Holistic Approach to Treatment
Holistic medicine centers on the philosophy of the person as a whole. Suzan Walter, president of the American Holistic Health Association, explains that holistic health "emphasizes the connection of mind, body and spirit." If one part of the whole is not working or is out of balance, the other parts are also affected. A holistic practitioner, therefore, will not only ask you questions about your current and past health, diet and activity level. She will also ask you about your relationships, your household, your job and your current emotional state, to develop an in-depth understanding of you as a person, rather than just your current health problem.
Holistic medicine began as early as 5,000 years ago in China and India, states Walter, when living in harmony with nature was considered the key to a healthy life. The development of the germ theory in the early 20th century caused holistic medicine to lose popularity in Western culture, though it remained an accepted philosophy in the East.
Holistic View of Disease
In the holistic view, balance is essential to health. The American Holistic Medical Association defines disease as "the result of physical, emotional, spiritual, social and environmental imbalance." Rather than just treating your symptoms, the holistic approach seeks to address the underlying imbalance that is causing your symptoms. When the balance returns, so does health. Still, Walter cautions, holistic health requires a long-term commitment. Holistic medicine emphasizes attaining higher levels of health and well-being. Even when disease is not present, you can always improve your state of wellness.
Holistic medicine does not completely eschew traditional medicine. In some cases, holistic therapies work in conjunction with traditional therapies for a complete treatment protocol; this is referred to as complementary medicine. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine gives the example of following surgery with aromatherapy to lessen a patient's discomfort.
In some cases, you might choose a holistic therapy instead of a traditional treatment. An example of this alternative medicine, as the NCCAM notes, is a cancer patient who chooses a special diet instead of chemotherapy or radiation. In a less extreme situation, you might choose an herbal medicine such as echinacea for a cold, rather than antibiotics.
Integrative medicine combines traditional, complementary and alternative medicine into a comprehensive treatment protocol. This concept most closely aligns with the holistic concept of the whole. Integrative medicine, however, only uses those therapies that are supported by scientific evidence of their safety and effectiveness, explains the NCCAM.
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