Holistic (also spelled "wholistic") medicine is the ancient art and science of healing that addresses the whole person and emphasizes the inseparable connection of mind, body, and spirit in promoting health and treating illness. Holistic medical care adheres to three basic tenets: recognizing the psychological, environmental, and social contributions to disease; actively involving the patient in the treatment process; and emphasizing preventive medicine, alternative therapies, and a lifestyle that lessens the probability of developing disease.
Over 5,000 years ago, ancient healing traditions in India and China stressedliving a healthy life that was in harmony with nature. Socrates (4th centuryB.C.) also advocating treating the whole person, stating that"the part can never be well unless the whole is well."
The term holism was introduced by Jan Christiaan Smuts in 1926 as a way of viewing living things as "entities greater than and different from the sum of their parts." The holistic movement, however, gathered impetus in the late 1960s as a reaction to what some observers viewed as the increasing roleof costly and depersonalizing medical technology, and a nearly universal dependence on drugs in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Although the older, nineteenth-century concept of a physician had been basically humanistic, critics of more recent developments charged that advanced medical technology had led physicians to treat organs rather than whole persons. In addition, manychronic conditions did not respond to standard medical treatments.
Several publications that provided the groundwork for this movement include Man, Medicine, and Environment (1958) and Health and Disease (1965). In both books, the author, microbiologist René Dubos, emphasizedthe role played by social change in conquering infectious diseases. In addition, social critic Ivan Illich, in Medical Nemesis (1975), and health-care policy expert, Rick Carlson, in The End of Medicine (1975), addressed the dehumanizing aspect of technological medicine and predicted its replacement by a more individualized medical system.
By the 1970s, the word "holistic" was commonly used in the field of health and medicine, and in 1978 the American Holistic Medical Association was foundedin the United States.
In addition to the belief that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, the principles of holistic medicine state that health is more than the absenceof disease. A common explanation is to view wellness as line on a continuum.The line represents all possible degrees of health. The left end of the linerepresents premature death. On the right end is the highest possible level of wellness and maximum well being. The midpoint of the line represents an apparent lack of disease, thus placing all levels of illness on the left side ofthe wellness continuum. The right half indicates that even when no illness seems to be present, there is still much room for improvement. Holistic health, therefore, is looked at as an ongoing process.
Holistic medicine maintains that the majority of illnesses and premature death can be traced back to lifestyle choices. While the dangers connected with drugs, alcohol, nicotine, and unprotected sexual activity are well known, theimpact of excesses in such things as sugar, caffeine, and negative attitudes are considerably less publicized. Combined with deficiencies in exercise, nutritious foods, and self-esteem, these excesses gradually accumulate harmful effects. With time, they diminish the quality of life within that human being and can set the stage for illness.
According to the ideas of holistic medicine, quality of life, in the presentand in the future, is being determined by a multitude of seemingly insignificant choices made every day.
While preventing illness is important, holistic medicine focuses on reachinghigher levels of wellness. However, when disease and chronic conditions occur, the principles of holistic medicine can also be applied. Holistic health care professionals (physicians, nurses, acupuncturists, herbalists, for example) use the holistic approach in partnership with their patients and recommendtreatments that support the body's natural healing system.
A holistic approach to healing means more than eliminating symptoms. In holistic medicine, a symptom is considered the body's message that something needsattention. The symptom is used as a guide to look beneath the surface for the root cause.