Frequently Asked Questions

The Nova Institute is more than just a think tank, and we don’t just conduct research—we put ideas into action and bring together thought leaders across disciplines to break down the silos that have impeded progress. We look at the whole picture, the entire lived experience that influences health, as we connect the dots and call on the creativity of people of all backgrounds and disciplines. We work to achieve our mission through four main strategies:  

  • Scholars and Fellows 
  • Forums  
  • Demonstration Projects 
  • Outreach  

Having “heart” is one of the core values that serve as our compass, shape our culture, and embody our guiding principles and beliefs. Our other values are: Leadership; Curiosity; Collaboration; Equity; Freedom;  and Can-do Spirit. 

There are many ways to support our work! You can make a gift online today. Other giving options include: 
  • Making a gift to celebrate or commemorate someone special;
  • Providing corporate or foundation support for our research, community, and educational programs; and 
  • Giving a gift of appreciated securities and taking a federal income tax deduction. 
Contact us at info@thenovainstituteforhealth.org or 443-681-7600 to talk to a member of our team about your donation.  

We are fortunate to receive support from a diverse mix of foundations, corporations, partners, and individual donors. We are eternally grateful to one anonymous donor who, years ago, believed in our mission and helped establish our organization, including by allowing us to purchase our amazing headquarters in the Broom Corn building.  

Much of our work helps people who are often overlooked, underrepresented, and underserved, for example, our research and projects have helped veterans suffering from PTSD, children with serious illness, low income residents grappling with systemic racism and neglect, and others.  

Our ultimate vision is to improve health for everyone. We see a world where health is valued as our most basic and essential asset and where people, places, and the planet flourish for the benefit of all. A world where people enjoy meaningful and fulfilling lives—no matter where on Earth they live, work, or play.  

We support a network of Scholars and Fellows that works across disciplines to investigate critical questions, spark fresh thinking, and discover cutting-edge solutions. The Scholars and Fellows program supports talented individuals in pursuing bold ideas to transform how we understand and promote health. 

We identify preeminent thought leaders with track records of success and creativity and provide them with the freedom and resources to take their work in new, pioneering directions. We also mentor and support talented young innovators who have the courage to pursue uncharted courses and the promise to be the leaders of tomorrow. Our community also advances new research methods, including developing innovative tools and approaches for next generation scientific discovery. 

By design, our Scholars and Fellows are from diverse fields—such as medicine, photobiology, atmospheric chemistry, epidemiology, anthropology, and psychology—that rarely, if ever, have opportunities for collaboration. This diversity breaks down traditional barriers, stimulates fresh thinking and new ideas, and leads to partnerships that multiply the impact of their pursuits. 

Scholars and Fellows are nominated by external advisers and Nova Institute leadership, and candidates are selected after a review of invited proposals. Unsolicited applications are not accepted.

We’re more than just a think tank, and we don’t just conduct research—we put ideas into action and bring together thought leaders across disciplines to break down the silos that have impeded progress. We work in the space between knowledge and imagination, opening ourselves to the possibilities of new ideas previously unconsidered. We: 

  • Look at the whole picture, the entire lived experience that influences health; 
  • Connect the dots; and  
  • Call on the creativity of people of all backgrounds and disciplines to make change. 

Our work examines the full spectrum of health, healing, and flourishing through many lenses, which makes us different from many other organizations that tend to focus on the micro

After founding the first U.S. academic health center program for integrative medicine in 1991 (The Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine), Professor Brian Berman helped ignite and lead a profound change in medical practice that focused on whole person care. 

Professor Berman then went on to create The Institute for Integrative Health (as the Nova Institute was then known) in 2007, broadening this work to look at all the factors that create health or drive illness and the eventual need for medical care. Since then, Professor Berman and his team of thought leaders have inspired innovative, evidence-based research, strategic partnerships, scientific publications, and action in academic medical centers and communities that have led to significant advances in health and healing. 

In 2021, after 14 years of success as the Institute for Integrative Health, as we were formerly known, we realized it was time for a change. Our organization is an important juncture in our decades-long quest to transform the predominant approach to health and healthcare, and we wanted to reflect that in a new name

Nova is a metaphor for our organization’s role as a catalyst for new ideas and to spark fresh, creative thinking. Novas, which are often cyclical and not merely one-time events, have long been a source of inspiration, meaning, and connection to the great mysteries of the universe. Most essential elements and building blocks of life emerged from a supernova. 

Our tagline, “For Health of People, Places, and Planet,” is indicative of how we’re building on our focus on “person health” and the context of peoples’ lives and  communities (places) to embrace planetary health and the interwoven connections between all three.     

Working with partners is key to the Nova Institute’s success. We have helped establish influential professional and scientific networks and organizations, such as the Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine and Health and the Cochrane Complementary Medicine Field, that promote global collaboration and nurture advances in clinical care and research endeavors.  

When selecting demonstration projects to support, we look for strong partnerships and areas  where we have particular influence in order to help sustain successful initiatives. Successful partnerships have included NatureSacred, the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, McCormick Science Institute, and the Maryland State Arts Council, to name just a few. 

And through strategic partnerships with organizations such as the National Institutes of Health and inVIVO Planetary Health, as well as community leaders and grassroots organizations, we convene forums that tackle some of the “sticky” issues of our times with fresh, collaborative thinking. 

In 2016, Nova Institute leadership, scholars, and fellows developed a new definition of integrative health in collaboration with a number of health professionals and other health organizations, including the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine:

Integrative health is a state of well-being in body, mind, and spirit that reflects aspects of the individual, community, and population. It is affected by 1) individual biological factors and behaviors, social values, and public policy; 2) the physical, social, and economic environment; and 3) an integrative health care system that involves the active participation of the individual on the health care team applying a broad spectrum of preventive and therapeutic approaches. Integrative health encourages individuals, social groups, and communities to develop ways of living that promote meaning, resilience, and well-being across the life course.

From  Witt, Claudia et.al.: “Defining Health in a Comprehensive Context: A New Definition of Integrative Health” 

Medical care has just a 10 percent impact on a person’s health and wellness compared to other factors, but our narrow approach to health continues to largely focus on disease. For too long, we’ve ignored the many reasons why people and communities either suffer or thrive.  

Our recent, unprecedented times have laid bare significant threats to people, places, and our planet—and fragmented approaches to find solutions fail to recognize the connections among them. Bold new approaches are urgently needed to overcome this mounting crisis. It’s time to fundamentally shift how we think about health and well-being at all scales, from the individual to the local to the global. 

Our work examines the full spectrum of health, healing, and flourishing through many lenses—including nature, art, nutrition, planetary health, integrative medicine, primary care, light, social determinants, lifestyle, post-traumatic growth, and more. All of these are part of our work to look at the whole picture, the entire lived experience that influences health.  

Over the past thirty years, we’ve been part of a movement to shift the primary approach to health from one that focuses on disease to a more complete, “whole person” approach. This “integrative health” approach considers the many, complex reasons why people and communities either suffer or thrive, and it has seen tremendous growth.  Today, our focus has grown even broader. 

To find solutions to the significant threats facing people, places, and the planet today, we must acknowledge the connections among them. That’s why we look at the whole picture, the entire lived experience that influences health.  The concept of the “human exposome” takes into account the many external factors that interact with our individual genetic make-up and influence a person’s health from conception through the end of life, such as diet, pollution, education, economics, public policy, access to nature, and much more.  

Through all of our work, we advocate moving beyond a singular focus on disease to a more comprehensive framework that addresses the total lived experience and the components that lead to flourishing—which we define as “the vitality and fullest potential of individuals, communities, and life on the planet as a whole.” 

Developing safety, persistence, trust

Healing is facilitated through safety, persistence, and trust.

  • Persistence: “People did not simply progress through this sequence and experience healing. The healing journey was a recursive, back and forth process. They found helpers, used the skills/resources that those helpers provided, found other helpers that provided more resources and used those skills and resources. As this process continued, people experienced a gradual amelioration of their suffering. Although many despaired at times, all demonstrated the quality of persistence—they refused to give up.”
  • Safety & Trust: “To connect to helpers, it was essential for people to feel safe in those relationships and able to trust that the person would be a helper and not a barrier to healing. Persons whose wounds included a violation of trust were especially careful about testing the safety of new relationships.”

Acquiring Resources

Resources support us as we heal. They include reframing, responsibility, and positivity. “Making connections enabled participants to acquire and refine resources and skills that were essential in their healing journey. People also brought their own personal strengths to the journey.”

  • Reframing: “A particularly important skill was the ability to reframe—that is to look at suffering through a different lens.” This does NOT mean minimizing trauma or pain, but rather it often means the opposite: understanding what happened was wrong, unfair, or uncontrollable and that we are not to blame for it.
    • “I think I kept trying to convince him I was crazy. And he kept saying, ‘No, you’re not crazy.’ […] You wouldn’t necessarily say a Vietnam Vet was crazy. You’d say they are responding like you’d expect to extraordinary circumstances.”
    • “I’m not the only one who have [sic] this problem. A lots, millions of people, you know. […] They don’t have nothing to do with that. I guess I have to live.”
  • Responsibility: While we don’t have control over what happened to us, we are the only ones who can help ourselves heal. “A third essential resource that people acquired or refined was the ability to take an appropriate amount of responsibility for their healing journeys. They participated actively in the process of healing. Once again, some participants already had developed this skill, and some acquired or refined it from their helpers.”
    “You need a lot of energy and a lot of work … it takes a lot of work. It doesn’t just happen. It’s not like a magic wand.” This patient understood that they had to actively participate in the healing process.
  • Positivity: “Another resource that people acquired or refined during their healing journey was choose to be positive—that is to have some optimism about their situation.” People have varying predispositions to positivity. In the study, positivity was important in helping people heal. This doesn’t mean a toxic positivity, but rather simply finding some good in life and feeling hopeful about our situations.

Helping Relationships

“Connection to others was an essential part of all the healing journeys.” Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted of us need close relationships. Friends and family add meaning and value to life and help support us, in good times and bad. When we experience relational trauma, relationships can feel scary, but reestablishing safety and trust in relationships is where the healing happens. (To be clear, we do not mean reestablishing safety and trust with abusers, but rather finding other healing relationships.) “When safety and trust had been established, people were able to connect with helpers. The nature of the behaviours of helpers that fostered healing ranged from small acts of kindness to unconditional love.”

  • “Moving from being wounded, through suffering to healing, is possible. It is facilitated by developing safe, trusting relationships and by positive reframing that moves through the weight of responsibility to the ability to respond.”
  • “Relationships with health professionals were among these but were not necessarily any more important to the healing journey than other kinds of helpers, which included family members, friends, spirituality and their God, pets, support groups, administrators, case workers and supervisors.”

Healing

Healing probably means different things to different people, but one definition that emerged from the study is: “The re-establishment of a sense of integrity and wholeness.” Healing was an emergent property that resulted from each individuals’ complex healing journey, a result of bridged connections between resources and relationships. Healing, in this sense, does not mean cured—none of the study participants were cured of their ailments—”but all developed a sense of integrity and wholeness despite ongoing pain or other symptoms.” In varying degrees, “they were able to transcend their suffering and in some sense to flourish.” When we begin to heal, we find increased capacity for hope, renewed motivation to help others, and are more able to accept ourselves as we are.

Suffering

Suffering is the ongoing pain from wounding. There is debate about whether or not one actually needs to experience suffering on the path to healing.

Wounding

Wounding happens when we experience physical or emotional harm. It can stem from chronic illness or by physical or psychological trauma for which we do not have the tools to cope, or a combination of those factors. “The degree and quality of suffering experienced by each individual is framed by contextual factors that include personal characteristics, timing of their initial or ongoing wounding in the developmental life cycle and prior and current relationships.”