A holistic approach to health often sounds strange at best and downright bizarre at worst. It can even be controversial, with detractors claiming it’s little more than quack science. With rising obesity rates, epic rates of cancer and heart disease, and rampant addiction crises, many are realizing the inadequacy of the modern Western approach to medicine and looking for alternatives.
One of the best alternatives has been holistic medicine leading to holistic wellness. While it’s a loose term that encompasses many traditional (and modern) forms of healing, holistic understanding is characterized by its focus on the whole person, not just the disease symptoms. Ready to learn more about how a holistic approach can change your life?
Let’s get started!
What Does Holistic Mean?
Holistic is a word that means whole, which is exactly what this philosophy of medicine looks to replicate in its patients. A holistic doctor considers the entire patient, including the mind, her spiritual condition, and her emotions. A person is considered to be composed of different parts that can become unbalanced in their relationship to each other and the outside world. When this happens, disease enters the picture.
Another prominent tenant of the holistic approach is that the body is capable of healing itself. It also stressed the importance of the patient in the process. Patients are encouraged to take responsibility for their own health, and they’re provided the tools to do so, including self-education and self-diagnosis.
Where Did This Philosophy Come From?
Holistic therapy treatments have been around for thousands of years. Rather than being a complete medical philosophy in itself, holistic practitioners draw on age-old modalities such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurveda, and herbalism.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
TCM has been in use for almost 5,000 years and has become a complex, highly nuanced system of diagnosis and treatment that’s still in use today. While in the West TCM is largely used as complementary medicine (that is, alongside traditional medicine) it can also be used as an alternative to traditional treatments.
Chinese medicine sees the human body as a collection of interconnected physical elements and energies that must be kept in balance. If an imbalance in the lifeforce known as the qi occurs, for example, proponents believe people will experience disease. Great focus is placed, then, on restoring the qi.
Ayurveda is India’s ancient medicinal tradition and can be traced back all the way to a written text from the 6th century BC. This philosophy recognizes five elements of the universe, seven of the body, and three biological energies known as doshas. Ayurveda practitioners are also in search of the proper balance of all of these elements.
Herbal medicine might be even older than TCM and Ayurveda. Herbs have been used for medicinal purposes as long as there have been herbs and people. Most indigenous people have long, rich traditions of using local herbs for all kinds of illnesses, ailments, and diseases. As these traditions have evolved, there’s been a focus on plants and herbs as medicines.
A Better Way?
Despite these strong traditions, Western medicine became engrossed in germs as the cause of diseases and intervention as the most effective cure. This has left us without a focus on the practitioner as the one responsible for “curing” the patient and limited her to pharmaceutical or surgical treatment options.
Patients ultimately look to medicine to cure them, instead of recognizing the importance of their lifestyles, spirits, and emotions. Fortunately, the limitations of Western medicine are finally being understood. Alternative treatments that were once considered very fringe (dry needling, for example) are now being used in traditional practices.
It’s also now easier than it used to be for patients to find a licensed medical practitioner who is comfortable with the patient using complementary treatments alongside traditional treatments; you might even be able to find a licensed provider who also uses holistic methods.
How Is Holistic Different?
Before we go on, let’s take a quick second for some definitions. You’ll often hear holistic interchanged with alternative medicine or complementary medicine. Alternative medicine is another wide umbrella of a term used to denote treatments that are not considered mainstream, Western medical traditions.
Reflexology and homeopathy, for example, are two popular alternative medicines; both can be practiced holistically. Other popular examples of holistic treatments include chiropractic care, biofeedback therapy, hydrotherapy, Reiki, reflexology, and more.
Complementary medicine is typically an alternative treatment that is used alongside traditional treatments (not in place of). At its heart, holistic medicine is concerned with one main relationship, described here in three different ways:
- The mind/body connection
- The mind/body/spirit connection
- The physical/mental/emotional/spiritual connection
Some holistic therapists eschew all forms of allopathic (traditional) medicine, but most will wisely choose the best from each tradition for each patient. If a therapist is asking you to disregard a doctor’s advice on surgery or medication for a serious condition, please proceed with great caution!
Holistic is not a regulated term. As such, it has been misused at times. Our best recommendation for choosing a holistic therapist is to look for somebody who is a trusted member of the community and comes with great reviews. You also want to look for somebody who stands by the following principles:
- He or she helps you balance and integrate the health of your physical body as well as your mental, emotional, and spiritual needs
- He or she helps you make lifestyle choices that further your wellbeing
- He or she helps you establish positive, healthy relationships with others and yourself
- He or she requires your active participation in your healing journey
Can A Holistic Approach Change Your Life?
Holistic treatment can be frustrating for some because it doesn’t look like standard medical treatments. Your appointments, for example, are much longer, as it’s important for the holistic therapist to have a full understanding of your whole life, not just your symptom. There’s no quick five-minute with a prescription at the end here!
Once you can become accustomed to these differences, however, you can become one of the millions who have found significant help from a holistic approach to your health. Here are three ways your life might change as a result:
1. Become Empowered
If you’ve ever been in a hospital for any medical treatment, you’ll understand how un-empowering Western medicine feels for the patient. Little access to the doctor, often extremely busy staff, and few options for your care can be extremely frustrating and dehumanizing.
Holistic care does the exact opposite: it expects you to take responsibility for your healing and general welfare, to the point where you’re expected to make lifestyle changes, do your research, and make many of your own decisions.
A good holistic therapist will heavily support you through this process, but he or she will not cure you. Your body will cure itself. As we mentioned, this difference in philosophy can take some time to get used to, but it can also be incredibly powerful. Many patients find this newfound empowerment even spills over into other areas of their lives!
2. Become Healthier in Every Way
We just mentioned that empowerment spills over into other areas of your life; so will health! In fact, areas of your life such as your relationships, past trauma, or your work conditions might never have been discussed in a traditional medical setting, but they are focused on here. Your holistic therapist can help you make changes in your life or find the inner healing that your body needs for physical healing.
3. Become Happier
It’s amazing what becoming healthy does to your mental state. As you learn how to cope with and manage stress, make better decisions, and live a healthier lifestyle, you’ll find that you become happier. This is both a result of circumstances being better and a result of you learning how to take the responsibility for your own happiness. Either way, it’s a direct result of a holistic approach!
Is a Holistic Approach the Right Approach for You?
Whether you decide to turn to holistic living philosophies such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and chiropractic care or not, one tenant you should certainly borrow from holistic medicine is the necessity of taking responsibility for your own health.
Once you’ve done this, you’ll be able to make informed, wise choices about your lifestyle and physical, mental, and spiritual health and can decide to what extent (if at all) you’ll look to holistic treatments for help. Ultimately, the best choice is the choice that’s right for you. Here’s to great health!