by Milton Hammerly, MD
Holistic is an adjective that we’re seeing used more and more to describe a style of practicing medicine. Practitioners often advertise themselves as holistic. Recent articles in Time and Life magazines have documented the trend towards increased use of holistic and alternative medicine. But what exactly does it mean to be holistic? In many cases this term is used and interpreted differently.
Some people use the words holistic and alternative synonymously. Others – more correctly – understand holistic as a philosophy that may encompass the use of alternative practices.
The often-used story of the four blind men describing an elephant may shed some light on the different uses and interpretations of the word holistic. The first blind man felt the elephant’s trunk and described it as a large snake. The second one felt the elephant’s leg and described it as a tree. The third one felt the elephant’s midsection and described it as a wall. The fourth felt the elephant’s tail and described it as a rope.
Each person described the limited portion they perceived as if it were the whole. Similarly the descriptions and interpretations of holistic depend on the perception of the person using this term.
A Time reporter might describe holistic medicine as dealing mostly with spiritual issues as they relate to health. A Life reporter might describe holistic medicine as predominantly an integration of conventional and complementary methods of healing. A health insurance executive might describe holistic medicine as a new market, a trend to be reckoned with. A physician might describe holistic medicine as dealing with issues of mind, body and spirit in a cohesive way. A patient might describe holistic medicine as a practitioner who takes time to listen actively to them. This list of descriptions could continue ad nauseum, but you understand that we each tend to describe things from our own unique and somewhat limited perspectives.
Holistic, wholeness, wellness, healing and health are all derived from the same root word. The original term is inclusive of the derivations. Some would argue that this inclusiveness is nothing more than political correctness applied to the field of medicine. This argument may be valid if the motivation of the practitioner is to appear open minded (or at least to not appear narrow minded). However, if the goal and motive is to promote wellness of body, mind and spirit through whatever safe and legitimate means possible, then the use of the term holistic is well founded.
The question then is how do we judge the motives of a holistic practitioner to know if they are truly holistic?
There is no consistently accurate way to judge motives. There are currently efforts to establish Board Certification in holistic medicine. Certification or licensure can ensure a basic theoretic understanding of holism, but it is no guarantee of the correct motives. The old adage, “Actions speak louder than words,” may be the truest test of holistic medicine. If as a patient you feel that the practitioner has used every safe and legitimate means to promote your wellness of body, mind and spirit, then you have been truly blessed by a holistic encounter.
Copyright © 2000-2012, CompWellness Network, Fairfield NJ USA, Milton Hammerly, MD, Denver CO from his website’s General Public articles. Reprinted with Permission.
After several years of practicing in a variety of conventional medical settings, Dr Milton Hammerly, MD experienced first hand the benefits of using Complementary Therapies in his own life. In 1996 he opened an integrative medicine practice in Denver CO with a team of more than 30 practitioners specializing in everything from Acupuncture through Yoga. Since then he has been very active as a writer and speaker (both in Colorado and nationally) on the topic of rationally integrating Complementary Therapies with Western Medicine. In addition to a maintaining a part-time clinical practice, Milt is currently a contributing editor for Micromedex, an internationally recognized medical database company, and Director of Integrative Medicine for Catholic Health Initiatives, a health care organization with more than 60 hospitals in 22 states. Contact Dr Hammerly by visiting his website, HealingPartner.com.