What is holistic medicine?

Holistic medicine is the art and science of healing that addresses care of the whole person - body, mind, and spirit. The practice of holistic medicine integrates conventional and complementary therapies to promote optimal health, and prevent and treat disease by addressing contributing factors. In practice, this means that each person is seen as a unique individual, rather than an example of a particular disease. Disease is understood to be the result of physical, emotional, spiritual, social and environmental imbalance. Healing, therefore, takes place naturally when these aspects of life are brought into proper balance. The role of the practitioner is as guide, mentor and role model; the patient must do the work - changing lifestyle, beliefs and old habits in order to facilitate healing. All appropriate methods may be used, from medication to meditation.

What is a holistic physician?

A holistic physician:
  • Views the patient as being ultimately responsible for his/her well-being
  • Takes a “whole-person” approach to treatment
  • Believes in and practices “The Ten  Principles of Holistic Medicine
  • Fosters and maintains a partnership with the patient, using therapies which both feel comfortable
         with and are effective.
  • Evaluates and recommends treatment options that address the cause of an illness, as well as the symptoms

The holistic physician may choose or recommend from a variety of both conventional and "alternative and/or complementary” treatments and therapies. Together, the physician and patient/client work to develop an optimal course of treatment. This partnership is a powerful approach to healing and is the cornerstone of the holistic philosophy.

What are the main benefits of holistic medicine?

The main benefits of holistic medicine are:

  • The central role of the patient's lifestyle, beliefs, observations and habits is honored. Holistic medicine recognizes
         the person who has the illness as more important than the type of illness that person is manifesting.
  • Treatment methods which are least likely to do harm are used first in holistic medicine. These are often also more
         cost-effective than conventional drugs or surgery.
  • Holistic medicine endeavors to achieve societal change through respect for the individual and for the contribution of
         diversity to an integrative model of healing. Healing must take place on all levels - individual, social, cultural and
         planetary - for the survival, as well as the happiness, of life on earth.

Holistic physicians believe that unconditional love is life's most powerful medicine. What does this mean?

Unconditional love is a way of being that is always supporting the health, well-being, and growth of a person or system for the highest good of all concerned. The love is not contingent on any attitude or behavior of those being supported. The most important person for one to love unconditionally is one's self. The rest flows from there.

How do I find a good holistic physician?

The AHMA provides several resources that can be helpful in finding a holistic physician.

  • A searchable online database of holistic physicians and practitioners taking referrals. Search the database.
  • A guide to choosing a holistic practitioner in your area.  Read the guide.
  • A list of other organizations similar to ours that have websites with “Doctor Finders.”   View the list.

Will a holistic physician fix my problem?

A holistic physician will work with you to develop a treatment program designed to assist you in healing. Other holistic practitioners may also be recommended, but the idea that anyone else can "fix" your problem is not a part of the holistic model. Most illnesses and disabilities are the result of a complex interaction of events, habits, and choices and are not amenable to bandaids or "sweeping things under the drug" - approaches which do not address the underlying cause(s).

What is informed consent?

Informed consent is the process by which a physician helps a patient arrive at an informed decision regarding treatment options. Sometimes this is very simple and straightforward, such as the decision to apply a cast for a broken bone. Other times it can be extraordinarily difficult, like choosing among various ways of treating cancer. The physician must help the patient understand the disease he/she faces and the risks and benefits of the various modalities.

The patient’s hopes and fears must be addressed as well as psychological factors and family expectations. The patient must be aided in coming to an understanding of what this disease means in his/her life at this time. The physician should proactively call on other sources of support and expertise and the patient should be encouraged to seek other opinions and points of view as well.

The physician should help the patient realize that there is often no “right” answer, but only multiple trade-offs, and then help negotiate these complex decisions together.

How do I get reimbursed by healthcare insurance when seeing a holistic physician?

Reimbursement will depend on what type of insurance plan you have. Most holistic physicians cannot practice under the HMO model; however many PPO or POS plans will reimburse some percentage of the physician's fee. Be sure to check with your plan and with the physician's office before your visit.

Remember, the money you spend on a holistic physician's services can be thought of as your real health insurance. Don't let dependence on an insurance plan keep you from getting the help you need! If your car needed a tune up, who would you ask to pay? Likewise, if you have recurrent or chronic health problems and are not happy with the care you are receiving in the current system, don't limit your thinking to what your insurance company will cover.

Insurance companies are slow to change, but asking if they cover holistic services will at least serve to notify them that you, the customer, are interested in something different. Another option to consider is increasing the deductible on your policy (keeping your coverage in the event of serious illness) and using your premium savings to cover the cost of preventive holistic healthcare.

If you participate in a Health Savings Account (HSA), several alternative and complementary treatments are eligible covered expenses. For this list, visit, http://www.irs.gov/publications/p502/index.html.

What is meant by "complementary and alternative therapies"?

Complementary and alternative therapies are those not yet considered mainstream and, therefore, not normally offered by conventional medical providers. "Complementary medicine" refers to use of CAM together with conventional medicine, such as using acupuncture in addition to usual care to help lessen pain. Most use of CAM by Americans is complementary. "Alternative medicine" refers to use of CAM in place of conventional medicine. "Integrative medicine" (also called integrated medicine) refers to a practice that combines both conventional and CAM treatments for which there is evidence of safety and effectiveness.

CAM modalities include, but are not limited to, nutrition, herbal medicine, spinal manipulation, "energy medicine," homeopathy, massage therapy, spiritual attunement, relaxation training and stress management, biofeedback and acupuncture.

The list of what is considered complementary and alternative therapy is constantly changing as more research becomes available. As they demonstrate efficacy and safety, these therapies become part of conventional medicine.

How is holistic medicine different from/similar to integrative medicine, complementary or alternative medicine?

Holistic medicine is a term which is inclusive of the connection between the mind, body and spirit in healing. The belief system, lifestyle, social, cultural and environmental milieu, as well as the relationship between patient and practitioner, are considered to be important components in the genesis and in the healing of illness. Correction of imbalances in any of these areas will bring relief of symptoms. Illness in this model is viewed as an opportunity for personal spiritual growth.

Integrative medicine starts with the conventional western model of disease, and encompasses other healing methods, such as use of herbal preparations, biofeedback, acupuncture and other systems of treatment. Complementary medicine is those other systems of treatment, in relationship to the central model of conventional medicine of drugs and surgery. Unrelated to western medicine, alternative medicine systems as stand-alone options, include Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda.

Are there any books or other resources about holistic medicine you can recommend?

View a list of holistic organizations.  Visit the "Member Publications" section of our site.

What is an alternative/holistic approach to my problem, which is....?

Most holistic physicians and practitioners begin with a thorough evaluation of your diet, exercise habits, health history, occupation, family and life history and current circumstances. Since each person is unique, the development of a treatment program is also individualized by the physician or practitioner. Many books are available that can give you an idea of how your problem might be treated.

What is my role in a holistic treatment approach?

Accepting responsibility for your lifestyle choices is important in working with a holistic physician/practitioner. Illness can be seen as a messenger - an indication that one or more aspects of your life may be out of harmony. The holistic professional can serve as a guide to assist you in this process of self-evaluation.

How much will my holistic treatment cost?

As with all other services, the cost of holistic treatment will differ from one practitioner to another and it depends upon both the diagnosis and prescribed treatment. Feel free to ask about costs prior to making your first appointment. You may also choose to check with your insurance company to see what will be covered and explore financial arrangements that suit your individual needs.

Research has proven that the investment made in prevention, not only protects health, but is much less costly than the costs of chronic disease.

What does the AHMA do?

The AHMA connects physicians and holistic practitioners on a regional and a national level to support their professional and personal growth by providing educational conferences and more informal ways of sharing knowledge.

As an organization, the AHMA seeks to aid in the transformation of healthcare to a more holistic model by serving members, informing the public, and connecting other holistic organizations. More about us.