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Holistic vs. conventional medicine

Holistic. The very word can be very easily misunderstood. Perhaps it stirs up thoughts of new-age hippies singing Kumbaya or old Chinese men brewing “herbal” teas with eye of newt; however you think of it, there is definitely a stigma associated with it. This stigma is quickly changing as Americans start to see just how unhealthy our current lifestyles are and search for alternatives.

Conventional or Western medicine can be thought of more as isolated disease management, while holistic medicine is more geared towards preventative care and addresses the root causes of illness. The term “holistic” covers a world of medicine and practices largely unknown to most Americans. Western medicine reigns in this part of the world; holistic is generally associated with all things Eastern.

Holistic modalities focus on treating the whole person rather than just the obvious symptoms of a disease. Practitioners take all lifestyle factors into account, including diet, exercise, mental and emotional health. The best way to think of it is as “whole”-istic - treating the whole patient, head to toe, from the inside out.

Western medicine is really great at addressing emergency and life-threatening situations, but fails to promote overall health. Underlying causes are often overlooked, particularly in the areas of emotional health and diet. Most doctors spend almost no time studying nutrition during their education.

Imagine that - a decade or more of schooling about the human body, with almost no attention paid to what the human body consumes. Once you start to piece together these ideas, it’s almost mind-boggling how it all works. Many holistic practices aim to heal without chemical-laden drugs whenever possible. Herbs and supplements may be suggested, but pharmaceuticals are the absolute last resort.

When you visit a Western doctor, they focus on your most pressing symptoms and spend as little time with you as possible - their goal is to churn out a high number of patient visits, prescribe fast-acting drugs instead of alterations to your current lifestyle, with very little concern for your overall and long-term health. Very rarely will you find a doctor that leaves you feeling like they really listened to you. Holistic practitioners, on the other hand, believe in the following:

10 Principles of Holistic Medicine

1) Optimal health - the primary goal, linking all aspects of wellbeing
2) The healing power of love - holistic practictioners believe in treating the patients with a loving outlook, as opposed to just being a name on a chart
3) Whole person - the connection of the mind, body and spirit is treated
4) Prevention and treatment
5) Innate healing power - the belief that the human body can heal itself of almost anything, given the opportunity and supportive guidance
6) Integration of healing systems - “integrative” medicine is another term you’ll hear, relating back to the idea of treating the whole person, through a variety of modalities
7) Relationship-centered care - you’ll form a lifelong relationship with your practitioners, who truly care about every aspect of your health
8) Individuality - no two people are the same, therefore no two treatment plans are the same. There isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach to health.
9) Teaching by example - holistic practitioners practice what they preach
10) Learning opportunities - this takes the viewpoint that all experiences in life, including suffering and death, are an opportunity to learn

If you are finding that merely taking a variety of drugs that have a list of side effects longer than your existing symptoms isn’t really helping you feel your best, look into some alternative therapies. If you aren’t sure about where to start, a good place to start is to simply find a physician who believes in holistic concepts - sometimes referred to as integrative doctors.

While they may not necessarily practice everything, they can help steer you in the right direction for what may suit you best on the road to recovery and wellness. A good place to start looking for practitioners is on the American Holistic Medical Association website.

Alternatively, I recommend starting with some of the more commonplace practices, such as yoga, chiropractic care or acupuncture.

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