If you are ready to try an innovative approach to your health, one that stops treating symptoms and starts treating you as a person, then holistic medicine may be right for you. Using techniques that address the mental, physical, and emotional needs and issues of a patient, holistic healing is an approach to medicine that many are embracing today.
Balance is something many of us seek to achieve, whether it be in our professional and personal lives, between commitments and passions, or just in how we approach our own wellness. Balance, though, is the key to holistic healing, and when one part of your health or wellness is not functioning well, it influences all other parts of your life.
If you are ready to learn more about holistic medicine and how it can restore balance and optimal health to your life, then this is the right guide for you. We will explore the foundational principles which guide holistic healing, outline the many techniques that are commonly used in this form of medicine, and explore how holistic healing can even be integrated with other approaches to wellness to provide you with your best health options.
Understanding Holistic Medicine
As a form of healing, holistic medicine is best known for its approach toward healing the whole person, including mind, body, emotions, and spirit. By gaining the proper balance in life, holistic practitioners believe you can achieve your best possible health. Instead of just treating the symptom that is currently bothering you, holistic healers look at all aspects of your life to address your overall health.
Holistic medicine is a part of many ancient traditions of healing. What we describe today as “holistic healing” really began in several medical traditions, including Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, and others.
In these older ways of healing, practitioners would diagnose and treat health problems very differently than today. In modern, conventional medicine, the emphasis is placed on disease control and eradication, but in holistic healing and other alternative approaches, the goal is disease prevention and overall improved health, and treating disorders is just a small part of that.
Holistic medicine believes that the absence of disease is not the pinnacle of health. Instead, healthcare should be focused on guiding the patient in the pursuit of the very best for their physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and environmental well-being. There is little that is treated in holistic care that does not address many or all of these essential aspects of well-being.
Holistic medicine may use some forms of conventional healing. But, instead of relying solely on medications to treat illnesses, practitioners will turn to alternative techniques and approaches that more widely address the underlying problem as well as promote improved health overall.
We will expand on these techniques a little later, but some common therapies that holistic healers use include herbal medicine, acupuncture, homeopathy, body manipulation techniques, spiritual counseling, and the enhancing of the bioenergy channels within the body.
To summarize the main goal of holistic medicine, it is not merely to eradicate physical symptoms but instead to empower each patient to achieve optimal health by addressing the whole person by healing their own bodies.
A Brief History of Holistic Medicine
While today’s medical practice is often focused solely on treating symptoms or fighting disease, older medical traditions recognized a more extensive definition of health and valued the importance that spiritual and emotional well-being play in one’s overall health and wellness. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda are two of these long-standing holistic health traditions.
TCM has been practiced for nearly 5,000 years, and it continues to evolve today. It is a complex system of diagnosis and treatment based on the understanding that we each possess an internal life force, which is known as chi, or qi in Chinese.
Promoting the effective and uninterrupted flow of this energy throughout the body will help you fight disease, maintain optimal health, and achieve balance. Chi affects all aspects of health, not just the physical body.
Ayurveda, which originated in India, can be traced back to around 600 BC. Like TCM, Ayurveda believes in the healing power and energy present within the body and its connection to the forces of the earth and universe. Ayurvedic practices work to balance and moderate the three doshas of the body, which are epicenters of biological energies.
Herbal medicine is the last ancient, holistic tradition that informs what we know of today as holistic medicine. Herbal medicine is perhaps the oldest form of healing in our species, with indigenous peoples from all over the world using native plants in their area to stay healthy and treat illnesses using the medicinal properties of plants.
Even modern, conventional medicine, which originated with Hippocrates in the 4th century BC, was founded on the healing power of nature and the self-healing abilities of the human body. It was not until the discovery of germs as a cause for disease that modern medical practice became so wholly focused on disease intervention versus health and wellness support.
Today, though, we are seeing a resurgence of healthcare providers who recognize that the myopic approach to healing that focuses solely on disease eradication is not, in fact, leading to better health outcomes.
Many practitioners today see that patients must pay attention to lifestyle choices, nutrition, environmental influences, and their emotional health, too. This has sparked a renewed interest in holistic medicine around the world.
Guiding Principles of Holistic Medicine
Holistic medicine as a practice today is guided by specific principles. The most basic of these beliefs is that the most powerful healer is unconditional love and support. Each person on this planet is ultimately responsible for his or her own well-being and health, as well.
Following this belief statement, holistic medicine also believes these guiding tenets:
- Each of us has innate healing powers within us.
- You are a person, not a disease or condition.
- Wellness is achieved only through a coordinated effort between doctor and patient that addresses all aspects of life and includes many different approaches.
- The goal of treatment is to address the underlying cause, not just to alleviate the symptoms.
Holistic Medicine Makes for a Better You
Based on these principles, holistic medical practitioners spend a lot of time with each of their patients to get to know them and understand their health needs.
Holistic medicine includes not just disease treatment but also recommendations for lifestyle and dietary changes, promotion of self-care, and an emphasis on disease prevention. The end goal is always for the patient to achieve an ultimate state of wellness.
Holistic medicine will also recommend alternatives to conventional prescription medications and medical procedures when possible.
How To Select A Holistic Practitioner
There are many different types of medical practitioners who provide holistic care. Medical doctors, naturopathic doctors, doctors of osteopathy, and homeopathic doctors are often providers of holistic care, among others. There are several online provider guides that can help you in finding a holistic practitioner in your area. When selecting a provider, though, it can be confusing. Here are some tips to help you locate one that is right for you.
1| Get A Recommendation
As with all types of professionals, not every holistic medical doctor is right for every patient. Before selecting a provider, get a recommendation from a trusted source. If you do not have any friends who use holistic healing, call a local health organization to seek a recommendation or read online reviews for local providers.
2| Evaluate The Fit
After selecting a provider, though, you should evaluate whether he or she is a good fit for you. You should feel comfortable with whomever you choose. A holistic practitioner should be respectful of your beliefs and concerns. Both you and your doctor are a team, working toward your best health. If you are not comfortable with and feel involved in your care, you should seek another provider.
3| Get To Know Your Provider
Ask questions about your provider’s training, expertise, and experience with holistic healing. Find out about their involvement in professional organizations dedicated to holistic practice. Find out if he or she is certified in holistic practice.
What is the doctor’s philosophy of treatment, and does this align with yours? All of these are important in selecting a provider and differ from what is considered “normal” when choosing a conventional practitioner.
4| Be Prepared For Your Appointment
At your appointment with a holistic doctor, you will spend more time than at a conventional doctor’s appointment. Time is needed to grasp your needs fully and to provide you with the educational materials and support you need to take charge of your own healing.
Your doctor will ask you many questions that allow him or her to understand all aspects of your life better and know you as a whole person. You should be prepared to answer many questions, including about your beliefs and relationships.
Once your doctor knows and understands you and your needs, he or she will recommend a wellness plan that includes many different techniques and therapies for you.
These holistic medical treatments may include some conventional strategies but will likely also include more alternative approaches to healing. Next, we examine the most commonly used treatments in holistic medicine.
Holistic Medical Treatments
According to The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), “In the United States, approximately 38 percent of adults (about 4 in 10) and approximately 12 percent of children (about 1 in 9) are using some form of CAM (complementary and alternative medicine).”
According to Grandview Research, 70% of adults surveyed in 2017 in the United States believe complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) provides positive results. 78% of those responders were women, and 62% were men.
Grandview Research reports that “the global complementary and alternative medicine market size was valued at USD 52.00 billion in 2017.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, at least 1/3 of Americans will, at times, seek out alternatives to visiting their doctor when seeking medical care. While only about 5% in the US use alternative medicine as their sole treatment plan, many more are turning to alternative medicine for some of their healthcare needs. And many more are turning to holistic medicine because they value the whole-person approach to healing that it offers.
Holistic medical practitioners use a wide variety of treatment options to help their patients in taking responsibility for their own health and well-being. These may vary by the practitioner’s training and area of focus.
Traditional Alternative Medicines
Within the realm of treatments often used by holistic practitioners, traditional alternative practices are the most widely used. These include such techniques as acupuncture, Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Naturopathy, and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Among these traditional practices, acupuncture has more acceptance by the medical community and has been researched more fully to understand its health benefits. Acupuncture has been shown to reduce pain, relieve inflammation, and help with a number of chronic and acute disorders. The practice involves inserting very fine needles into specific trigger points on the body, releasing the flow of chi and improving the body’s natural ability to heal itself.
As a form of therapy, touch has been in use for centuries to help heal and treat not only musculoskeletal disorders but also diseases and illness. Bodywork is based on the principle that all parts of the body are connected and influence one another, so any injury or illness can influence other parts of the body. Manual manipulation and prescribed movements can all help improve your health.
Chiropractic care and osteopathic manual manipulation are examples of bodywork where a trained healthcare professional moves your muscles, joints, and soft tissues in specific ways to relieve pain and help improve your health. Massage is another form of manual manipulation.
Certain types of movements, such as those used in tai chi and yoga, are also effective forms of bodywork therapy that are often used in holistic healing. These practices combine movement with meditation practices that enhance mental and emotional wellness, as well.
Diet, Nutrition, and Herbal Medicine
Nutritional deficiency and excess are the leading causes of many of today’s illnesses and health care problems. Holistic medicine leads the way in addressing how diet and nutrition influence health, supplying education to patients about how food, herbs, and other forms of nutrition can be used to achieve your best health.
Holistic practitioners will discuss your diet and make recommendations for ways to ensure you are getting all of the micronutrients your body needs to heal itself as well as eliminate potentially harmful compounds from what you eat. The use of herbs, nutritional supplements, and other forms of dietary therapy are critical parts of holistic healing.
Among the focus of holistic medicine is the maintenance of a healthy digestive system. The microflora that live in the lining of your gut play an integral role in your immune system function and health. Without a healthy gut, you cannot achieve optimal health overall. Your holistic doctor will likely recommend ways to support the healthy microbes that live in your digestive tract, which can not only treat but also help prevent many illnesses and diseases.
External Energy Techniques
The influence and manipulation of external energies is also an essential part of holistic medicine. Within this category are techniques that include electromagnetic therapy, qigong, and Reiki.
Reiki is a form of energy medicine that involves healing touch to harness the life force energy that surrounds us. Blocks in this healing energy can prevent you from achieving health and wellness. Reiki practitioners unblock this energy flow, allowing the patient to heal more effectively.
Mental Health Strategies
Because holistic medicine is about the whole person, it includes many techniques and therapies to address mental health needs, as well. The power of the mind to help heal and protect the body is essential to holistic healing. Therefore, your practitioner may recommend specific therapies to keep your mind healthy, including biofeedback, meditation, and hypnosis.
Spiritual and Emotional Health Therapies
Just as your mind keeps you healthy, so do your emotions and your spirit. Practices that appeal to your emotional core, as well as those that affect your senses and aesthetic, can improve your health, too. Strategies can include music, dance, or art therapies, guided imagery, or visualization techniques.
Debunking The Myths of Holistic Medicine
There are, unfortunately, a lot of misconceptions out there about what holistic medicine is and is not. Most people have a false understanding of what holistic practice do or how they are used, as well.
To clarify all of these, we have compiled a list of the most common myths about holistic medicine, including why these misconceptions are false. We outline each below, providing you with the information you need to help you make an informed choice about whether holistic healing is right for you.
Myth: Holistic medicine is for tree-huggers and hippies.
Many associate holistic medicines with stereotypes about specific types of people. Because the hippies of the 1960s embraced self-care and love as a tenet of their lifestyle, many gravitated toward alternative forms of medicine, but this form of healthcare is certainly not limited to those from this era. Holistic medicine can better anyone’s life, and its practices empower all patients to increase their awareness of how their choices influence their health.
Myth: Holistic medicine is against conventional medical advice.
Many believe that holistic medical practitioners are against the use of conventional therapeutic techniques at all costs. Rather than seeing conventional medical practices as “bad,” holistic healing recognizes instead that these methods are often incomplete. Holistic medicine is about creating a more comprehensive approach to wellness that includes the mind, emotions, and body, while most conventional strategies just aim to support one at a time and to treat symptoms or disease.
Holistic practitioners will suggest conventional practices when they are the most effective solutions, but they will likely be combined with other forms of treatment that address all aspects of the patient’s needs.
Myth: Holistic medicine just works on placebo effects.
Because the general population does not as readily understand many of the alternative medical techniques that are used, there is an assumption that these are “sham” medical practices that work only because the patient believes they will work.
This has been debunked by scientific research time and again. Many of the alternative strategies used in holistic healing have been carefully studied, and results have been empirically examined. Holistic practices have a proven track record of creating positive results.
Myth: Holistic doctors are not rigorously trained.
Many believe that one can just decide to be a holistic practitioner and, poof, it is true! This is definitely not the case. Holistic practitioner training is licensed and regulated, just like other forms of medical training.
Holistic healers must complete certification courses, and they focus on creating wellness plans that work in conjunction with, not in opposition to, conventional medical treatments. So, practitioners have to have a thorough understanding of both conventional and alternative practices to be effective.
Myth: There is no oversight of holistic medicine.
Most people think that holistic healing is something that happens in back rooms and shady spaces, away from the prying eyes of major medical research and regulation. On the contrary, alternative forms of medical practice are just as rigorously studied and regulated as conventional medicine.
Even the National Institutes of Health now has the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, which is dedicated to the scientific exploration of alternative medical practices. Their mission is to also inform conventional medical practitioners about the many benefits that alternative therapies can offer to patients.
Myth: Holistic medicine is just a way to push supplements and organic products.
If anything, the focus of holistic health is the least likely to result in the promotion of a “miracle” product than other forms of therapy. Because holistic health recognizes the interconnection between all aspects of your life, practitioners would never rely on a product or sales pitch as a path to better health.
Yes, natural products are always encouraged over those that include artificial or processed ingredients, but these do not have to be overly expensive. Because holistic healing is about empowering people to take care of their own health and wellness, it does not ascribe to the promotion of products of any kind.
Combining Holistic and Conventional Approaches
More often, Americans are becoming open to the idea that both conventional medicine and alternative approaches to healing have value for their health. Increasingly, we are demanding a more holistic approach to health from our practitioners as well as ourselves.
As dissatisfaction grows with the quality of time traditional doctors spend with patients, many are looking to holistic medical practitioners to supply the care and attention they want. And, as the focus of conventional medical care seems to continue to shift toward reliance on prescription drugs to solve all our problems, many patients are asking if this is their best or only choice.
With this type of dissatisfaction, many are seeking a combination of alternative and conventional medical treatment that is the modern practice of holistic medicine. This type of integrative care allows the patient to take control of their own health and wellness, combining the most effective strategies and treatments to address all their needs as well as achieve their best possible health.
How Alternative and Conventional Approaches Complement Each Other
Holistic medicine believes in treating the whole person and treating the cause of the disease, not just the symptoms. There is nothing in those beliefs that eschews conventional medicine, but natural approaches to healing that do not result in additional harm are always preferred over other ways of healing. That said, there are times with conventional medicine is the best and safest approach to managing a particular condition.
A holistic practitioner will work with you, as a team, to create a wellness plan that combines the best possible options for your health. While some illnesses can be addressed through natural forms of therapy, such as the techniques outlined above, others may need surgery, medications, or other conventional approaches to manage appropriately. Holistic healing offers you these choices, while conventional medicine usually only offers you one.
An example of holistic patient care would be cancer treatment. Clearly, certain types of cancer are treatable with the right types of medications, chemotherapy, and/or radiation. Natural treatments are unlikely to kill cancer cells and put you into remission from this disease. However, when treating cancer with only these therapies, you are neglecting several key issues related to overall health and wellness.
In addition to these forms of conventional medicine to treat cancer, then, a holistic approach would include bodywork like massage and herbal remedies to help deal with the side effects of cancer treatment, ongoing nutritional therapy to allow the body to recover after treatment as well as prevent future disease, and mental health therapies to address the effects of fighting a potentially life-threatening disease on your outlook. Combined, this more holistic approach is helping the entire person beat cancer, not just the cells inside the body affected by the disease.
As more informed healthcare consumers learn about and demand the best of all possible treatments for themselves, and as more practitioners learn about alternative approaches to healing, holistic medicine is slowly gaining traction in the medical community. If you would like to engage in a more holistic approach to your wellness, start by talking with your medical professionals and seek out a holistic healthcare provider in your area.
Holistic medicine is a tradition that honors all aspects of your health, from your physical body to your mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. Holistic practitioners seek to empower you to take control of your own health, teaching you how to prevent many health issues through important diet and lifestyle decisions.
Holistic healing utilizes many natural and alternative techniques to improve your health, including traditional techniques like acupuncture, bodywork strategies like chiropractic care, nutritional therapies such as herbal medicine, and mental health strategies such as meditation and talk therapy.
When combined with conventional medical treatments, alternative therapies can be used to create an integrative approach to your health that leaves you in control of how you treat and prevent major medical issues in your life.