Holistic Medicine: A Guide for Beginners

Herbs with medical tools

The human body has a wonderful capacity to heal itself, yet many people deprive their bodies of that ability by solely focusing on traditional medicine for most ailments. Holistic medicine takes a whole-person approach to medical care and wellness. As more and more people want to feel better without reliance on drugs, this is an area growing in demand. Let’s take a closer look at what holistic medicine is, where it comes from and how it is making a difference in the health and wellness of patients in the 21st century.

What Is Holistic Medicine?

The word holistic means “dealing with the whole.” From this definition, we understand holistic medicine involves the wellness of the whole person. A holistic practitioner will treat not only the physical ailment or condition, but also the emotional, mental and even spiritual aspects that aggravate the condition.

Take, for example, a headache. The holistic practitioner will look at the patient’s health and then beyond, taking note of stress levels, lifestyle and more. The practitioner may examine the patient’s diet for any deficiencies, such as low vitamin levels, that can contribute to the headache. Often addressing these other areas can reveal treatment and prevention options for the patient, meaning even greater wellness.

Holistic Medicine—A Brief History

Holistic medicine is a newer buzzword in the western medicine world, but it’s not a new concept. In fact, in the 6th century (BC) India, Ayurveda was a form of herbal medicine that focused on healing the energies within the body using the medicinal properties of plants. The herbal treatment used in modern holistic practices originated in Ancient Greece and Rome, gradually making their way to Europe and then to the Americas.

Even Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, took a holistic approach to treating disease. He encouraged self-healing of the body. The discovery of germs and their role in the cause of disease caused doctors to move away from holistic healing and created a greater focus on treating symptoms and conditions with medication.

Interestingly, in the 1960s, a shift started as people started to move away from modern drugs and medical technology and push for more natural healing methods. In 1975 the National Conference on Holistic Health was held in California, and just three years later the Holistic Medical Association came into being. Today, holistic practitioners have to go through rigorous training similar to that of a medical doctor, but with a focus on herbal therapies, environmental problems, and nutrition in addition to conventional medication.

Common Principles of Holistic Treatment

There are several guiding principles central to holistic medicine and treatment, including:

  • The belief that all people have inborn healing abilities
  • The belief that a patient and doctor work together as a team to address all areas of life that affect health and wellness
  • The philosophy of treating a patient as a person, not the disease
  • The focus on fixing the cause of the ailment, not just relieving symptoms
  • Focusing on the mind-body connection to treat the whole person

These principles help practitioners work with patients to choose therapies that will promote better overall health: mind, body and spirit.

Types of Holistic Treatments

Each holistic practitioner will have his or her own chosen path to wellness, but there are several example treatments common to holistic practices, including:

1. Acupuncture and Acupressure

Acupuncture uses needles to stimulate areas of the body to release energy or activate the nervous system to help ease chronic conditions. Acupressure does the same thing, but instead of needles, it uses a small amount of pressure.

2. Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy uses the sense of smell to help calm the body and soothe some ailments. For example, aromatherapy may use lavender oil patches to improve sleep in patients with insomnia or anxiety.

3. Ayurvedic Medicine

The Ayurvedic practice uses herbs, metals, and dietary changes to address health issues. This practice also focuses on how people and their environments are closely connected.

4. Chiropractic Care 

Chiropractic care uses gentle manipulation of the spine and neck to improve the body’s function by improving the function of the nervous system. This can help support the treatment of physical and muscular pain, headaches or even illness.

5. Naturopathy

Naturopathy uses natural treatments, including herbs and dietary supplements, to support overall health. A naturopathic practitioner may also encourage exercise and dietary changes to help patients feel better.

6. Massage Therapy

Loosening tight muscles and tissues with massage therapy can support overall health and wellness. Many holistic practitioners will use massage in their treatments.

7.  Nutrition Counselors

Wellness covers the whole body and that includes proper nutrition. Nutrition counseling helps patients take charge of their health by eating well to support the work holistic practitioners are putting in.

8. Mental Health Counseling

Because holistic medicine takes a mind-body-spirit approach to healing, it often involves mental health therapy. When a person is equipped to manage stress and deal with mental health needs in a healthy manner, they are better equipped to heal.

9. Osteopathy

Osteopathy is similar to chiropractic care but involves more than the spine, it covers the whole body. An osteopath can manipulate the entire musculoskeletal system to help improve the function of the muscles and nerves and support a strong, healthy bone structure.

10. Yoga

Yoga is more than just a form of exercise. It helps with the mind-body connection and creates calmness in the spirit. This supports the holistic view of overall wellness.

Holistic Vs. Conventional Medicine

If you visit a traditional doctor with an ailment or concern, the doctor will provide medical solutions to take care of your symptoms. These might include procedures or medications. If possible, the solutions will eradicate the disease and the germs that cause it.

A holistic practitioner will dig deeper to find the cause of the disease or its symptoms. They will then use multiple types of therapies, often in conjunction with traditional medical practices, to treat not only the symptoms, but also their cause. In addition to prescription medication, they might encourage lifestyle changes and dietary changes that would help prevent the issue from returning.

Benefits and Disadvantages of Holistic Medicine

Pros of Holistic Medicine

A holistic approach to patient care and wellness has several benefits, including:

  • More personalized treatment—Holistic practitioners dig into the patient’s health history to find the elements causing the physical symptoms. They recommend personalized care approaches that address all of these issues.
  • Empowerment of patients in their healthcareHolistic medicine helps patients take control over their health and wellness. Patients see the benefits of eating better and exercising more. They are given the tools to help their bodies heal on their own.
  • Better patient outcomes—When treating the whole body, holistic practitioners are better able to help patients achieve wellness, rather than just masking symptoms
  • Merging conventional and holistic treatments—Holistic practitioners tap into traditional medical practices to help patients. They do not neglect science and modern treatments, but rather focus on using them with holistic therapies to help patients feel well.

Cons of Holistic Medicine

Like all treatment methods, holistic care does have a few drawbacks:

  • Lack of insurance coverage—Some types of holistic medicine are not covered by some insurance companies, leaving patients to cover the cost of care on their own.
  • Requires involved patients—Holistic medicine works when patients and their doctors work as a team. If the patient is unwilling to make the necessary changes, the therapies won’t work.

How to Pursue a Career in Holistic Medicine

Holistic medicine is growing as an alternative to traditional medicine. Overall, integrative medical treatments are becoming more acceptable, even normal, in today’s healthcare climate.

If you are interested in a career in holistic medicine, you will need to start with the right school. Not all medical schools offer training in holistic treatment. Look for one that offers certification and degree programs in a range of holistic and alternative medicine therapies. Then, decide which therapies you want to have in your medical practice, and earn certification in those therapies along with your degree in holistic medicine. Finally, get licensed to practice in your state and open the doors of your practice.

Start Your Holistic Medicine Degree Today

Pacific College of Health and Science is a leader in the education of Chinese medicine, massage therapy, holistic nursing, health coaching, yoga, and acupuncture treatments. Let’s jump-start your career with accessible certificates, degrees, and doctoral programs specifically designed for holistic health practitioners! We are one of the few schools dedicated entirely to holistic healthcare, offering a long list of on-campus and online programs to provide the flexibility you need to earn your degree. If you are interested in learning more about the programs offered at Pacific College of Health and Science, visit our admissions department or contact us today.

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