Holistic Medicine

Understanding holistic medicine

What is holistic medicine?

The term holistic medicine relates to a wide number of therapies that are designed to treat the whole of a person, both their body and mind. It is often, therefore, seen in contrast to the drug therapies offered by big pharmaceutical companies – and surgery, for that matter – as a means of dealing with all ailments rather than focusing on 'cures' for specific pathogens or treating individual symptoms. Some, therefore, argue that holistic medicine frames conventional Western medicine as one that is narrow in its approach and ultimately unnatural. Holistic medicine is consequently considered an alternative therapy or, more accurately, a combination of alternative therapies. Today, some doctors combine the principals behind holistic therapies with conventional ones. However, this is not yet routine in the West.

 Where did holistic medicine originate?

Holistic medicine does not have a single point in time or a place from which its development can be traced. The herbalism carried out in Ancient Greece and, later, Mediaeval Europe is a part of the holistic practice. Certain Ayurvedic traditions from ancient India also contribute as does parts of traditional Chinese medicine. Overall, holistic ideas around medicine began to take root during the explosion of New Age thinking in the 1960s and 70s.

What is holistic medicine used for?

In terms of treatments, holistic therapy is used for every ailment known to man, whether or not it is successful in the end. However, holistic therapies are not there simply to treat pre-existing conditions but to prevent them by promoting better health in the first place. Holistic techniques will often emphasise healthy posture, diet and mental attitude, for instance. Different alternative therapies, such as massage and homeopathy, might be suggested. As mentioned, holistic approaches are sometimes used in the West to add to the medicine that is already available from science rather than to replace it. People with Cancer, for example, may see their oncology specialist to treat their condition and a holistic practitioner to help build up their wider health.

How does holistic medicine function?

This depends on the treatment or treatments being deployed. In some cases, therapies like acupuncture or reiki aim to improve the balance of life force in people. Massage and chiropractic care may be used, too, in order to relax people, strengthen their musculature and help them to move more freely. In short, the function of holistic medicine varies a great deal. That said, the goal is to improve every aspect of a patient's well-being regardless of the method.

Is holistic medicine scientific?

Most Western scholars view holistic therapies and medicine as a pseudo-science. This view is less common in places like China, however. Overall, more scientific work is being approved into holistic medicine – especially techniques like acupuncture – which is increasingly indicating it can be useful for many people even if the scientific processes going on as a result of it is not yet fully understood.

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Also known as complementary medicine, alternative medicine covers a wide range of treatments that people use all over the world to deal with their symptoms and to seek cures for their conditions. Although it lies outside the orbit of conventional, western medical science, certain alternative therapies are gaining ground in some hospitals. In places where western medicine is restricted or unavailable, alternative medicine is still the mainstay of healthcare for many people. Although some people are quite happy to accept two different medicinal frameworks, others deride alternative remedies as nothing more than quackery.
Western medicine is the term that is used for the diagnoses and treatments of diseases and other ailments in the west from the time of the ancient Greeks. In some cases, people simply refer to it as 'medicine'. However, the term western medicine is also used in order to distinguish it from alternative healing methods and traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM. As well as developing treatments and cures, western forms of medicine are also applied in preventative fields and public health programmes. Today, the practice is both highly specialised and multi-disciplinary taking in anything from physiotherapy to keyhole surgery and psychiatry to chemotherapy.
Based on over 3,500 years of accumulated knowledge and skills, traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM as it is often called, is an alternative health system that is used widely all over Asia and especially, of course, in China itself. There are several different disciplines within TCM, which include herbal medicine, massage, exercise regimes, acupuncture, bone-setting, cupping and coining. The origins of the sorts of traditional forms of Chinese medicine we see being practised today go all the way back to the Shang dynasty. Although some western physicians have little time for traditional Chinese medicine, a number of western-style field trials have shown success despite this not being universal by any means. Overall, TCM is continuing to win support and even admiration outside of its traditional heartland in China.
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