To some people, holistic medicine means the use of treatments and therapies that many people would call alternative therapies. For others, holistic care simply refers to health care that takes into account the patient as a whole — their mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
Nowadays, holistic medicine takes on both meanings. Most health care professionals are trained to view medicine with a holistic philosophy. Meanwhile, many patients are turning to alternative therapies, often labeled under the blanket term of holistic medicine, to help with ongoing health issues.
What is Holistic Medicine?
Holistic medicine generally holds two meanings. On the one hand, it’s become a blanket term for many treatments that are labeled as alternative therapies.
The other definition is simply a philosophy of medicine. Many of us already practice it every day.
Philosophy of Holistic Medicine
The philosophy of holistic care is relatively simple. As we care for patients, we consider their entire wellbeing and the things around them that might affect it, regardless of their initial illness or chief complaint.
Perhaps they came in for extreme low back pain. But in treating the pain, we should also be aware of their mental and emotional needs. What caused the back pain in the first place, and what can we help the patient learn and understand in order to treat the cause?
When we practice holistically, we understand that the mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and environmental aspects of our patients are interconnected and dependent on one another.
It’s the goal of holistic medicine to make sure all those aspects are in balance. The way we treat and care for our patients should reflect that understanding, no matter what treatments and therapies they undergo.
In fact, modern nursing is founded on the philosophy of holistic care. Florence Nightingale, considered the founder of modern nursing, approached her monumental work from the mindset of holistic nursing. By mindfully incorporating holistic medicine into our practice, we’re just following her lead.
Conventional vs Alternative Treatments
Conventional therapies and treatments refer to what some people call Western or modern medicine, like surgeries and over the counter and prescription medications. These types of treatments are used to some extent in holistic medicine, depending on the care provider.
Alternative treatments are often referred to as Eastern, complementary, or traditional medicine. These include therapies like chiropractic care, aromatherapy, massage therapy, and acupuncture. Holistic medicine also focuses on the patient’s lifestyle, like diet and exercise.
Behind each of these therapies is the same holistic philosophy — healing is a process, and you need to address every aspect of the person in order for it to be successful. If one part is not working correctly, then it will affect the rest.
How Holistic Medicine is Used Today
Modern medicine has come a long way, and there are many advances that have improved our quality of life. But there are sometimes when it just doesn’t work as well as our patients hope.
In many cases, patients want to avoid what they consider drastic measures, like surgery to fix damaged joints or muscles, or heavy medication to help relieve pain. It is in these instances that many more patients are looking to alternative treatments for relief and help.
Just like with modern medicine, patients will find that some therapies will work and others won’t. Often their best chance is to work with the primary care providers to determine the proper combination of therapies, both conventional and alternative.
How You can Practice Holistic Medicine
There are professional organizations for most health care professionals that focus on holistic medicine within their scope of practice. For example, nurses can join the American Holistic Nurses Association to learn more about how to incorporate this philosophy and techniques into their practice as a speciality.
Regardless of if you join a professional organization or not, there are still some tips for practicing and incorporating holistic care into your everyday practice:
- Be open to and knowledgeable of alternative therapies, so you can educate and support your patients to make informed choices for themselves
- View each patient as a complete person, not just their diagnosis or illness
- Give your best quality care, but understand that patients are responsible for their own health
- Remember that people are complex, and many different factors can contribute to an issue
The practice of holistic medicine doesn’t have to be at odds with our practice of modern health care. By understanding the philosophy behind it and incorporating it into our own daily practice, we can help our patients more fully heal.