What is Holistic Medicine 

By Val Silver

What is holistic medicine? It is an approach to wellness, not a method. The basic philosophy is to treat the entire person, not just the pain or disease, to enhance well-being on all levels: mental, physical, emotional and spiritual.

This whole person approach to healing takes advantage of the best that alternative complementary therapies and conventional allopathic medicine have to offer. 

According to the American Board of Holistic Medicine (ABHM) and the American Holistic Medicine Association (AHMA), the official definition of holistic medicine is:

the art and science of healing that addresses the whole person - body, mind and spirit. The practice of holistic medicine integrates conventional and complementary therapies to promote optimal health and to prevent and treat disease.

What is holistic medicine according to the ancients?

Although the official definition of holistic medicine is relatively new, its philosophy and practice predates written history. Whole person healing has roots tracing back over 5,000 years ago to ancient China and India. Because it was also believed that we are one with each other, all living beings, and the universe, the emphasis was on healthy living and living in harmony with nature. 

With the exception of injuries, indigenous peoples and ancient cultures always approached health with the whole self in mind. They believed that all parts of our being are interconnected. No part exists separate from the others, nor could it be be treated in isolation from the others. Cause and cure of all disease is within the spirit, mind and body of the person. 

According to the great philosopher, Socrates, medicine had to encompass the whole person because treating only one part of the body would lead to poor results.

Doctor Hippocrates, credited with advancing medicine as a profession in the west, considered contributing factors to health including weather, emotions and food. He emphasized the body's ability to heal itself and warned doctors not to interfere and to first do no harm, which is an oath all medical doctors still pledge today.

hippocrates on stone tablet

A Modern Definition of Holistic Medicine

Holistic practitioners often expand the definition of holistic medicine by including an emphasis on education, personal responsibility and love of self and others. This means loving yourself to improve your health in all areas of your life as an ongoing journey and personal commitment to wellness. The doctor patient relationship is viewed as a partnership, with the ultimate decisions and responsibility being your own. And you would try to get to the cause - mental, physical and/or spiritual - so you improve your health.

You may be surprised to see conventional medicine, or allopathy, as well as alternative and complementary therapies listed under the umbrella of holistic medicine. Some advocates of natural remedies exclude allopathy, but this is not accurate. Although holistic minded folks favor lifestyle changes and complementary alternative methods, they know that taking advantage of the modern medical system is sometimes necessary. 

what is holistic medicine

What is Holistic Medicine - An Example

The following hypothetical example illustrates how this philosophy seamlessly blends modern medicine with lifestyle changes and complementary medicine to facilitate healing.

Consider someone suffering from recurring sinus infections. Multiple visits to the doctor practicing conventional modern medicine end the same way - with serial prescriptions for antibiotics and another to ease symptoms. Discouraged that the cycle keeps repeating itself, and worried that the antibiotics are killing his good intestinal bacteria, he decides to take a more natural, holistic approach. 

He does some research and comes up with a plan. He supplements with probiotics to replace the good bacteria the antibiotics kill off and medicinal mushrooms to boost his immune system. To further boost immunity and healing hormones, he reduces his stress levels, drinks more water, and improves his diet. Reducing sugar keeps yeast at bay (sometimes behind sinus infections). 

Saline spray is used to flush his sinuses before clocking an extra hour of nightly sleep on his new pillow. (Old pillows are filled with dust mite droppings and mold.) He airs out his house daily and switches to green cleaning products to reduce irritating indoor pollution.  

In the following weeks, as his body and life get into balance, his resistance grows and he feels better mentally and physically. His sinuses feel better, too.

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Hopefully in the future, when the question of what is holistic medicine comes up, the answer will describe mainstream medicine of the day. Whole person healing and health care will be the norm. Some doctors are already making this vision a reality. Until these pioneers are the rule instead of the exception, you may have to design your own holistic wellness and healing plan or partner with a wellness practitioner or coach. It is definitely worth it.

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