Medical problems hardly ever occur in isolation. Human anatomy reveals a fascinating connection between the mind, the body and the spirit – the whole person. When the body and mind interact with external environmental and social factors, a wide range of outcomes is possible.
Therefore, some medical practitioners believe that medical care should not be limited to just the biological or physical. Accordingly, an attitudinal (rather than technical) approach to a patient’s diagnosis and treatment is more beneficial to the patient. This belief is referred to as holism, the practice of which is the holistic approach to medicine.
What is holistic medicine?
Holistic medicine is a type of medical and healthcare practice that considers treating a whole person –body, mind, spirit and emotions – for a state of optimal well-being. It covers the biological, psychological, familial, societal, ethical and spiritual dimensions of health. The holistic practice of medicine is based on the belief that a person is made up of many interconnected and interdependent parts, and if they have imbalances of these dimensions, then they fall ill or experience a negative change in their body or health.
Therefore, a holistic approach to medicine focuses on treating the person instead of the body.
What are the principles of holistic care?
The holistic approach to medicine is guided by certain underlying principles that guide its practice, including:
- The belief that a person is responsible for their health: One principle that guides holistic care is that a person is ultimately responsible for their health. Therefore, the individual must protect every aspect of their well-being. Holism places a strong emphasis on nutrition and lifestyle changes to promote individual health.
- The uniqueness of every person: Holism posits that every individual is unique, and even where two different individuals present with the same condition and symptoms, they may not necessarily require the same treatment type. Therefore, treatment plans should be made to suit the individual, considering who they are and not what they have.
- The mutual dependence of the patient-physician relationship: The holistic approach to medicine believes in the involvement of the patient in care. It is believed that without the patient, the physician cannot make meaningful progress in healthcare. As the patient relies on the doctor to provide treatment, the doctor must also rely on the patient to provide information and guidance for treatment.
- The use of a variety of diagnostic and therapeutic measures: Holistic medicine uses a wide range of treatment and diagnostic options. It combines different approaches to cure the ‘whole person’. From psychotherapy to medications to herbal treatments to nutritional changes, the holistic medical practitioner does not discriminate so long as it helps the patient achieve optimal health.
- The responsibility of society in the promotion of health: Holistic medicine emphasizes the responsibility of society to promote health and the role of education in maintaining the general well-being of society. It is believed that when people are informed and feel responsible for the collective well-being of their immediate community, they are more likely to make healthy choices.
- Emphasis on the therapeutic value of psychosocial support in healthcare settings: Holistic care practitioners believe that there is a therapeutic value to be gained from providing psychosocial support for patients in institutionalized care, as healthcare institutions can induce a psychological state or reaction that may be detrimental to the patient.
- Emphasis on treating underlying illness and not just symptoms: Holistic medicine emphasizes treating ailments and not just symptoms. Treating symptoms creates a potential for the ailment to manifest again and repeatedly impact the patient’s life. Treating the underlying cause, however, gives the patient a better chance at health.
- An understanding of the social and economic conditions that exacerbate ill health: Holistic care practitioners believe that understanding social and economic conditions and their impact on the individual’s health can help them better understand human health and treat patients accordingly.
Types of holistic treatments
Holistic treatments can take many different forms, depending on what works best for each individual, including:
- Lifestyle treatments: Holistic care can feature lifestyle treatments such as nutritional changes, exercise, cultivating healthy relationships, quitting drugs and other harmful substances, dealing with addiction, managing insomnia, psychotherapy, and even spiritual counselling.
- Alternative medicine and therapies: Holistic treatment can also involve alternative therapies such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, chiropractic, naturopathy, Ayurvedic medicine, massage therapy, homeopathy, and other alternative medicine practices.
- Western medicine and surgery: Holistic medicine also adopts conventional medicine and surgical practices and may combine them with other types of treatment to achieve the best outcomes for patients.
- Becoming a holistic healthcare provider: Holistic medicine involves the input of all types of healthcare providers, including nurses. To become a holistic healthcare nurse, you must undergo training and be registered as a nurse. If you are not a professional nurse yet and are considering transitioning into a career in nursing as a holistic healthcare practitioner, you can take the UIndy ABSN program, which allows you to become a professional nurse in 15 months. After becoming a licensed nurse, you should do a clinical placement at a holistic care center, take some courses, and then take the American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation (AHNCC) certification examination.
Advantages of a holistic approach to medicine
There are many advantages to using a holistic approach to medicine. Some of the most important benefits include:
- More personalized treatment: A holistic approach to medicine encourages a more personalized approach to treatment, as every patient is treated not as a textbook case but as an individual with a unique lifestyle and physiology.
- Better patient outcomes: A holistic approach to medicine encourages better outcomes for patients. The emphasis on communal health, and treating underlying conditions and not just symptoms, helps keep the patient in the best state for the longest time.
- Patient involvement in care: Patients have a direct role to play in holistic medicine. This might help to alleviate the feeling of hopelessness that many patients feel. Helplessness can sometimes create emotional despair, exacerbating the patient’s condition.
- Synergy between conventional medicine and alternative medicine: Holistic medicine juxtaposes the best parts of the different approaches to medicine. When combined with lifestyle changes and alternative medicine, conventional medicine can have phenomenal results.
Holistic approach to medicine considers all the factors that may be affecting a person’s health, including their physical environment, lifestyle, emotions, beliefs and social relationships. This type of approach is becoming more popular as people realize the importance of taking a preventative rather than reactive stance when it comes to their health.