Is holistic health care, also called integrative health care, gaining momentum
and if so, what are some of the reasons? Health care in the United States is mainly
concerned with symptom management, using drugs and/or surgery as the major
tools. (This form of management is referred to as sick care by many because
this system focuses on illness rather than on health.) This focus, termed
conventional or allopathic health care, is allowed to dominate due to
multiple socioeconomic factors including the proliferation of profitable
pharmaceuticals, diagnostic and treatment equipment, and advanced
surgical techniques; insurance reimbursement practices; physician
education programs; and the public’s silent complicity as quick fixes are
often accepted if not outright demanded.
Conventional or allopathic health care is often termed reductionist
by those of a more holistic outlook as it tends to look at parts rather than
the whole. It often excludes factors such as spiritual and psychosocial
components of a person’s life which are deemed unimportant to the
diagnosis. The importance of feelings of powerlessness, stress, isolation,
hostility, and grief are rarely considered as risk factors for disease. This model
tends to suppress symptoms rather than look for the underlying cause(s)
which might provide more sustainable results.
Symptom management, while affording sometimes necessary,
often life- saving care, neglects the uniqueness and wholeness of the
individual. It fails to consider the interrelatedness of body, mind, and spirit
in the spectrum of wellness to illness and thus also misses opportunities for
meaningful relationship between practitioner and client. Symptom management
also fails to provide the necessary framework for preventative
strategies that might mitigate or eliminate the need for drugs or surgery. Preventative
strategies, notably lifestyle changes, call for a new approach, one that fosters
relationship between the consumer of health care and the health care professional.
Mutual respect and trust which develops in a model of caring rather than curing
allows empowerment of the client who is presumed to be a partner in their
health care. It also fosters compliance as the relationship is built on trust
and the consumer has a voice and a choice in their health care strategies.
Consumers often feel victimized by the impersonal conventional health care system as
well as by the disease. It is well known that feelings of victimization contribute to
disease rather than healing; in order for true healing to take place, the person needs to
feel empowered. People under the care of conventional health practitioners are
seldom taught to become responsible (and thus empowered) for their own
health care needs – engaging in self-care practices, for example.
Unfortunately, conventional health care fails to recognize
that the most powerful weapon in their arsenal may very well be the
person with the disease. By engaging the health care consumer as a
partner in their recovery, thus fostering collaboration, conventional
practitioners might find more compliance, symptom reduction, and overall
improved health and wellness. Methods of engaging the client include mindful
listening where the practitioner puts aside his/her own agenda and is fully attentive
to the needs and concerns expressed by the client. This shift in focus,
from the practitioner to the client, fosters trust and relationship which can
set the stage for true healing.
The recent shift of some practitioners to a more holistic/integrative model of
care attempts to address the inadequacies of conventional medicine.
Bernie Siegel, a holistically oriented physician, author and speaker, often discusses the need for
“reparenting” of health care consumers; genuine love and caring allows deep
connection with the client, improving self-esteem and fostering true healing. The
holistic model tends to regard illness as an opportunity for growth and self-discovery.
The newer model of holistic health care, functional medicine, recognizes the
interrelationship between environment, genes, and lifestyle in disease manifestation. It
also recognizes the importance of higher needs such as values-based living, loving
relationships, fulfillment, and purposeful work in addition to physical needs of rest,
relaxation, and nutrition.
The solution to the challenge of moving into a more (w)holistic model of health care is
multifaceted. I believe it ultimately begins with the consumer of health care who is
beginning to demand a more personalized, less cookie-cutter approach to their health
care needs. Consumers are beginning to understand that they have a large responsibility
in maintaining and/or improving their health and are seeking alternative methods and
practitioners to help them. Economics are also involved here. Perhaps Obamacare
is setting the stage for mainstream preventative health care which will reduce our need
and dependence on symptom-based health care.