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  • Writer's pictureEmma Donovan

Why I Decided to Leave the Conventional Paradigm and Start Holistic Health With Emma

Learn about my background, my philosophy, my career, trajectory, and the “why” behind Holistic Health with Emma. 

As you may know, I have a master’s degree in Professional Counseling and I am a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. I have been a therapist for close to 7 years. I love many things about that field and learn a lot from it, which is why I maintain a private therapy practice. 

However, the truth is that I have felt called to move beyond the psychotherapy field since before I even started graduate school. Frankly, the idea of reducing complex human beings down to diagnoses, billing codes, and evidence-based treatment methodologies while sitting on a couch in a disembodied modern health context never spoke to me. This is why I wrote many of my papers in graduate school about yoga and mindfulness, why I wrote many of my undergraduate papers about near-death experiences, Buddhism, and psychedelics, why I traveled to far-flung corners of the world every chance I could get in my 20s, and why I gravitated towards mystical approaches to psychotherapy in school and beyond. 

But for me, even those haven’t been enough. After I finished graduate school, I packed a backpack and booked a one-way ticket to Southeast Asia. I was called to the East to learn about different ways of living, knowing, and understanding the psyche. Studying yoga in India and Cambodia, studying mindfulness and somatics in Thailand, and serving as a therapist and personal growth educator in Thailand for almost 2 years brought me closer to the deep mind-body connection than I had yet been. 

Even that wasn’t enough for me. When I moved back to the United States, I began studies in Applied Shamanism, Plant Medicine, and Depth Hypnosis. I wanted to learn how to move beyond the conscious mind to tap into deeper ways of knowing that most people don’t know we have access to. I dove deep into the world of dreams, journeying, energy medicine, myth, and metaphor. I saw myself and my clients expand. 

This time was deep and profound. It was also dark. It was during the height of the pandemic and I found myself gripped not only by loneliness but also by unexplainable chronic health issues, despite taking relatively good care of myself. I spent several years having to peel myself out of bed, feeling half brain-dead for most of the day, and giving myself pep talks just to get through my days.

This time was difficult, but it was also a gift. It brought me closer to my body, tuned me in more deeply to my needs, ushered me deeper into my own psyche, and thrust me into the functional medicine world as I looked for answers to problems my conventional doctors scratched their heads about. For the past several years, I have spent hours daily voraciously devouring everything I could find about integrative, alternative, functional, and holistic health. 

Over the past few years, I spent some time under the care of a Functional Medicine Doctor. While this doctor helped me get started with my functional medicine path, my symptoms barely abated, and this fueled my studies - if no one was going to help me with my health, not even one of the best functional medicine clinics I could find, I needed to take my health into my own hands.

It followed that, last year, I began my studies as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. I was drawn to the holistic and natural approach that Nutritional Therapy teaches. Nutritional Therapy helped me regain some mental clarity and lift some of the oppressive brain fog, headaches, and crippling fatigue I was experiencing every day. 

Thankfully, I also found a Functional Medicine practitioner who could help me make sense of my issues and make further progress. I am happy to say that, now, after several years and thousands of hours of learning, I am functional, mostly energetic, and more determined than ever to make a difference in the world. While I am still a work in progress, I am grateful for my health journey because it fueled the fire of my determination to heal myself and help others. 

Now, looking back on the journey of my adulthood, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a teacher in my mid-20s that woke me up to what I was called to do. While discussing my career aspirations, I mentioned that I wanted to help people heal on all levels - physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. That I wanted to help heal the planet and its people. My teacher looked at me deeply and said “the path you are speaking of is that of a shaman.” 

I couldn’t meet his gaze. Tears came to my eyes. I hadn’t thought of that idea before, but I knew in an instant that it was true. I couldn’t hold the idea at the forefront of my mind at the time. It was too big. I had to focus on the task at hand, which was to develop into a psychotherapist - to deepen my understanding of the mind and heart. Since that time, I have continued to focus on the task at hand that has presented itself every step of the way.

When I look around at the state of the world, I see so much that is out of alignment, and it goes much deeper than the mental health epidemic. The mental health epidemic is a symptom of an issue that is much deeper. We are disconnected from ourselves, our bodies, our psyches, our spirits, our earth, our biome, our microbiome, our universe, our purpose, and each other. Our earth is suffering and we are suffering for it. 

My calling has never been to silo off mental health as if it is a standalone issue as the psychotherapy field attempts to do. My calling has never been to merely treat the symptoms of the suffering that is rising all around me. My calling is to heal the heart of it. Not to merely help people cope, not to help people adjust to a sick society, but to help bring people back into connection with themselves and the world around them. 

My calling doesn’t fit into the box of psychotherapy. It never did. While psychotherapy has provided a scaffolding for me to grow into, it is also a box that limits the extent of everything I know I am meant to become. 

Professionally, this is where I now stand: I maintain a small local Midwest psychotherapy practice on a different site. On this one, I have a Holistic Health practice where I offer Depth Hypnosis, Shamanic Counseling, and Nutritional Therapy. I am in a Master of Science in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine program. I intend to become a Doctor. In the future, I plan to help people with complex chronic spiritual/emotional/mental/physical health issues by becoming the most holistic practitioner I can possibly become. 

Like the shamans who came before me, in my own ancestral lineage as well as the ancestral lineage all over the planet that we all share, I want to help people heal through spirit, relationships, meaning, purpose, plants, the earth, biology, and herbs. And as someone who has both the privilege and responsibility of being alive in the 21st century, I also want to help people heal through targeted biochemical interventions, evidence-based practice, and cutting-edge research. I want to unite the old and the new into the medicine we need now. 

Because the world needs so much medicine now. Our soil is sick, our bodies are sick, our microbiomes are sick, our communities are sick, our oceans are sick, our children are sick, and our souls are sick. Our nervous systems are dysregulated, our guts are dysregulated, and our climate is dysregulated. The work now is not in sectioning off, it is in making whole again. 

If you resonate with my work, teachings, or writing, consider sharing it with others who might benefit from it. The more people who find my work, the more I can financially support myself as I balance work, school, self-care, and creating resources that help more people. It is a difficult balancing act. 

If you ever think of me, if it feels right to you, send me strength. The work I feel called to do feels big and I need all the strength I can get to carry it all. In return, I hope to help others turn their own lives around so they can contribute to the healing our planet needs in their own ways. 

Despite evidence to the contrary I still believe a regenerative future is possible. It will take a lot of hard work from many of us to bring that forward. If you feel called to contribute to that yourself, even in small ways, never forget that anything you do to usher that forward has tremendous value - for yourself, for others, and future generations. 

With love,




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