Complementary, Alternative, Holistic: What’s the difference?

holistic medicine 


In popular usage, and in many academic circles, the terms complementary, alternative, and holistic, are often used interchangeably, but there are important differences between them and similarities.

Complementary medicine is, as it states, the use of other methods along with traditional western (allopathic) medicine.

Alternative medicine is when one breaks away from the conventional allopathic treatments and uses other types of treatments only, such as Ayurvedic medicine, herbs, acupuncture and so on.

Holistic medicine treats not only the specific physical symptoms of disease, but the whole patient by servicing the trinity of mind, body and spirit and as in complementary medicine may use traditional western and alternative. But holistic by far does favor natural medicine but uses allopathic medicine when the diagnosis requires to do so.

In my way of thinking the physician and patient are equal partners in the healing process. The patient should take responsibility for his or her own health and use the physician’s knowledge and experience as a guide and when necessary the physician as a life-guard. I consider the term integrative medicine to be synonymous with holistic medicine in that it seeks the appropriate combination of therapies for a particular patient and illness. Again, I repeat that most holistic physicians will integrate the aspect of mind-body-spirit.

The holistic physician needs to spend time with the patient, because a large part of a holistic practice is listening to what the patient is not saying, as well as what the patient is saying. This must be done with as much non-judgmental, unconditional love of which the physician is capable, since many illnesses are caused and prolonged by emotional stress. Holistic medicine has as its goal not only the alleviation of symptoms but also the creation of a healthy way of life.

There is the perception among some people that by serendipitously using botanicals and supplements they are living a healthy life style. True, they may be doing better than if they were not trying at all, but they may be headed for danger. Botanicals are medicines, and like any other medicine they can have side effects. Certain botanicals need to be taken in proper dosages, which may be different for different maladies.  Taking too much can cause toxic side effects; taking too little can mean there are no benefits. This also holds true for supplements. And just like a medical text, a botanical text does not take into account individual differences that must be evaluated by an educated, caring professional. Otherwise, if the client is not considered as an individual there is little difference between indiscriminately writing prescriptions for pharmaceuticals and recommending botanicals and supplements. Also consider this; sometimes a person needs a certain diet or supplement, or pharmaceutical, but this may have to be altered, changed, or just negated as the client changes their life style and gets better. Too often this is not considered and the client is kept on the same regimen for their life. This is expensive and could lead to unwanted side effects. Re-evaluation is important at different times to be judged by the practitioner and the client. This last statement is true for either western medicine or alternative medicine.

Developing the art of patience allows the physician to relate on all levels: mind, body and spirit. Sometimes botanicals, supplements, and allopathic drugs are not the answer. The answer may lie in alleviating the stress that is causing or giving energy to the illness. Sometimes the illness has something to teach the patient. All these things are a part of holistic medicine, which may require a referral to another professional with expertise in different types of mind, body and spiritual techniques. Again this is done with the informed consent of the client.

It is the patient teaching the physician and the physician teaching the patient that makes holistic medicine such a wonderful relationship devoted to the process of evolving and living  without disease.

For continuing information on this subject please enjoy reading my published Emotional Vampires and Your Hormones: an Holistic physician’s view of how stress affects your well-being and what to do about it.

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