrows, relationships and culture, and religious and spiritual systems. Due to the interactions of the internal and external aspects, a person’s experience of wellness varies at any given time.


It is possible for a person to take responsibility for most of the factors related to their experience of wellness. Viewing one’s self as “response-able” instead of a “victim of life’s circumstances” is a first step in the process. A person has the freedom to choose their attitude toward those circumstances. Thus, with this initial step, a person moves forward along the path of wellness.


While there is not an end point for wellness, there are a number of areas to explore. A person can learn about nutrition and exercise as well as beneficial patterns of sleep and proper breathing habits. People can learn how to run their own brains and master their emotions. Someone can learn how to develop strong, supportive relationships. People can delve into religious and spiritual practices. Although there is no shortage of information, today people are getting sicker and sicker. There are no simple solutions or “magic bullets.” The path of wellness is not an easy journey but is it worth the effort.




In summary, health is a scale ranging from illness to wellness. Traditional Western medical practice still focuses on the treatment of illness. Over the past 50 years, there has been a paradigm shift towards wellness. Wellness is a process that involves the interaction of both the internal and external worlds of a person. It is possible for a person to take responsibility for their wellness. Unfortunately, many people simply do not know where to begin the process. A health and wellness coach facilitates a client to clarify their outcomes. This starts a person along the path towards wellness. As the old quote states, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Are you ready to start your journey today?


Be Strong and Live Well


Matthew Blaylock


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