The major difference between alternative and western medicine is in the approach.
A Western doctor, or MD, sees his/her duty as searching out disease, diagnosing it, and treating it. If he does that correctly and effectively, he’s done his job. Most often, this means the doctor prescribing a pharmaceutical drug or a surgical procedure to remedy the situation.
More often than not, the patient is passive in all of this.
A holistic health practitioner sees her/his duty as an educator and a facilitator. Her belief is that the human body has natural healing powers and doesn’t always need medication or surgery to get better unless the situation is critical.
In holistic health, patients take an active role. There are both good and what could be seen as bad parts to this approach.
The patient’s role in the healing process is pivotal. You instinctively know that this approach is correct because it makes sense to you logically and biologically. The beauty of this method is that it works; however, unfortunately, it requires a great deal of effort from the patient.
The individual must usually change their habits as part of the healing plan. This may involve changes such as eating healthier, moving or working out more often and stretching regularly. In some cases, the person may need to stop using sugar or processed foods altogether. They might also need to meditate and rid themselves of negative thoughts, etc.
The only time it’s easy to make a lifestyle change is usually when your life depends on it. I’ve encountered some people who didn’t bother changing their lifestyles until they learned they had a terminal illness. When things get to this point, it becomes much more complicated to make significant improvements. Making these changes early on will prevent the disease from getting worse. Put simply, healthier lifestyle choices should be made before any illness has a chance to develop.
Let’s examine one of the big differences between holistic health and Western medicine: holism versus reductionism.
This is a major shift in perspective. Taking a holistic perspective means that you cannot understand a single problem with a single part of the human body without looking at the whole person. We use the short-hand mind, body, spirit to refer to the whole person.
This is not how a Western doctor is taught to see a patient. He sees the patient often as the disease. A cancer sufferer or an epileptic, it is not a whole person who has epilepsy. He feels that he can administer a drug or perform a surgery that will cure a person’s liver without making any difference to the rest of the person.
Of course, this is never possible, so when the inevitable complications arise, the Western doctor deals with those one at a time, often causing additional problems for the person, whether in body, mind or spirit.
Even those three parts of the person are treated by separate people in Western society.
The body is the domain of the medical doctor. The mind is the domain of the psychiatrist. Spirit is left to the priest, rabbi or pastor.
There is no overlap in roles, except for referrals from one to the other. In our bodies, of course, there is tremendous overlap. If you feel disconnected, it can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health. Mental stress causes many physical diseases, as we well know. Who can coordinate between these in the Western system? No one. Problems falling through the cracks between mind, body and spirit is a common failure of Western medicine.
A holistic practitioner understands the interconnections between mind, body and spirit. They work on the connections, and, although the practitioner may not be an expert in all three, they focus on the overlaps rather than ignoring them.
In my opinion, a holistic approach is better in almost every case for almost every person. Understanding the linkages between mind, body and spirit is essential to understanding how to stay well and how to heal. Western medicine can play a part within the scope of holistic health by offering emergency solutions to problems that arise quickly and need to be fixed immediately but we need to always look holistically at the whole picture, the whole person.
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