What is Holistic, Integrative Medicine?

Anymore, there can be a lot of confusion about what holistic medicine. What does that really mean? Is “Holistic” just becoming another buzzword or marketing strategy? Many places, from Acupuncturists to Chiropractors to Marijuana dispensaries to Allopathic Medical doctors are all calling themselves “Holistic”. Do these seemingly disparate practitioners have anything in common?

Additionally, there are other doctors that call themselves “Integrative”. Is this too another word that will cease to have meaning due to overuse? And what is the difference between “Holistic” and “Integrative”? Lastly, how do these terms relate to your or your child’s care?

The principles of holistic medical practice are as follows:

1. Optimal health is the primary goal of every holistic medical practice. This involves the conscious pursuit of the highest level of functioning and balance of the physical, environmental, mental, emotional, social and spiritual aspects of human experience. The result is a state of being fully alive, a condition of well-being transcending the mere absence or presence of disease. In Pediatrics, this means that the parents and the pediatrician must work in tandem to maximize the growing child and lay a strong foundation of health and wellness that will ideally last a lifetime.

2. The Healing Power of Love: Integrative holistic physicians strive to relate to patients with grace, kindness and acceptance, emanating from the attitude of unconditional love as life’s most powerful healer. While doctor’s offices can be busy places and your physician may not always have as much time to spend with you as you (or they) would like, you should always be able to feel love coming from their heart as they try to help you and your child.


3. Wholeness: Illness is a dysfunction of the whole person – body, mind and spirit – or the environment in which they live, rather than simply a physical disorder or a random isolated event. Holistic practice, therefore, needs to strive to address all of those levels of the person’s life in order to fully heal them.

4. Prevention and treatment: Integrative holistic practitioners promote health, prevent illness and manage disease processes. Integrative holistic pediatrics strives to balance relieving of symptoms in the most natural way possible, while also striving to search for the underlying root cause of the illness and addressing the person at that level.

5. Innate healing power: All persons have innate powers of healing of body, mind and spirit. Integrative holistic physicians evoke these powers and help patients or their parents utilize them to affect the healing process. We believe that the physician is really only the facilitator of your healing journey, and that it is you, your child and their body’s ability to heal that should be given the credit for the healing.

6. Integration of healing systems: Integrative holistic physicians embrace a variety of safe and effective options in diagnosis and treatment, including education for lifestyle changes and self-care, complementary approaches, and conventional drugs and surgery. This is probably the biggest difference between “Holistic” and “Integrative” healers. There are many holistic healers of various sorts, but they will ultimately hit a limit on how much they can branch into the conventional medical world. The beauty of an Integrative MD is that we can use the best of alternative, as well as conventional treatments for your child.

7. Relationship-centered care: The quality of the relationship between physician and patient is a major determinant of healing outcomes which encourages patient autonomy and values the needs and insights of patient and practitioner alike. As Pediatricians, we have the honor, privilege and responsibility of being invited in to your world and taking part in arguably the most important part of your life– raising your child. This is a long term relationship and therefore all parties should strive to relate in a spirit of mutual respect and spirit of cooperation.

8. Individuality: Integrative holistic physicians expend as much effort in discerning a patient’s uniqueness as they do in establishing what disease may be present. No two people are alike, yet all too often they are treated that way in conventional practice. The disease or condition is what ends up being treated, not the individual. As William Osler, MD (One of the founders of none less than Johns Hopkins Medical School) said, “It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.”

9. Teaching by example: Integrative holistic physicians continually work toward the personal incorporation of the principles of holistic health, in turn profoundly influencing patients by their own example and lifestyle choices. While physicians are certainly not perfect, we too should strive to practice what we preach and understand the ups and downs of a particular lifestyle being recommended. Also, in Pediatrics, there is no substitute for having your own children. How else can one relate to the distress of a family with a colicky baby at 2 AM?

10. Learning opportunities: All life experiences including birth, illness, suffering, joy, and the dying process are profound learning opportunities for both patients and integrative holistic physicians. We are all on a learning journey, as people, parents and practitioners. We must continuously strive to learn and to be open to new insights and ideas that can benefit the other. We believe that the physician, in this regard, ultimately learns more from his patients than her patients learn from him!
(Partially adapted from American Board of Integrative, Holistic Medicine)

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