Someone who is moderately famous (and I had much of a crush on in the mid to late 80s) is promoting a doctor of holistic medicine. In reality, he’s a chiropractor.
I suspect that I have a very different definition of what holistic medicine is from these kinds of people. My definition of holistic medicine is treating all aspects of a disease or injury. That would include genetic components. It involves finding the root cause of an issue and fixing it. While dealing with symptoms is important, it is (even in modern medicine) not possible to find the real problem, so all we can do is treat the symptoms.
A friend has a thyroid problem. No one knows what the problem is, just that the thyroid isn’t working correctly. It could be a genetic problem. It could be an injury (somehow). It could be a viral or bacterial infection. The solution is pills to provide the things that the thyroid should be producing. A true holistic medical system would be able to find the problem and fix it. A therapy to replace hormones or whatever would only be needed for a short time while the thyroid is rebuilt, replaced, or altered in order to function correctly. Not, a series of pills every day for the rest of the person’s life.
That is what I mean by holistic medicine. Fixing the actual problem and treating everything that is connected to that system.
According to the American Holistic Medicine Association,
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. Holistic healthcare practitioners strive to meet the patient with grace, kindness, acceptance, and spirit without condition, as love is life’s most powerful healer.
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.
I have a significant number of problems with the claims and statements made in this statement. I will deal with them, somewhat out of order.
First, I totally agree that patients should be treated with grace, kindness, and acceptance. That, in my opinion, is a fundamental role of a doctor. They are there to make you healthier, cure disease, and repair injuries. Not to judge, condone or condemn. One shouldn’t get poor doctors because one is poor, or homosexual, or trans, or needing an abortion, or atheist or any other color, creed, status, etc. etc. etc.
This is the standard for all doctors. Anyone who doesn’t think that can be a fine researcher, CDC first responder, or whatever, but they probably shouldn’t be a doctor that deals directly with patients.
I also agree that diseases should be treated with the whole person in mind (see my thoughts above) AND an eye toward the emotional well-being of the patient and their family. I believe that it is true that emotional health can have a significant impact on physical health. I do disagree about the “spirit”, that’s just emotional health as well.
I also agree with treating people as an entire system. By promoting good health (scientific, evidence-based good health) doctors can influence the effects of diseases on people. A bought of the flu that’s a 2 day annoyance for a healthy person in their 20s to 40s can be deadly to a octogenarian. Of course that can go the other way too. A 30 something in very poor health can be killed by a flu while a 90 something in excellent health will be fine.
Then, this statements jumps on the train for woo- town. And far too many people are along for the ride.
Disease is NOT “understood to be the result of physical, emotional, spiritual, social and environmental imbalance.” Disease is caused by known factors. Predominately viruses and bacterial infections. Some of what we call diseases are genetic in nature. Tay-Sachs disease is a recessive genetic disorder. The disease results in a progressive deterioration of nerve cell. Mental and physical facilities deteriorate as well and the person dies… usually about the age of 4. The oldest known person with Tay-Sachs was eight years old when she died. (That’s a pretty heart wrenching link there.)
There is presently no way to restore the proper balance of alleles to a person with Tay-Sachs. There is no medication or meditation that will repair damaged genes. There are breathtakingly few medicines that will work on viral infections. You either get better or you die. Medicine can provide supportive care, preventing or reducing symptoms so the body isn’t overwhelmed with multiple issues, but even the best modern medicine can’t cure a viral infection. Your body has to.
The patient must do the work? Arguably, the statement I just made about the body’s ability to fight viral infections is similar. But look at what they think you should do? Change your beliefs? That doesn’t affect medicine… unless you change from a faith that doesn’t allow medical intervention to one that does.
Notice what the role of the practitioner is not. It is not to determine what medical tests are appropriate. It is not to evaluate the results of those scientifically proven tests. It is not to determine what treatments will be effective or dangerous for you.
Their role is to tell you what is wrong with you as a person and then tell you to change into what they think is a better person.
Do you know what they call alternative medicine that works?
We know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that prayer doesn’t help in medical matters. My chapter in 13 Reasons To Doubt covers this extensively. Including almost 200 children that would be alive if they had seen a doctor. Instead, they are dead due to prayer.
We know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that homeopathy doesn’t work. Indeed, some of its primary claims are the exact opposite of what evidence-based medicine is. It doesn’t work. It cannot work.
I want to see the holistic people try and deal with a hospital trauma ward or ebola.
What do the AHMA people do?
Today, our members are holistic practitioners, organizational leaders, supporters, authors, and speakers.
You know, the things that raise tons of money, but they don’t actually have to do anything. I rarely see people who work at the CDC as authors, except in research journals. I do hear of them speaking, but at medical conferences… not hotel ballrooms with hundreds of wealthy people who want to feel better about themselves.
Yes, there are people on the board that are licensed medical doctors. There are also people with Ph.D.s in biology who reject evolution. There are people who are climate scientists who reject anthropogenic global warming.
I have long given up on saying that one group is correct based on degrees-conferred, licenses held, and books published. None of that has anything to do with evidence.
The people on the board of that organization have not published papers in peer-reviewed literature that directly support their claims.
It’s not hard to understand that eating healthy will help you be healthy. It’s not hard to understand that being stressed out will make you feel bad and leave you vulnerable to diseases.
But meditation and living off the dew of a single ginkgo leaf and the energy of the universe will not cure HIV, ebola, Tay-Sachs, amputations, trauma, allergies, or anything else.
Please, for your own safety, if you are sick, see a doctor. If the doctor starts talking about eating healthy and meditation, walk away. Go find one that will actually figure out what is medically wrong and develop a plan to fix or mitigate the real issue as much as medically possible.