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Holistic Healing: Commitment or Commodity?

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During a recent interview, I was asked to give a one or two sentence description of the difference between holistic medicine and conventional medicine. At first, this seemed impossible. After a moment of thought, here is what came to me. Holistic medicine attempts to restore wellness. Conventional medicine attempts to manipulate anatomy and physiology to restore an appearance of wellness. With time, I have come to realize that this definition truly encapsulates my philosophy of healing. Notice, there is no mention of drugs, surgery, chiropractic, herbs, vitamins or homeopathic remedies. It is not the procedure or substance that determines whether something is holistic or not. It is the philosophy behind the method that counts. Any of the so–called holistic therapies can be used in a conventional way. Using acupuncture to relieve pain in an arthritic joint without addressing the underlying cause, is a good example of this. Conversely, many drugs have been made into homeopathic remedies where their true healing properties can be tapped. I believe if each of us understands this principle, we can make far better health care choices. When seeking a practitioner, there are several things to keep in mind to help you understand whether he or she is offering you true holistic care or conventional medicine with unconventional methods.

1) Is the practitioner addressing the nutritional status of the patient? Poor nutrition can produce symptoms that can be mistaken for disease symptoms. Samuel Hahnemann, the Father of Homeopathy, himself said If someone complains of one or more trifling symptoms that he has noticed only recently, the physician should not consider this a full–fledged disease . A slight adjustment in the diet and in the mode of living usually suffices . A fresh whole foods based diet appropriate for the species with moderate supplementation to restore deficient nutrients is my idea of a proper diet. Using large doses of vitamins or other isolated nutrients to alter the body's function (mega doses of vitamin c to prevent allergy symptoms, for example), is only an attempt to restore an appearance of wellness

2) Is the practitioner considering the patient's emotional state? Since emotional imbalances often underlie or accompany physical symptoms, it is imperative that this be investigated for holistic treatment.

3) Is the practitioner discussing external factors such as environmental toxins? In today's chemically polluted world, this is a major obstacle to health and healing.

4) Does the practitioner ask about the patient's health history? In a chronic disease process, the key to cure often lies in the pattern of the disease.

5) Is the treatment being offered aimed at controlling symptoms or truly curing the problem? This is the big tip–off. With a chronic health problem, this determination is usually easy to make. Conventional medical practitioners will usually tell you that they are just controlling the symptoms. If any practitioner is recommending a therapy that needs to be continued without any real hope of being able to stop, then they are just palliating or suppressing symptoms and that is merely restoring an appearance of wellness. The long term result of such treatment is a worsening of the individual's general health and usually the appearance of more serious symptoms. Always ask if the treatment is symptomatic or potentially curative. In the case of an incurable health condition, palliating symptoms is all one can do and it should be done in the safest way possible. The difficulty is determining which patients are incurable. Conventional medicine usually makes this decision based on how they label the problem. One example is that according to conventional medicine diabetes is incurable. From a holistic perspective, each individual is different, therefore the decision as to who is incurable or not must be based on the individual NOT the diagnosis. In an acute problem, such as an abscessed bite wound, it is more difficult to determine whether the treatment is symptomatic or not. Both antibiotics and homeopathy, for example, can result in a rapid disappearance of the abscess. The question to ask is Can the treatment make the problem less likely to occur in the future? With antibiotics, the answer is no. With proper homeopathic care the individual's temperament and resistance improve and the answer is yes. Thus, the homeopath is attempting to restore wellness.

6) Is the practitioner a devout supporter of vaccination? Vaccines are one of the leading causes of health problems and can severely damage the immune system.

My reason for writing this article is clear. In today's marketplace, holistic and alternative medicine are the latest buzzwords. There are an increasing number of practitioners using them in their advertising. A perusal of the local yellow pages will verify this trend. The consumer must beware that many of these practitioners do not understand the difference between holistic and conventional approaches as I have discussed. They see themselves as having one more service to offer and thereby bring in more business. They may prefer to use something natural but are usually quick to reach for the cortisone or antibiotics when faced with a significant health problem. Most have only a few hours of training and are not committed to holistic healing in any profound way. When visiting anyone who purports to be holistic, ask about their training and experience. Evaluate the visit in terms of the points discussed in this article. You will then be able to determine whether he or she views holistic health care as a commitment or a commodity.

  • Russell Swift, DVM, Classical Homeopath

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