The winds are bringing change to the methodology of medicine, and a not-so-new idea is coming to the forefront. If you never have heard of holistic health before, it’s a not-so-new philosophy for healing the mind and body. Its an old approach, but despite falling out of favor over the last century, it remains applicable in the field of medicine.
According to the basic premise of holistic health, the most effective way to heal an illness or injury is approaching the body as a whole. A living system is considered intrinsically interconnected and, therefore, all health issues require a whole-body approach to healing, instead of focusing in on the particular issue.
The practice was not always known as holism, which first was used to describe body-mind medicine in the early 1900s. However, many ancient medicinal traditions from as far back as 4,000 years ago used this basic methodology in their approach. The underlying concepts of traditional Chinese medicine, Indian Ayurvedic practice, and ancient Greek herbalism all reference the same ideas of treating the body as more than just a sum of its parts. Socrates himself wrote that “the part can never be well unless the whole is well.”
But What is Holistic Health?
The easiest way to understand holistic medicine is comparing it to non-holistic approaches, also known as modern medicine. Western medicine has become so specialized and reductionist in nature that it often overlooks systemic problems to focus on the issue right down to a cellular level. Specialized medical practices and scientific research are by no means bad. However, holism just believes it could be drastically improved by taking a step back.
Holistic medicine aims to see the forest, not just the trees. By taking a step back from the detailed focus on symptoms so common in modern medicine, holistic practitioners can see the full scope of the problem. The philosophy moves away from a strict physiological focus to incorporate information from environmental, emotional, social, and psychological influences.
A prime example of how this would work is looking at how stress affects our well-being. Stress has many physiological indicators, such as problems sleeping, weight loss, skin issues, and high blood pressure. Each of these symptoms can be treated individually, but the overarching issue of stress isn’t addressed. By examining the issue as a part of a whole (environmental, emotional, social, and psychological), it’s much more likely a long-term solution will be found.
The Principles of Holistic Healing
For years the holistic approach to medicine often was disregarded by serious medical professionals. Instead of using the principles to improve medical practice, holism was considered only applicable to alternative medicine and assumed to be unproven. Thankfully, these times have passed, and holistic medicine is making its way into common practice. Despite what some may believe, holism and the scientific method can go hand-in-hand. They are not mutually exclusive.
Mind-body medicine is a philosophical approach to medicine. Although there are many schools of thought within the holistic healing approach, the American Holistic Medical Association has collected a list of nine guiding principles that serve as a good introduction to the practice.
- Primary Goal is Optimal Health: Beyond a one-time treatment of symptoms, holistic healing has the long-term goal of optimal health. It aims to find the perfect balance between emotional, physical, psychological, and environmental factors. By continually aiming to achieve optimal health, a person will improve their overall health and well-being in the face of illness.
- Healing Power of Love: Holistic practitioners approach all patients with love, kindness, and gentleness in their hearts.
- Whole Person: To re-iterate the main premise of holistic medicine, a person is worth far more than simply a sum of their parts. They are a whole person, consisting of many intricately connected cells, systems, and processes. To treat a person as a whole treats the whole problem.
- Prevention and treatment: One of the core focuses of holistic health is working on prevention before treatment ever is needed. Disease loves an unhealthy host, and by working to improve health and well-being beforehand, practitioners aim to prevent health issues before they occur.
- Innate Healing Power: It’s believed that the mind has an essential part to play in the healing of the body. By encouraging patients toward optimal health, holistic healers can have a positive effect on the healing process.
- Integration of Healing Systems: No stone will be left unturned in the quest to find the appropriate combination of treatments for a particular issue. No traditions are excluded, and all have their place in the holistic field. Having all the options on the table gives health practitioners a full tool belt to treat the patient. This includes incorporating modern day procedures alongside alternative therapies.
- Focus on Relationships: A holistic practitioner cares deeply for their patient, in a way that values their input into the healing process. In this way, holistic healing promotes patient autonomy, ensuring they do not become just the problem to be fixed.
- Individuality: Every case and every patient is different. Holistic health is focused “on the unique needs and nature of the person who has an illness, rather than the illness that has the person.”
- Learning: Finally, the last principle is a dedication to lifelong learning. This applies to both the doctor and the patient.
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Although modern medicine developed in large part outside of the scope of the holistic philosophy, it now is becoming a crucial aspect in the ethos of many healthcare practitioners. The more we discover about the inner workings of the mind and body, the more it becomes clear that everything is intricately interconnected. You cannot operate on one part without affecting the whole. During your next doctor visit, pay attention to how they approach you as a patient. Perhaps it’s time to be treated with a more holistic approach.