Holistic Medicine: What Is It?
Updated: May 27
According to the New England Journal of Medicine over 40 billion dollars a year are now being spent by Americans on something that doesn’t even have a definitive name. The words: alternative, holistic, humanistic, complementary, integrative, new age and mind/body medicine are some of the labels used to describe a wide variety of health practices that fall outside the realm of our allopathic medical system.
Just fifteen years ago most Americans and very few medical doctors were aware of the growing trend of individuals seeking and paying out of pocket for health related practices that were not covered by their insurance. Further more they rarely told their allopathic physician what they were doing. All of this came to light in 1992 when Dr. David Eisenberg a prominent researcher at Harvard Medical published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine stating that over 14 billion dollars a year were being spent on Alternative Medicine. In 1996, as the director of Wainwright House in Rye, N.Y., I hosted a conference to bring together alternative practitioners and allopathic physicians in dialogue and invited Dr. Eisenberg to be our keynote speaker. There were 150 attendees split evenly between doctors and practitioners. By the end of the weekend I knew it was a success because they were yelling back and forth across the aisles at each other – at least the dialogue had begun.
As a result of this conference I was asked to be part of a development team at a local hospital. They had a million dollar grant for an Alternative Health Department and I subsequently left Wainwright House to become the director of that department. It was one of only twelve such programs in the country under a hospital umbrella – we were considered pioneers. Just ten years later most every major medical center in the country has a Holistic Health Department.
Alternative Medicine has become main stream in just one decade but there is still a great deal of confusion around what it is and how to use it. In many instances it means taking responsibility for your own health. This can be scary. Most people are confused about what to try and where to begin. Most doctors are still not much help in this area.
In this column each month I will attempt to give an overview of the different types of alternative medicine. I will include information on modalities that require a practitioner such as: acupuncture, reflexology and massage. I will also give information on self-regulating techniques; things individuals can learn to do to draw on the body’s natural ability to heal itself such as: meditation, visualization, and breath work. I will offer suggestions on where you might find these modalities and how you might integrate some of these powerful techniques into your life.
In general Holistic Medicine is an attitudinal approach to healing. It looks at each case, be it an accident or disease, as a total experience of the individual – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. In most cases in modern medicine the injury or illness is segregated and only the effected area is treated. Holistic means greater than the sum of its parts. In a holistic approach to healing the focus is on the whole person not on the disease or injury. Holistic or Alternative Practitioners in general embrace a philosophy that incorporates five approaches to healing that provide an underlying foundation for their particular practice:
Celebrate the uniqueness of each individual
Include the patient as an equal partner in the treatment plan
Recognize that the quality of the relationship between patient and Practitioner is as important as the technology.
Understand that the true nature of healing occurs from within
Support each patient in a safe, caring, and effective way. Unfortunately, many of these tenants have become lost in our medical mire of
high technology, HMO’s, and insurance driven care. In my opinion this is what has driven Americans into the offices of alternative practitioners throughout the country; spending billions of dollars looking for relief and cures for the enormous increase in cancer, auto-immune diseases, and chronic conditions that have no magic cures or quick fixes from the medical community.
I am a great believer in integrated medicine. Using the best of what our western medicine has to offer and supporting it with the best of what the east offers. Most alternative solutions are based on knowledge gleaned from ancient, indigenous cultures, reaching back over 3,000 years. Having had breast cancer myself I can attest to the positive results of integrating both systems of health care. I had a mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and chemotherapy that saved my life. I supported my body with: acupuncture, Reiki Energy Healing, meditation, visualization, Chinese herbs, and yoga. The outcome: an extraordinarily fast recovery from surgery, an immune system that stayed strong and white blood cell count that never wavered during chemotherapy. My doctor at a New York Cornell Hospital in NYC was so amazed that she started sending her patients to have sessions with me before having bone-marrow transplants.
Holistic Medicine in my world means the exquisite blending of all that we have available to us from both the allopathic and alternative communities. Professor Woodson Merrill from Columbia Medical School states, “If you don’t help patients to harness their own healing capacities, you are putting them at a significant disadvantage” In the months to come I hope to offer some “Alternative Solutions” that will assist you in harnessing your own healing abilities.
Judy Milinowski is a Holistic Practitioner in Boothbay Harbor, Maine