Why Are We So Afraid of Holistic Healthcare?

October 25, 2013
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benefits of holistic careWhen people feel sick, they visit a doctor. At the doctor’s office, they expect to get a prescription. Whether or not a prescription drug is the best option, both physicians and their patients are programmed to expect drugs to solve their problems.

benefits of holistic careWhen people feel sick, they visit a doctor. At the doctor’s office, they expect to get a prescription. Whether or not a prescription drug is the best option, both physicians and their patients are programmed to expect drugs to solve their problems.

A 2012 report from the CDC showed that 48.5 percent of Americans had taken at least one prescription drug in the previous month. There’s no doubt that traditional medicine and pharmaceuticals help people recover from illness. However, the one-size-fits-all approach to healthcare may mask problems caused by a patient’s lifestyle choices and overall health. Holistic care can offer an alternative for some. 

Approaching the Patient as a Whole Person

Holistic medicine is a healing approach that addresses the whole person — mind, body, and spirit — and places the responsibility for an individual’s health in his own hands. Rather than treat a specific ailment, holistic healthcare focuses on a person’s well-being by combining alternative therapies, nutrition, exercise, and Eastern healing arts with the advances of Western medicine.

Holistic medicine predates our current ideas of “traditional healthcare.” In the fourth century B.C., Socrates warned about treating an isolated part without seeing the body as whole. Holistic medicine existed even earlier in Greece, as well as in India and China, where holistic remedies are still common. After falling out of favor in the West, holistic medicine has experienced a recent resurgence.

A host of therapies can be grouped under the umbrella of holistic medicine, but some of the most common include acupuncture, Reiki, meditation, massage, chiropractic care, homeopathic remedies, nutrition, and aromatherapy.

When a patient visits a holistic doctor about a specific issue, the doctor will ask about the person’s other health problems, diet and sleep habits, relationships, and spiritual life to determine an underlying cause before suggesting treatment.

Holistic Care for Effective Treatment of Pain

While holistic health is much bigger than a single sickness or symptom, in certain situations, traditional medical care is required when holistic remedies are insufficient. Antibiotics treat infections, a ruptured organ requires surgery, and a broken bone needs a cast.

Yet our modern illnesses are often much more complicated, nuanced, and lifestyle-related. For example, doctors may try to help a patient with chronic back pain by recommending steroids, pain medication, and surgery. It’s unwise to ask someone to undergo such life-altering treatments without first seeking less invasive options, such as acupuncture, chiropractic treatments, vitamin therapy, or VAX-D. If the patient’s chronic pain is related to stress, diet, or an activity, traditional medicine may not recognize these causes, much less prescribe a practical treatment for them.

Furthermore, holistic healthcare teaches people to take responsibility for their health emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The patient learns to understand his pain in an interrelated way. People who understand and actively work to take care of their bodies feel more positive about themselves and more in control.

In some situations, holistic healthcare is a strong alternative to traditional care. In my experience, drug addiction is often treated more effectively with a combination of traditional and holistic methods, rather than just with pharmaceuticals. Suboxone and Subutex are effective to treat withdrawal from some illegal drugs, but long-term sobriety requires lifestyle changes.

Reasons People Avoid Holistic Medicine

Despite the obvious benefits of holistic methods, both doctors and patients are wary of them because of our cultural expectations of healthcare. Our traditional beliefs about healthcare have taught us to take a pill for a quick fix. We assume taking medicine will help us — and it often does. However, medication can carry serious side effects. Our reliance on prescription drugs may take a toll on our well-being.

People also shy away from holistic treatment because of time. Lifestyle changes require patience and commitment; they yield slow results. In our culture of instant gratification, there’s little patience for plodding change. If someone has the choice of taking a pill for immediate weight loss or using alternative therapies to shed pounds over months, most will opt for the fast, easy method.

Seeking a Long-Term Solution

The medical community is increasingly open to considering lifestyle a factor in preventing disease. It’s clear that pharmaceuticals and traditional medicine alone won’t prevent future problems. Lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, and stress reduction are required to improve people’s quality of life.

Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, is credited with saying it’s more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has. He may have been on to something.

(holistic care / shutterstock)

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