Holistic Alternative Medicine and CAM Definitions

By Val Silver

As holistic alternative medicine and integrated healing methods enter the mainstream of modern medicine it is important to understand what these terms mean and how they apply to your health care. Doctors, practitioners, and patients are beginning to embrace complementary alternative medicine (CAM) in increasing numbers. More attention is being given to whole person treatment instead of relying exclusively on treating parts, suppressing symptoms, prescribing drugs, and doing invasive procedures.

In response to the demand for holistic healing and more natural therapies, medical providers, the media, practitioners and coaches are providing information, services and support. Medical providers are beginning to advocate and/or integrate complementary medicine into their patient's wellness plans. Thousands of articles and health news stories flood the internet, magazines and air ways. Research into holistic and natural approaches is on the rise and many people have gotten certified to assist individuals on their holistic healing journey.

Holistic Alternative Medicine Definitions

Along with this surge in interest in holistic alternative medicine and integrated healing, a plethora of terms and confusion over what they all mean has also left medical providers and lay people wondering what in the world words like integrated, complementary, holistic, alternative medicine mean.

To allay the confusion and help us all speak the same language, definitions have been created to describe these therapies. And yes, they still sometimes change.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Complementary and Alternative Medicine, or CAM, is the overarching term for the many types of alternative therapies.

CAM includes all kinds of wellness care and remedies except for what is usually considered conventional modern medicine, or allopathy, which favors prescription and over-the-counter drugs, diagnostic testing, and surgery. CAM includes health care products, practices and systems that are usually non-invasive and non-pharmaceutical.

What makes a therapy or remedy complementary or alternative is simply whether or not it is used alongside standard medical care, or independent of it. 

Alternative Medicine is the term used when a complementary methods are used to the exclusion of allopathy. Methods such as acupuncture, reiki or herbalism are used instead. People may self-treat, or seek the help of energy healers, coaches, or practitioners. 

Individuals may choose this route because they do not have funds for medical care or do not believe they need it. Others are turned off by the allopathic medical model and only use it as a last resort. They favor effective natural remedies. Still others have been told there is nothing modern medicine can do for them, so they turn to alternative therapies as a last resort. Others use alternative medicine for prevention and health maintenance since they are noninvasive and may be relaxing (like massage and energy work) or health promoting (like some herbs).

Complementary Medicine  is choosing alternate medicine methods along with, or in addition to, conventional medical care.

This can be an ideal situation as all types of remedies and treatments, medical and otherwise, can be used together to help you manage symptoms and achieve better health. If you independently choose complementary therapies along with allopathic treatment, it is very important to advise your doctor of any herbs or supplements you are taking. Some herbs, for example,  interact unfavorably with drugs and cause adverse reactions.

It appears that the terms complementary and alternative now mean the same thing, such as saying complementary alternative medicine.

Integrative Medicine

Integrative or Integrated Medicine is finding its way into progressive modern medical facilities. As appropriate, conventional and complementary therapies are offered side by side as part of your medical treatment.

You may have a holistic doctor trained in another medical system, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, offering acupuncture along with medication. A number of nurses are trained in whole person support. They may offer energy healing to patients recovering from surgery or those in hospice. Patients may be enrolled in meditation classes, receive dietary counseling, or participate in a support group in addition to conventional care.

There is a growing number of doctors who are disillusioned with the allopathic model. They have pioneered mind body medical approaches that are primarily holistic and natural. They fall back on drugs or surgery only when truly required or as a last resort. 

holistic alternative medicine

Holistic Alternative Medicine

Holistic Alternative Medicine includes therapies outside of conventional medicine that address aspects of mind, body and spirit. Sometimes the term holistic is automatically attached to alternative methods. This is not accurate. Natural and holistic are not the same thing. For a therapy to be considered holistic, it must either address you as a whole person on its own, or be used as part of a whole person wellness plan.  

For example, energy healing may be considered holistic alternative medicine because it has the potential to affect the entire human energy field. When herbalists use the whole herb, they may call that holistic herbalism, because it has a broad range of action in the body. A nutrition plan may be termed holistic because it supports optimal mind and body functions, as opposed to a diet geared solely for weight loss.

Allopathy, with its emphasis on parts, is included under the umbrella of holistic medicine when it is used along with a whole person treatment plan, but it is does not comes under the umbrella of alternative medicine. There are increasingly fine lines, though, as modern medicine embraces what were once considered alternative therapies. These include techniques such as massage, acupuncture, and light therapy.

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Using proper definitions when talking with your health providers helps each of you better understand the philosophy and approaches you are considering and how to incorporate them into your plan.

Regardless of what you call it, holistic alternative medicine and CAM supports you mentally and physically in conjunction with conventional care, or when appropriate, independently of it. Whichever treatments and remedies you choose, holistic alternative medicine must ultimately address your health as a whole person.  

Source: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/whatiscam

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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