You've been through this routine at the doctor: You go in to seek treatment for an illness and you're prescribed a drug that you've never taken before. After taking the medicine, you experience side effects that make you feel worse than your original illness did.
Why is it that Western doctors are quick to prescribe chemical medicine for all illnesses? Better yet, when is the last time a conventional doctor asked you how much you were sleeping? Or about your diet? General life stress?
What is Conventional Medicine?
Conventional or Western Medicine is an approach to medicine that is based on modern science, and that evaluates the human body, its disorders, and medical treatments in purely-biophysical or biochemical terms. Common treatment methods include drugs, radiation, and surgery.
Additionally, conventional medicine often prefers the most statistically-likely diagnosis and treatments that work on larger populations, over individualized or specialized ones (at least until they’ve been ineffective).
This view of the human body and medicine as a purely physical entity is rooted in Enlightenment philosophies of reductionism and materialism.
Reductionism is the philosophical position that claims that the more simple and verifiable a claim is, the more likely it is to be true. Materialism is the philosophical position that claims that reality is made up of solely of matter, which dismisses concepts found in various philosophical and religious traditions, such as logos, mind, and the soul.
Because the human body is at least in part a physical specimen, conventional medicine offers effective solutions to many medical issues, especially in emergency settings, where physical injuries are obvious root and cause of harm/distress (e.g. slipping and breaking wrist).
However, as human beings, we have health concerns that extend beyond the body and many patients today feel that the conventional approach to health does not sufficiently address their emotional, mental, or personal wellness. As such, many people are increasingly seeking an alternative to modern medicine that utilizes a whole-person or holistic approach to health.
What is Holistic Medicine?
Holistic Medicine is approach to medicine that aims to improve the overall sense of bodily and emotional well-being of a person, rather than just treat the symptoms of an illness. It addresses the whole person – body, mind, and spirit.
It does this by emphasizing the body's own ability to heal itself, as well promoting healthy lifestyle changes, and preferring natural treatments and remedies to synthetically produced compounds. For example, one of the most common forms of complementary medicine is massage therapy. Massage Therapy has been found to be an effective treatment to many modern-day health issues, such as chronic pain and general anxiety.
Conventional vs Holistic Medicine
As stated earlier, Conventional Medicine is effective at treating issues that are obviously physical in nature and that require immediate attention (like in emergency settings). However, it falls short at addressing health issues that have complex causes and/or where specialized/longer-term attention is needed.
For example, there’s been an on-going opioid-addiction crisis in the US. Unfortunately, many people that are currently struggling with opioid-addiction got hooked after being legitimately prescribed opioids (usually in the form of pain killers) by an MD. In this situation, conventional medicine addressed the symptom of pain via prescription drugs, but it didn’t take into consideration the long-term effects that the medicine would have on the patient.
As a response, many conventional medical settings are becoming increasingly aware of the need for individualized care and natural treatments that have fewer side-effects than prescription-grade drugs.
However, if conventional medicine focuses exclusively on the physical side of the body, then what does holistic medicine focus on? In the next article, we’ll explore the different dimensions of holistic medicine and some of the more popular modalities, including Oriental Medicine, bodywork, diet therapy, and natural life-style modifications.
Career in Holistic Medicine
If natural and alternative medicine is an interest of yours, consider a career in holistic medicine. Download our FREE career guide below to learn about different career options, including how to become an acupuncturist or massage therapist.