What is wellness? The word “wellness” is used by many people and organizations, especially since the sharp rise
in healthcare costs, diabetes and obesity during the past decade. Wellness has a history of being defined within a disease framework, meaning reducing health risks and preventing disease. Those are good goals, but it’s an outdated vision. A new vision was articulated by a few innovators, including Wellness Inventory creator Dr. John Travis.
Flashback: while fulfilling his residency in preventive medicine at Johns Hopkins and the the Health Services Research department of the US Public Health Service, Dr. Travis was also a protégé of Lewis Robbins, MD, creator of the Health Risk Assessment (HRA), currently used by most employers and insurance companies. Dr. Travis created one of the earliest computerized HRAs, but soon realized that this approach failed to address the attitudes and beliefs underlying high-risk behaviors that determine wellbeing. He explored the work of Abraham Maslow and other leading visionaries, including Halbert Dunn, MD, whose book, High-Level Wellness, was an important catalyst to Dr. Travis’ vision.
A New Vision: Dr. Travis decided that rather than treating sick people, he would dedicate his life to inspiring people to be well. After creating his breakthrough wellness model, the Illness-Wellness Continuum (below), Dr. Travis opened the first wellness center in the United States in 1975, the Wellness Resource Center (Mill Valley, CA). There he developed an innovative program for personal lifestyle change that focused on self-responsibility and engaged the whole person — body, mind, emotions, and spirit.
Dr. Travis created the first wellness assessment, the Wellness Inventory, as a whole person intake for his new center. The work at the center championed “wellness” and attracted media attention including 60 Minutes with Dan Rather in 1979. His classic Wellness Workbook, which has been used by wellness and health promotion educators in undergraduate and graduate programs in universities for over 30 years, is still used and quoted today as a foundational wellness vision. Working with Dr. Travis, we adapted and expanded the original assessment into a robust online wellness program.