Holistic Medicine

Holistic Medicine is defined as medical care that has a total approach to the physical, mental and spiritual needs of the patient. Many times these needs are intertwined, so that spiritual problems may have serious effects on the physical well-being of the patient. Or, physical problems can certainly weigh heavily on a patient's mental and spiritual health and well-being.

Most physicians understand that these relationships exist, but it can be a daunting task to enter a patient's metaphysical world to deal with their spiritual problems. Most physicians would recommend getting psychiatric help or counseling for mental problems, or seeking a spiritual advisor for spiritual problems, which I feel is an appropriate route.

Some physicians take an extra step in dealing with their patients' spiritual needs by doing some counseling, or by dabbling in "alternative medicine". I can see how these modalities can reach a patient whose mental condition has seriously altered his physical condition. Even the simple act of respecting the patient's spiritual needs can go a long way in dealing with an ailing patient.

What I don't like about the way some holistic medicine and alternative medicine are often practiced is the commercialization of it. Maybe it's more like an "industrialization". The catch words for folk healing, such as "natural healing" or "herbal" anything, define a new industry that preys on people who are hurting and not getting enough satisfaction from traditional medicine.  Often true Holistic Medicine is subverted by well-intentioned and not so well-intentioned practitioners, who take advantage of the fact that patients are looking for something entirely different from traditional medicine, and they use the fact that any touted alternative will have a strong placebo effect. A growing group of "medical fraud" practitioners have built a multi-billion dollar industry in this country! Sadly, most of the general public believes that most alternative medicine is likely to be as effective as scientifically proven (evidence-based) medicine. And for the smaller number of people who see the fraudulent nature of the vast majority of alternative medical treatments, holistic medicine has gotten a bad name.

With that caveat said, I really do like and practice holistic medicine! But I require that it has to utilize an evidence-based approach (that is, backed up by scientific evidence).

I think a large part the public's dissatisfaction with traditional medicine is the lack of preventive services, which are perceived as more "caring". Prevention is also much more time-consuming, and requires additional skills in teaching and communication. 

Whenever there is a profit-driven motive for the use of any medical treatment, whether pharmaceutical or holistic or surgical or whatever, it becomes a conflict of interest, and should be considered medical fraud. For example, a doctor ordering an expensive medication (because there is no cheaper alternative) and that doctor does not derive any profit from the sale of that drug, is NOT a conflict of interest. But a doctor who orders moderately expensive herbal or non-proven treatments that he or she sells you and profits from....THAT is medical fraud! (It doesn't have to be doctor, either! Anyone can sell you medications or treatments or vitamin supplements or miracle herbs, etc if they are not under FDA control.)

Desired Effect                                    Holistic Approach                                        Phony Holistic Approach
                                             (evidence-based, proven effective)                   (profit-driven, not proven effective)

Prevent lung cancer                    Don't smoke tobacco, avoid air pollution                 Buy herbs and vitamins

Prevent heart attacks                  Don't smoke, don't eat sugar                                   Buy herbs and vitamins

Prevent diabetes                         Exercise daily, don't eat sugar                                 Buy herbs and vitamins

Maintain healthy weight              Exercise, avoid sugar, 8 hours sleep                        Buy diet pills, low-fat food

Prevent liver disease                   Limit alcohol and sugar intake                                 Buy vitamins

Prevent arthritis                          Daily exercise, stretching                                         Buy drugs and vitamins

etc, etc (you get the idea!)

© Rick Voakes 1999, Health-bytes LOGO  by Rie Cramer