Holistic Approaches to Health Care
The word holistic seems to conjure up images of herbal medicine and all manner of traditional health remedies that have little or no scientific evidence for their effectiveness. The reason for this is that alternative and complementary practitioners often talk about holistic healing, whereas in conventional medicine this has not been the case. The association is understandable but inaccurate. In fact, holistic doesn’t mean alternative, or unconventional. It just means taking an approach to medicine and healthcare that takes into account the whole body, rather than focusing on the illness or condition in isolation. The good news is that conventional practitioners are now beginning to recognize the importance of looking at a patient as a whole being, and taking steps to address everything that may be having an effect on them.
How does that work in practice?
One of the key criticisms of the conventional approach to medicine is that it is too focused on treating the symptoms of a medical condition in isolation. For example, most patients with chronic pain conditions are prescribed analgesics to help them manage their pain. There’s no doubt that taking something that relieves the misery of chronic pain is of great comfort to people, but what about all the factors that could be contributing to the cause of the pain? If the response to these kinds of problems is to prescribe painkillers, that’s great as a first step, but without taking any other action, this amounts to a kind of medical fire-fighting; spraying the flames with water, without getting to the heart of the blaze and quietening it down. In the case of chronic pain, for instance, there could be many contributing factors that make the condition worse or cause flare-ups, including stress, anxiety, depression, lack of exercise, poor diet, and inappropriate coping mechanisms. Unless these aspects are looked at, and action is taken to minimize their effects, the fire of pain will continue to rage.
Does that mean conventional medicine has got it wrong?
Not at all! Rejecting conventional treatments is highly inadvisable, as the weight of evidence that is painstakingly gathered over the years will have demonstrated the efficacy of any treatment used. In other words, the science has shown these treatments work. A holistic approach is not an “either-or” situation; you don’t have to choose between them. It is something conventional practitioners have come to realize; that there are effective ways of helping a person to recover and manage their condition in addition to the accepted drug and therapy regimes. If you think about such branches of alternative medicine like acupuncture, osteopathy, and chiropractic, only a few years ago these treatments were considered to be what skeptics thought as “unhelpful.” However, research and study into these treatments have shown that they can be beneficial, and they have now become far more widely accepted as complementary therapies to conventional medicine.
Is there a difference between alternative and complementary medicine?
There is now, for sure. In times past, the terms were used interchangeably, but now it’s understood that complementary treatments are those shown to be effective by research, whereas alternative medicine encompasses all the practices that have not been shown to have provable effects. Complementary therapies are used in addition to traditional treatments, whereas people who have rejected conventional medicine often uses alternative therapies. Many conventional medical professionals recommend and even practice these complementary treatments themselves, so you could go to your doctor and be offered a course of acupuncture for example.
How do drugs fit into a holistic approach?
People often worry about the side effects of medicines they may be prescribed, remembering scare stories about certain drugs that have made the headlines. However, it’s important to remember how unusual such cases are, and when you think about the benefits of prescription drugs they far outweigh any harm that may be caused. People tend to believe that natural products are less likely to be harmful than something human-made, but in fact, some of the most deadly substances known to man are naturally occurring toxins. If you’re concerned about taking any prescription medication, read the leaflet that accompanies the drug, or click here to have a look at the wealth of information online relating to specific drugs. Remember, holistic means whole body, so if you need an effective prescription painkiller in order to start helping yourself by doing more exercise for instance, then the drug is playing its part in improving your overall health.
Is the holistic approach practical in mainstream medicine?
Your condition is not isolated from the rest of your body. Helping someone who is obese to lose weight is important, but unlikely to have a lasting effect unless the reasons behind the overeating are defined and addressed. It might sound as though it would be expensive to look at every aspect of a patient’s health and wellbeing rather than just treating the specific symptoms. In reality, if the case is approached holistically, you stand a far greater chance of needing less in the way of healthcare in the future. That’s better for you, giving you an improved quality of life, and saves the healthcare system and insurance companies money (if you’re wondering why you should care about the latter, remember the less they have to pay out, the lower your premiums should be!). Of course, it does take more time initially to look at a patient holistically, but the time spent at initial consultations will be recouped by the less frequent visits required by the patient in the future.
The lesson is not to be scared of either approach to health and well-being; don’t reject one for the other, pitting conventional against complementary. Instead, use the best and most effective aspects of both and gain from their combination. With conventional practitioners coming to realize that complementary methods do not equate to unbelievable, gradually the two approaches should start to form a cohesive whole. If this happens, the health of the nation is very likely to be significantly improved.