In my previous post searching for definitions of the various terms describing health care modalities that fall outside of the conventional Western system, we looked at Alternative, Complementary, CAM/CAVM and eCAM. In today’s post, we will take a closer look at the definitions of holistic, traditional, allopathic, conventional and integrative medicine.
What is the difference between integrative and holistic medicine? Is there a holistic medicine definition? Are there different types of holistic medicine? Is holistic synonymous with alternative medicine? Let’s see what the experts have to say:
The Oxford English dictionary defines holistic medicine as “n. a form of medical treatment that attempts to deal with the whole person and not merely with his or her physical condition.”
The Encyclopædia Britannica defines it as “a doctrine of preventive and therapeutic medicine that emphasizes the necessity of looking at the whole person – his body, mind, emotions, and environment – rather than at an isolated function or organ, and which promotes the use of a wide range of health practices and therapies. It has especially come to stress responsibility for “self-healing,” or “self-care,” by observing the traditional commonsense essentials of exercise, healthful diet, adequate sleep, good air, moderation in personal habits, and so forth.”
The American Holistic Health Association (AHHA) states: “Holistic Health is based on the law of nature that a whole is made up of interdependent parts. The earth is made up of systems, such as air, land, water, plants and animals. If life is to be sustained, they cannot be separated, for what is happening to one is also felt by all of the other systems. In the same way, an individual is a whole made up of interdependent parts, which are the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. When one part is not working at its best, it impacts all of the other parts of that person. The principles of Holistic Health state that health is more than just not being sick. Holistic Health is an ongoing process… even when no illness seems to be present, there is still a lot of room for improvement.”
The Canadian Holistic Medical Association says “Holistic medicine is a system of health care which fosters a cooperative relationship among all those involved, leading towards optimal attainment of the physical, mental emotional, social and spiritual aspects of health… It emphasizes the need to look at the whole person, including analysis of physical, nutritional, environmental, emotional, social, spiritual and lifestyle values. It encompasses all modalities of diagnosis and treatment, including drugs and surgery if no safe alternative exists. Holistic medicine focuses on education and responsibility for personal efforts to achieve balance and well being.”
How about Holistic Veterinary Medicine?
From The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association: “Holistic (or Integrative) Veterinary Medicine is the examination and diagnosis of an animal, considering all aspects of the animal’s life and employing all of the practitioner’s senses, as well as the combination of conventional and alternative (or complementary) modalities of treatment.
Many patients present in a state of “disease.” At this point, the holistic challenge lies in the question “why?” When a holistic veterinarian sees a pet, besides giving it a comprehensive physical examination, he/she wants to find out all about its behaviors, hygiene, distant medical and dietary history, disease pattern, the pet’s relationship with family members, its environment, diet, emotional stresses, and other factors. The goal is finding the true root source of the pathology; a simple-appearing symptom may have several layers of causation. Only when the true cause of the ailment has been found is there the possibility for a lasting recovery.
In the UK
The British Holistic Medical Association states: A whole person approach means using a using mixture of resources, techniques, skills, and the practitioner’s wisdom and intuition to bring benefit to their patient. It means considering the mind-body connection in every patient or client, taking account of their emotional state and exploring their spirituality. It is looking at the bigger picture that includes relationships, the community and the physical environment. The whole person approach strives to create health and healing as well as treating illness.
The Australian Natural Therapists Association Limited (ANTA) defines holistic medicine as follows “From “holistic,” meaning “whole”. An alternative form of medicine that seeks to balance the close connections between mind and body.”
The Better Health Channel (funded by the State Government of Victoria) states: “Complementary therapy is known by many different terms, including alternative therapy, alternative medicine, holistic therapy and traditional medicine. Historically, modern medicine evolved out of an assumption that the mind and body are separate. Disease and illness were viewed as mechanical breakdowns and, generally, it was these breakdowns and the symptoms they caused that were treated. Complementary therapies aim to treat the entire person, not just the symptoms. Today, the division between conventional medicine and complementary therapies is blurring. Many complementary therapies are as grounded in anatomy and physiology as modern medicine, while modern medicine has widened its scope to include a more holistic approach to health care and has adopted therapies that originated in complementary medicine.”
So what is integrative medicine? I have always thought of integrative health and healing as putting the holistic view into practice with the help of alternative, complementary AND conventional therapies. Let’s see what others think:
According to NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM): “Integrative medicine combines treatments from conventional medicine and CAM for which there is some high-quality evidence of safety and effectiveness. It is also called integrated medicine.
Merriam-Webster defines it as “medicine that integrates the therapies of alternative medicine with those practiced by mainstream medical practitioners”
Dr. Weil states: “Integrative medicine is healing-oriented medicine that takes account of the whole person (body, mind, and spirit), including all aspects of lifestyle. It emphasizes the therapeutic relationship and makes use of all appropriate therapies, both conventional and alternative.”
The Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine defines it as “the practice of medicine that reaffirms the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, healthcare professionals and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.”
Georgetown University’s integrative medicine definition is a little bit more targeted: “medicine that incorporates beneficial evidence-based practices from complementary and alternative medicine as well as mainstream medicine”
The European Journal of Integrative Medicine (EuJIM) defines integrative medicine as “the link between conventional medicine and evidence based complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM includes acupuncture, herbal medicine, osteopathy, mindfulness and may encompass a variety of other healthcare approaches which have relevance for effective clinical practice.”
In the UK
Integrative medicine is often called Integrated medicine in the UK, and the British Society of Integrated Medicine defines it as follows: “an approach to health and healing that provides patients with individually tailored health and wellbeing programmes which are designed to address the barriers to healing and provide the patient with the knowledge, skills and support to take better care of their physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual health. Rather than limiting treatments to a specific specialty, integrated medicine uses the safest and most effective combination of approaches and treatments from the world of conventional and complementary/alternative medicine. These are selected according to, but not limited to, evidence-based practice, and the expertise, experience and insight of the individuals and team members caring for the patient.”
The British College of Integrative Medicine (BCIM) states: “Integrative Medicine is a compassionate, proactive approach to healthcare which combines the very best of all medicines – orthodox, complementary, psycho-spiritual and self-help – for the treatment of illness and the prevention of illness. “
From The Australasian Integrative Medicine Association (AIMA): “Integrative Medicine is the practice of medicine that reaffirms the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, healthcare professionals and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.”
According to The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners: “Integrative medicine refers to the blending of conventional and evidence based complementary medicines and therapies with the aim of using the most appropriate of either or both modalities to care for the patient as a whole. Integrative medicine, like general practice, embraces and encourages a holistic approach to practice that incorporates patient involvement in self health care, prevention and lifestyle interventions. Integrative medicine encompasses more than complementary medicine, although this integration is an important and obvious aspect of integrative medicine.”
Allopathic / Conventional / Orthodox / Western Medicine
The term “Allopathic medicine” was coined by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann (founder of the Heilkunst healing system, of which homeopathy is probably the best known component here in the US) to describe conventional Western medicine (and thus differentiate it from what he was practicing).
Other terms that are used to describe the Western medical system of practice include: conventional medicine, biomedicine, Western medicine, evidence-based medicine, scientific medicine, clinical medicine, authoritarian medicine, regular medicine, standard medicine, mainstream medicine, and orthodox medicine.
So is an allopathic physician always a Western medicine MD? Is allopathy really just another term for conventional medicine? Some say yes, some say no:
NIH’s National Cancer Institute defines allopathic medicine as “A system in which medical doctors and other healthcare professionals treat symptoms and diseases using drugs, radiation, or surgery. Also called biomedicine, conventional medicine, mainstream medicine, orthodox medicine, and Western medicine.”
NCCAM says: “Conventional medicine (also called Western or allopathic medicine) is medicine as practiced by holders of M.D. (medical doctor) and D.O. (doctor of osteopathic medicine) degrees and by allied health professionals, such as physical therapists, psychologists, and registered nurses.”
The Oxford English Dictionary defines allopathy as “The curing of a diseased action by the inducing of another of a different kind, yet not necessarily diseased.’ New Sydenham Soc. Lexicon A term applied by homœopathists to the ordinary or traditional medical practice, and to a certain extent in common use to distinguish it from homeopathy n.
The American Heritage Dictionary states: “A method of treating disease with remedies that produce effects different from those caused by the disease itself”
In the UK
Chris Day of the Alternative Veterinary Medicine Centre has the following to say about allopathic medicine: “Allopathy is the treatment of disease by a substance that bears no relationship to the signs and symptoms of the disease. This term is sometimes erroneously used to describe many modern conventional drugs (see ‘antiopathy’). The body’s reaction to allopathic medicines is to show new signs or symptoms quite unrelated to the disease.
Antiopathy (Palliation): Antiopathy is the treatment of disease with a substance that opposes, counteracts or suppresses the signs/symptoms (treatment by opposites). Many modern conventional drugs come under this heading. Temporary relief of the signs and symptoms of chronic disease is achievable (palliation), via the direct metabolic effect of the drug. However, reactive worsening may occur, once the drug suppression is lifted. The body’s (inevitable) reaction (usually unwanted) to these medicines is termed ‘side effect’.”
Finally, what is “Traditional Medicine”? Here in the US, the term is often used to describe Western biomedicine, but in many other countries, it describes what we often think of as alternative / complementary medicine. Most often, the type of traditional medicine in question is included, i.e. Traditional Chinese Medicine”, “Traditional Herbal Medicine”, “Traditional Tibetan Medicine”, “Traditional Aboriginal Bush Medicine”, etc. Other terms for Traditional medicine include Folk medicine and Natural medicine.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “traditional” as “Belonging to, consisting in, or of the nature of tradition; handed down by or derived from tradition”
Merriam-Webster says: “the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction”
The WHO states “Traditional medicine is the sum total of the knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness.”
In the UK
A search for “traditional medicine definition, or what is traditional medicine” on Google UK brings up almost exclusively herbal medicine (courses, regulations, practitioners, etc.), but Cancerresearch UK says: “Health professionals usually use the term traditional medicine to mean a therapy or health practice that has developed over centuries within a particular culture. It is usually formed around a particular belief system and may involve using a healer or specific types of plant based or animal based medicine. Examples include Ayurvedic medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine”
The Traditional Healers Fellowship states: “Traditional Healing is the oldest form of structured medicine, that is, a medicine that has an underlying philosophy and set of principles by which it is practised. It is the medicine from which all later forms of medicine developed, including Chinese medicine, Graeco-Arabic medicine, and of course also modern Western medicine. Traditional Healers use natural methods of treatment, because these were the resources that have nurtured the human race – and in fact all life – since the beginning of time. Traditional Healing treatments are always integrated and involve a combination of approaches such as psychotherapeutics, herbal medicine, nutritional therapy and physical therapeutics.
The Australian Traditional Medicine Society calls it Natural Medicine and states: “The practice of natural medicine is holistic. This means that a properly trained natural medicine practitioner will consider the person, not a named health condition. Of course symptom relief is important and is one of the aims of a holistic natural medicine treatment. However in addition the holistic practitioner will also consider areas such as a person’s lifestyle and diet to identify the possible underlying causes of a loss of full wellbeing.
The holistic practice of natural medicine also extends to the most appropriate modality, or type of therapy, both for the individual and the presenting health concerns. The properly trained natural medicine practitioner is well qualified to offer advice and guidance here. However it is often the person seeking better health who will first make this decision, based on their already known likes and dislikes, perhaps even their ‘gut feeling’.”
What can we conclude from all this? Well, even if it’s not all that common (yet), conventional Western medicine can be holistic and integrative, as long as all facets of the patient and his environment are considered, and it is part of an all-inclusive treatment plan. A holistic health practitioner does not necessarily need to be someone who practices complimentary therapies exclusively – more and more allopathic (yes, I’m using it do describe Western biomedicine) practitioners are starting to become more open to and accepting of complementary therapies. And there is an increasing number of both human health professionals and veterinarians who practice a combination of conventional and complementary therapies.
See our list of alternative therapies with links to articles and case studies for each.