Holistic Medicine, Alternative Medicine, Natural Medicine, Traditional Medicine; what does it all mean?


What is in a name ? 
Holistic medicine is a form of medicine or healing that considers the whole person and includes physical, mental and spiritual well-being. It considers a broader range of treatment since it considers the mind,body and spirit.

Alternative medicine is not synonymous with holistic medicine. Alternative means it is a treatment approach not considered the standard , in other words it is an alternative to the main healthcare system. ie acupuncture is an alternative treatment in US but may not be considered alternative in China. Holistic medicine can use alternative medicine , but alternative medicine is not necessarily holistic.

Natural medicine usually means using natural methods and sources, for example focus on using herbs, plants, water as source of healing methods. However, recently has been manipulated to use natural ingredients in non natural ways, ie IV vitamins. Unfortunately, this shift is to increase cost of services and does not always align with principles of natural healing.

Holistic Medicine is Lifestyle medicine and often misconstrued with herbal medicine.Herbal medicine is a way to treat acute symptoms using natural herbs but is not a replacement for adjusting ones lifestyle and environment to promote healing.

Schools of Holistic Medicine. 

There are different schools or systems of holistic medicine. Traditional Health Systems, are the health systems of a certain region and have been historically associated with specific ethnic group , ie Traditional Chinese medicine , African Holistic Medicine. Historically, information was passed on from generation to generation. Traditional health systems used a combination of cultural beliefs, religion,  social support and  local foods or plants from the environment to heal. Traditional Healing systems do not look to other regions or communities to heal, instead believe God and the Universe has provided everything locally. Healing comes from using multiple modalities. Isolating certain components ( ie only yoga, just herbs) was not considered appropriate historically speaking.

Because there has been disruption of ancient societies; through war, colonization, displacement and relocation, the methods used to ensure a healer was legitimately recognized by the community, no longer exist. Most healer are self -learned and it can be difficult to distinguish between those who truly have studied effective remedies versus those who create their own.



Schools of holistic medicine , which includes integrative medicine , functional medicine , naturopathic medicine etc,  are specifically created to train healers . They require learning from an accredited institution. They generally exist in Westernized societies and therefore the holistic methods they teach or use are often considered alternative medicine. They believe in treating the whole person ( physical , emotional and spiritual) and therefore consider a  greater variety of treatment options, which can include meditation, herbs, diet etc. Schools of holistic medicine , will often mix and match treatments, meaning they may suggest an exercise that was part of Traditional Chinese Medicine , and an herb used in Native American cultures. This is more appropriate in westernized societies that contain different ethnic groups.
Each system is guided by different principles and require different training . Naturopaths have had  a 4 year degree but not considered MD or Osteopathic.Functional medicine is taught via courses to practitioners. Integrative medicine requires a 1-2 year fellowship. Herbalist do not require any standard treatment and there is no association that regulates herbalist.


The biggest distinction between traditional system vs  schools of holistic medicine  is that the latter often disconnect healing methods from its history and origin. They do not recognize that certain methods may not be universal and may be harmful to different groups. For example when St John's wart,  a natural medicine used in Europe was introduced in South Africa, the plant had a deleterious effect on cattle and also led to damage to the natural flora ( plants). This was due to the photosensitivity of the plant , which was not made for hotter climates with more sun exposure.

Also ,  because schools exist in westernized societies, they also have a tendency to have very little knowledge of African , Caribbean, and South American (Indigenous) holistic medicine. This is largely due to a history of Western societies, minimizing these civilizations and colonization.

At HEAL we are trained in integrative medicine , but take a traditional health philosophy. We try to keep recommendations culturally relevant . We are bringing wellness and holistic options in Washington DC . Learn more at www. HEAL-MD.com See Infogram below

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