We’ve all heard it, but do you really know what it means? Holistic healthcare is actually more of an approach to life than it is a system of healthcare. In contrast to conventional western medicine, it does not end when your symptoms are alleviated; it is an ongoing process to make healthy choices everyday. Holistic means considering the whole person in the prevention of disease; physically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually. Instead of focusing on a specific illness or part of your health, it emphasizes the connection of mind, body and spirit. It is based on the belief that these three parts are inseparable and when one is not working at its best, it impacts the entire person. When all the parts are balanced, the result will be optimal health and well-being.
Ancient healing traditions, as far back as 5,000 years ago, stressed healthy living in harmony with nature. These holistic concepts declined during the 20th century when germs were identified as outside sources causing illness and sickness. Western medicine became a process of killing outside invaders using pharmaceutical drugs, thus leading to the belief that people could get away with unhealthy lifestyle choices, and modern medicine would “fix” them as problems developed. Many people are turning back to the holistic approach to health and healing because they are realizing that modern medicine and pharmaceuticals are merely masking symptoms, and not treating the true concern.
In addition to a holistic approach to your health, a team approach is also extremely important. Building your healthcare team is an important step in the process of achieving a whole body balance. It is also very important to ensure that your healthcare team works together and have open communication with one another to work on one common goal: to empower you to become the healthiest you; mind, body and spirit. Each member of the team should know his or her own abilities and limitations and make referrals to another holistic practitioner when needed. A holistic approach means that the doctor is informed about a patient’s whole life situation, not just the small pieces that are relevant to their treatment.
A holistic practitioner is one who may use different forms of treatment, ranging from lifestyle modifications to alternative therapies. When a person is suffering from severe migraines, generally the holistic practitioner will take a look at all of the potential factors that may be causing the symptom, such as diet, hormonal imbalances, a stressful job, marital issues, etc. The treatment plan will usually include lifestyle modifications to help prevent the symptom from recurring instead of simply masking or numbing the symptom through the use of medication.
In holistic healthcare, a symptom is considered an alert that something needs attention. Thus, the symptom is used as a guide to look for the root cause so that the real problem can be addressed. Holistic practitioners recommend treatments that support the body’s natural healing system and are gentle on the body.
There are many different types of holistic practitioners but they are generally someone who believes in the following principles:
All people have inherent healing powers that you are born with;
The patient is a person, not just a disease, illness or symptom;
Appropriate healing treatment needs a team approach addressing all aspects of a person’s life using a variety of health care practices;
Patient and physician are partners in the healing process;
Treatment involves fixing the cause of the condition, not just relieving the symptoms.
Holistic practitioners emphasize patient education on lifestyle changes and self-care to promote wellness. Many times this includes diet, exercise, psychotherapy, relationship and spiritual counseling, and more. Complementary therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, homeopathy, and massage therapy also fit into the scope of holistic healthcare. Your team should include a variety of practitioners to help balance the different aspects of your life. For example, you may see a naturopathic doctor for your hormone imbalance and nutritional counseling, a massage therapist for your tight shoulders and stress relief, and a mental health therapist to discuss your marital and career concerns. Together, with the help of multiple holistic practitioners, you will soon be on your way to the happiest, healthiest version of you. When you first begin, your protocols and appointments may be intense and frequent, but with the help of your holistic practitioners, you will soon be equipped with the necessary tools and knowledge to reach your optimal health. Then, you will enter a maintenance phase where you possess the resources to lead a healthy life, all while having a team of holistic providers who will be available should anything arise in the future.
In order to understand you as a whole person and not just a symptom or illness, be prepared to answer lots of questions you may not have been asked before. These could range from questions about your diet, exercise, and sleep habits to your frequency and consistency of bowel movements, how you feel emotionally, your religious beliefs and practices, close relationships, and more. Sometimes you may hear a holistic practitioner being called an “alternative practitioner”. This simply means any form of medicine outside the mainstream of western or conventional medicine.
If you are interested in seeing a holistic or alternative practitioner, below is a list of well-known therapies you may have heard of:
Fine needles are inserted at specific points to stimulate the flow of Qi (vital energy), and restore a healthy energy balance.
Using "essential oils" distilled from plants, treating a wide range of concerns. Oils can be massaged into the skin, inhaled, diffused, digested or placed in baths. It is often used complementary with massage therapy, acupuncture, reflexology, herbology, chiropractic, and other holistic treatments.
Chinese medical practitioners are trained to use a variety of ancient and modern therapeutic methods - including acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage, heat therapy, and nutritional and lifestyle counseling - to treat both chronic and acute illnesses.
Chiropractic medicine views the spine as the backbone of human health: misalignments of the vertebrae caused by poor posture or trauma cause pressure on the nerves of the spine, leading to illness. Through manipulation of the spine, optimal health can be realized.
This broad category covers a range of practitioners, from career counselors to psychotherapists who treat depression, stress, addiction, and emotional issues. Sessions can vary from individual counseling to group therapy.
An ancient form of healing still widely used, herbalism uses natural plants or plant-based substances to treat a range of illnesses and to enhance the functioning of the body's systems.
A medical system that uses extremely small doses of natural substances to stimulate a person's immune and defense system. A remedy is individually chosen based on its capacity to cause, if given in overdose, physical and psychological symptoms similar to those a patient is currently experiencing.
Massage therapy involves the practice of manipulating a person's muscles and other soft tissue with the intent of improving a person's well-being or health.
Midwives provide education and support during pregnancy, assist the mother during labor and delivery, and provide follow-up care. Practitioners of childbirth support include childbirth educators, assistants, and doulas.
Naturopathic physicians work to restore and support the body's own healing abilities using a variety of modalities including nutrition, herbal medicine, and homeopathic medicine. It is a primary health-care system that emphasizes the healing power of nature.
Osteopathic physicians provide comprehensive medical care. In diagnosis and treatment, they pay particular attention to the joints, bones, muscles, and nerves and are specially trained in using their hands to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness.
This modality is based on the idea that specific points on the feet and hands correspond with organs and tissues throughout the body. The practitioner applies pressure to these points to treat a wide range of illnesses.
Reiki practitioners use light hand placements to channel healing energies to the recipient. Reiki is commonly used to assist the recipient in achieving spiritual focus and clarity.