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Holistic medicine is a term used to describe therapies that attempt to treat the patient as a whole person. That is, instead of treating an illness, as in orthodox allopathy, holistic medicine looks at an individual's overall physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing before recommending treatment. A practitioner with a holistic approach treats the symptoms of illness as well as looking for the underlying cause of the illness. Holistic medicine also attempts to prevent illness by placing a greater emphasis on optimizing health. The body's systems are seen as interdependent parts of the person's whole being. Its natural state is one of health, and an illness or disease is an imbalance in the body's systems. Holistic therapies tend to emphasize proper nutrition and avoidance of substances—such as chemicals—that pollute the body. Their techniques are non-invasive.
Some of the world's health systems that are holistic in nature include naturopathic medicine, homeopathy, and traditional Chinese medicine. Many alternative or natural therapies have a holistic approach, although that is not always the case. The term complementary medicine is used to refer to the use of both allopathic and holistic treatments. It is more often used in Great Britain, but is gaining acceptance in the United States.
There are no limits to the range of diseases and disorders that can be treated in a holistic way, as the principle of holistic healing is to balance the body, mind, spirit, and emotions so that the person's whole being functions smoothly. When an individual seeks holistic treatment for a particular illness or condition, other health problems improve without direct treatment, due to improvement in the performance of the immune system, which is one of the goals of holistic medicine.
The concept of holistic medicine is not new. In the 4th century B.C., Socrates warned that treating one part of the body only would not have good results. Hippocrates considered that many factors contribute to the health or otherwise of a human being, weather, nutrition, emotional factors, and in our time, a host of different sources of pollution can interfere with health. And of course, holistic medicine existed even before ancient Greece in some ancient healing traditions, such as those from India and China, which date back over 5,000 years. However, the term "holistic" only became part of everyday language in the 1970s, when Westerners began seeking an alternative to allopathic medicine.
Interestingly, it was only at the beginning of the twentieth century that the principles of holistic medicine fell out of favor in Western societies, with the advent of major advances in what we now call allopathic medicine. Paradoxically, many discoveries of the twentieth century have only served to confirm many natural medicine theories. In many cases, researchers have set out to debunk holistic medicine, only to find that their research confirms it, as has been the case, for example, with many herbal remedies.
Many people are now turning to holistic medicine, often when suffering from chronic ailments that have not been successfully treated by allopathic means. Although many wonderful advances and discoveries have been made in modern medicine, surgery and drugs alone have a very poor record for producing optimal health because they are designed to attack illness. Holistic medicine is particularly helpful in treating chronic illnesses and maintaining health through proper nutrition and stress management.
There are a number of therapies that come under the umbrella of "holistic medicine." They all use basically the same principles, promoting not only physical health, but also mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Most emphasize quality nutrition. Refined foods typically eaten in modern America contain chemical additives and preservatives, are high in fat, cholesterol, and sugars, and promote disease. Alternative nutritionists counter that by recommending whole foods whenever possible and minimizing the amount of meat—especially red meat—that is consumed. Many alternative therapies promote vegetarianism as a method of detoxification.
The aim of holistic medicine is to bring all areas of an individual's life, and most particularly the energy flowing through the body, back into harmony. Ultimately, of course, only the patient can be responsible for this, for no practitioner can make the necessary adjustments to diet and lifestyle to achieve health. The practice of holistic medicine does not rule out the practice of allopathic medicine; the two can complement each other.
A properly balanced holistic health regimen, which takes into consideration all aspects of human health and includes noninvasive and nonpharmaceutical healing methods, can often completely eradicate even acute health conditions safely. If a patient is being treated with allopathic medicine, holistic therapies may at least support the body during treatment, and alleviate the symptoms that often come with drug treatments and surgery. In addition, holistic therapies aim at the underlying source of the illness, to prevent recurrence.
Here are some of the major holistic therapies:
Because holistic medicine aims to treat the whole person, holistic practitioners sometimes may advise treatment from more than one type of practitioner. This is to ensure that all aspects of health are addressed. Some practitioners also specialize in more than one therapy, and so may be able to offer more comprehensive assistance.
How to choose a holistic practitioner
- How did you hear of this therapist? A personal referral can sometimes be more reliable than a professional one. What do other professionals say about this therapist? What qualifications, board certification, or affiliations does this practitioner have?
- How do you feel personally about this practitioner? Do you feel comfortable in his/her office and with his/her staff? Is your sense of well being increased? Are you kept waiting for appointments?
- Do you have confidence in this practitioner, does he/ she respect you as a person? Does he/she show an interest in your family, lifestyle, and diet? Are various treatment options explained to you?
- Is your personal dignity respected?
- Do you feel that this practitioner is sensitive to your feelings and fears regarding treatment?
- Is this practitioner a good advertisement for his/her profession? Signs of stress or ill health may mean that you would be better off choosing another practitioner.
- Do you feel that you are rushed into decisions, or do you feel that you are allowed time to make an informed choice regarding treatment?
- Are future health goals outlined for you? And do you feel that the practitioner is taking your progress seriously?
- Do you feel unconditionally accepted by this practitioner?
- Would you send your loved ones to this practitioner?
If you answered yes to all the above, then you have found a suitable practitioner. The cost of treatment by a holistic therapist varies widely, depending on the level of qualification and the discipline, so it is best to discuss how much treatment can be expected to cost with a practitioner before beginning a course. Some forms of holistic treatment may be covered by health insurance.
Many people who try holistic therapies focus on one area of their health only, often detoxification and nutrition. However, practitioners stress that it is only when all areas of a person's potential well being are tackled that total health and happiness can be achieved. They stress that the spiritual and emotional health contribute just as much as physical and mental health to a person's overall state of well-being.
When seeking treatment from a holistic practitioner, it is important to ensure that they are properly qualified. Credentials and reputation should always be checked. In addition, it is important that allopathic physicians and alternative physicians communicate about a patient's care.
One of the main advantages of holistic therapies is that they have few side effects when used correctly. If a reputable practitioner is chosen, and guidelines are adhered to, the worst that typically happens is that when lifestyle is changed, and fresh nutrients are provided, the body begins to eliminate toxins that may have accumulated in the cells over a lifetime.
Often this results in what is known in alternative medicine circles as a "healing crisis." This comes about when the cells eliminate poisons into the blood stream all at the same time, throwing the system into a state of toxic overload until it can clear the "backlog." Symptoms such as nausea, headaches, or sensitivities to noise and other stimulations may be experienced.
The answer to most otherwise healthy patients is often just to lie quietly in a darkened room and take herbal teas. However, in the case of someone who has a serious illness, such as arthritis, colitis, diabetes, or cancer, (the list is much longer than this), it is strongly advised that they seek the help of a qualified practitioner. Therapists can help patients achieve detoxification in a way that causes the least stress to their bodies.
Research and general acceptance
Traditionally, holistic medicine, in all its different forms, has been regarded with mistrust and skepticism on the part of the allopathic medical profession. This situation is gradually changing. As of the year 2000, many insurance companies will provide for some form of alternative, or complementary treatment.
In addition, many allopathic physicians, recognizing the role alternative medicine can play in overall health and well being, are actually referring patients to reputable practitioners, particularly chiropractic and relaxation therapists, for help with a varied range of complaints.
Training and certification
Holistic or alternative medicine practitioners are usually affiliated with an organization in their field. Training varies tremendously with the category, and ranges from no qualifications at all—experience only—to holding a Ph.D. from an accredited university. Again, credentials and memberships should be checked by prospective patients.
An excellent source for qualified practitioners is the American Board of Holistic Medicine, (AHBM), which was incorporated in 1996. Also, the American Holistic Medicine Association has a comprehensive list of practitioners in all types of therapies across the United States, which they call "the holistic doctor finder." However, they stress that it is the responsibility of the patient to check each practitioner's credentials prior to treatment.
The ABHM has established the core curriculum upon which board certification for holistic medicine will be based. It includes the following twelve categories:
Physical and environmental health
- nutritional medicine
- exercise medicine
- environmental medicine
Mental and emotional health
- behavioral medicine
- spiritual attunement
- social health
The six specialized areas:
- biomolecular diagnosis and therapy
- botanical medicine
- energy medicine
- ethno-medicine—including traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, and Native American medicine
- manual medicine
Founded in 1978 for the purpose of uniting practitioners of holistic medicine, membership of the AHMA is open to licensed medical doctors (MDs) and doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) from every specialty, and to medical students studying for those degrees. Associate membership is open to health care practitioners who are certified, registered or licensed in the state in which they practice. The mission of the AHMA is to support practitioners in their personal and professional development as healers, and to educate physicians about holistic medicine.
American Holistic Medicine Association. 4101 Lake Boone Trail, Suite 201, Raleigh, NC 27607. http://www.holisticmedicine.org/index.html.
Holistic medicine Website. http://www.holisticmed.com/whatis.html.
1. an approach to medical care that emphasizes the study of all aspects of a person's health, especially that a person should be considered as a unit, including psychological as well as social and economic influences on health status.
2. Synonym(s): complementary and alternative medicine
An approach to medical care that emphasizes the study of all aspects of a person's health, including physical, psychological, social, economic, and cultural factors.
holistic medicineA philosophical approach to medicine in which all aspects of a patient’s physical and mental condition are evaluated, which may be embraced by practitioners of both mainstream and alternative medicine.
ho·lis·tic care(hō-lis'tik kār)
Care that incorporates the whole of a person, that is, physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual dimensions.
Synonym(s): holistic medicine.
Synonym(s): holistic medicine.
holistic medicineA medical philosophy in which the patient is regarded, not simply as the site of a diagnostic and therapeutic problem, but as a whole person in his or her cultural and environmental context, with feelings, attitudes, fears and prejudices. The best medical practice is invariably holistic.
ho·lis·tic med·i·cine(hō-lis'tik med'i-sin)
1. Approach to medical care that emphasizes study of aspects of a person's health, especially that a person should be considered as a unit, including psychological as well as social and economic influences on health status.
2. Synonym(s): complementary and alternative medicine.
a comprehensive approach to health care and prevention of disease employing conventional and many of the alternative medicine modalities, including acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal medicine, homeopathy, massage, nutraceuticals and physical therapy which integrates the body as a whole, including mind and spirit, rather than separate systems.