In the face of an increasingly inadequate system of conventional medicine, a growing number of people are turning to holistic/alternative medicine to address their needs. Many individuals are now realizing the effectiveness of the holistic medicine’s approach to health which blends body and mind, science and experience, and traditional and cross cultural methods of diagnosis and treatment. These same individuals are also discovering the limitations of conventional medicine and its myopic view of the body, which focuses on compartmentalizing the body and prescribing synthetic treatments to address the physical symptoms. This is just the beginning of the differences between holistic medicine and conventional medicine.
Our culture has allowed the health care industry to become so powerful and disproportionately lucrative that it is now in the business of illness rather than health. In one disconcerting example, a cancer physician, returning from an extended vacation, found an empty waiting room. His colleague had been treating his patients nutritionally. The physician wailed, “This is terrible. It took me years to build a long-term, regular patient clientele!” People everywhere are realizing that our doctors receive no reward for health, only for treating illness. Most medical schools don’t teach disease prevention, proper diet or exercise as a part of health. Objective measures are emphasized – white blood cell counts, blood pressure readings, etc., instead of how the patient feels. Pain is treated as a powerful enemy, its symptoms assaulted with prescription drugs that mask it or drive it underground- a practice that usually means it will resurface later with increased intensity.
The twenty-first century finds many people using more natural, less drug-oriented therapies, sometimes as an alternative to conventional medicine, sometimes in a team approach along with it. As orthodox medicine becomes more invasive, and less in touch with the person who is ill, informed people are becoming more willing to take a measure of responsibility for their own health.
The Origin and Philosophy of Holistic/Alternative Medicine
The underlying concepts of holistic medicine are older than those of conventional or allopathic medicine, and have actually had various healing traditions around the world since the dawn of recorded history. As early as 5000 B.C., “physician-sages” formulating the healing traditions of both traditional and Chinese medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic medicine recognized that human beings were comprised of mind, body, and spirit and their health was dependent on the balance of all three factors.
This view was also held by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, whose genius was not in the drugs he used or his diagnostic skills, but his insight into the elements that were needed in order to produce and maintain health that was natural and included hygiene, a calm and balanced mental state, proper diet, a sound work and home environment, and physical conditioning.
The primary role of healers and physicians in each of these traditions was to teach others how to live harmoniously with themselves and their environment, and how to utilize the above categories effectively to obtain true health. In the end, holistic medicine is a model that creates empowerment by educating patients in the many ways to take personal responsibility for their health, and to learn safely and effectively how to treat physical, mental, and spiritual conditions so they experience more energy and joy in being alive.
The Origin and Philosophy of Conventional Medicine
The roots of conventional medicine (drug and surgery based medical procedures that became dominant in the both century) can be traced back to Rene Descartes (1596-1650), the famous scientist and philosopher who was characterized by his rationalistic, dualistic worldview.
Perhaps an unintended consequence of his philosophy Cartesianism, was the separation of the “mind” from the “body”, which ultimately led to various fields of specialization that now comprise conventional medicine, each of which focuses on a particular branch of medicine and the organ it treats, usually with little regard to how these parts are intertwined and the dynamic relationship between them.
In the mid-19th century, the discovery of disease causing microbes added further “validity” to the conventional medicine theory. At the time there were two opposing theories concerning the cause of disease – one that infecting microbes known as germs causes illness, while the other maintained that those microbes only caused illness when the conditions inside the body were right for them due to imbalances in the various body systems.
The “germ theory”, which was advocated by Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), became dominant and heralded the birth of conventional medicine with its emphasis on infectious causes of disease rather than creation and maintenance of physiological harmony and balance.
This followed by rapid development of microscopy, bacterial cultures, vaccines, x-rays, and antibacterial drugs. The more the conventional medical system became focused on treating specific ailments, the more it moved away from teaching (doctor is derived from the Latin verb docere, meaning “to teach”) to that of authoritarian figures whose advice patients are expected to unquestioningly follow.
It also led to organization of medical schools into departments of specialty, such as cardiology, nephrology, neurology, dermatology, orthopedics, and psychiatry. This led to disease classification by the organ it affected (appendicitis, prostatitis, colitis, heart and gallbladder, disease, etc) which diverted attention away from the intrinsic relatedness of all parts of the body and the dynamic of all these life forces. In the end, conventional medicine is a model that takes an authoritarian approach to the physician-patient relationship, and primarily promotes drugs and surgery to remedy physical symptoms.
The Principles of Holistic Medicine
The guiding principles behind holistic medicine are rooted in education, empowerment, and prevention through natural means, taking into effect the dynamic of the entire body and how the individual body parts work together to create optimal health. These Specific Principles Include:
* Embracing a variety of safe and effective diagnostic and treatment options, that includes education for lifestyle changes and self care, and complementary diagnostic and treatment approaches.
* Searching for underlying causes of disease are preferable to treating symptoms alone.
* Establishing the kind of patient that has a disease, as much as the kind of disease a patient has.
* Prevention is preferable to treatment and more cost effective.
* Illness is viewed as a manifestation of the dysfunction of the whole person, not an isolated event.
* In the healing process, the quality of the relationship established between physician and patient is paramount, in which the patient is encouraged to take responsibility of their own health.
* The ideal relationship considers the needs, desires, awareness, and insight of the patient, as well as the physician.
* Physicians significantly influence patients by their example.
* Illness, pain, and the dying process are learning opportunities for both the patient and the physician.
* Encouraging patients to evoke the healing power of love, hope, humour, and enthusiasm to release the toxic consequences of hostility, shame, greed, depression, and prolonged fear, anger, and grief.
* Optimal health is more than the absence of sickness. It’s the pursuit of the highest qualities of the physical, environmental, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social aspects of human experience.
The strengths of this system is that it teaches patients to take responsibility for their own health, and in doing so it is more cost effective in treating acute and chronic illness. It is also therapeutic in preventing and treating chronic disease. and is essential in creating optimal health. The weaknesses of this system is that it is time intensive, requires a commitment to the healing process, and is not a quick fix.
The Principles of Conventional Medicine:
The guiding principles of conventional medicine are rooted in ignorance (lack of education), enslavement, and reaction through synthetic measures, through departmentalization of various body parts so symptoms can be treated without recognition of the interplay of the rest of the body for proper balance and functionality. These guidelines Include:
* Embracing synthetic and toxic measures as effective treatment options, in hopes that the “poison” will kill the infectious disease, with collateral damage to the rest of the body considered inconsequential. Education is minimal to non-existent, and lifestyle changes and self care are considered secondary treatment options.
* Preference is to treat the symptoms through drugs and surgery, rather than searching for underlying causes of disease, in order to eliminate physical symptoms.
* Treatment with drugs and surgery is the preferred method of action, with prevention through diet and lifestyle being a secondary option.
* Illness is sequestered and pinpointed in certain areas of the body in order to diagnose and prescribe treatments for a specific organ or function.
* Patients are to be diagnosed and prescribed treatment, with complete authority and decision making lying with the physician.
* Care is considered successful primarily through the absence of symptoms, rather than quality of life.
The strengths of this system is that it is highly effective in treating both acute and life threatening illnesses and injuries. The weakness of this system it is ineffective at preventing and curing chronic disease, and is very expensive.
What Happens When You Choose Holistic Medicine Over Conventional?
As a result of adopting conventional medicine over holistic medicine, we have become “vertically ill”. Many people are not sick enough to lie down, but walk around in an ill state of health that is not recognizable to them or their peers due to the fact it is now considered “normal” by society. These people derive limited benefit from tranquillizers, antidepressants, analgesics, and anti-inflammatory drugs, while the side effects they develop from the drugs just add to their list of health challenges.
Thoughtful physicians are becoming aware that something is wrong with their patients immune systems, but their typical medical treatments seem unable to do anything about it. This has doctors and patients perplexed by the failure of drug based therapies to bring relief, and as a result, patients become trapped in a cycle of dependency on physicians to monitor and adjust their medications rather than empowering them to change lifestyle factors that might allow their body to regain its full potential.
Healthy food, regular moderate exercise and restful sleep is still the best medicine for many health conditions. The principle of nature governing health and illness are ageless; they apply equally everywhere at all times. There is no down time with the laws of nature, and they do not play favorites. We need to be re-educated about our health – to be less intimidated by doctors and disease. I believe that the greatest ally of alternative medicine will be science itself – not the restricted view of science that assumes its basic concepts are complete, but the open-ended science that sets preconceived notions aside. Today’s consumers are not only more aware of alternative health care choices, and more confident in their own healing strength, but also want to do something for themselves to get better. The time has clearly come for a partnership between health care professionals and patients, so that the healing resources from both sides can be optimally employed. No prescription is more valuable than knowledge.
As long as we continue to mask symptoms or control health problems, and not get to the root cause of the issue and address them through education and natural methods, we will be forever sick, and our quality of life will be permanently diminished. It is time to recognize that the way to be empowered and achieve a high quality of life is to adopt a more holistic approach to our day to day habits.
Let conventional medicine be the “rescue medicine” it excels at in order to save us from immediate life threatening health situations.
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