Holistic medicine is a whole-body approach to healthcare. It aims to improve health and wellness through the body, mind, and soul.
Usually, holistic medicine combines traditional medicine and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Your exact treatment plan will depend on the type of holistic specialty.
There are several kinds of holistic practitioners. Some are doctors with a medical degree. They might base their treatments on holistic principles, which makes them a holistic doctor.
Other holistic practitioners are not “real” medical doctors. They may be called “doctor” in their field, but they aren’t licensed to practice medicine.
In general, holistic medicine isn’t meant to be used in place of traditional medical care. It’s typically recommended as a complement to regular treatments.
Holistic medicine is based on several core values:
- good health is a combination of physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and social wellness
- prevention first, treatment second
- disease is caused by a problem with the whole body, rather than a single event or body part
- the goal of treatment is to fix the underlying cause of disease, instead of just improving the symptoms
- treatment involves a wide range of options, including education, self-care, CAM, and traditional medicine
- a person is not defined by their condition
- the relationship between a doctor and the person being treated determines the treatment outcome
A holistic doctor is a health professional who practices holistic medicine. Common types of holistic doctors include:
An osteopath, or doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO), is a licensed physician who treats health problems with osteopathic manipulative medicine. This form of medicine involves physically manipulating the musculoskeletal system.
The idea is that the musculoskeletal system, which includes your muscles, bones, and nerves, affects the entire body.
Like a doctor of medicine (MD), an osteopath is a medical doctor. They are licensed to practice medicine.
Both MDs and DOs attend medical school, choose a specialty, and complete a residency. They take the same exam to become a licensed physician.
When treating a condition, MDs and DOs use conventional treatments. But some DOs may incorporate musculoskeletal manipulation, unlike traditional MDs.
Integrative physicians are licensed medical doctors who have an integrative approach to healthcare. This involves combining conventional treatments and CAM.
Integrative medicine is meant to be used with traditional medical care. It can also involve a wide range of therapies.
There isn’t a formal degree for becoming an integrative doctor. Instead, a person attends medical school, becomes a licensed physician, then receives training or experience in CAM. They can also become board certified in integrative medicine.
An Ayurvedic doctor uses Ayurveda to treat health conditions. Ayurveda is an ancient system of Indian medicine. In Sanskrit, Ayurveda means “knowledge of life.”
Practitioners believe health problems are caused by imbalanced doshas, or life energies. Ayurveda aims to balance these doshas through alternative treatments, diet, herbal remedies, and lifestyle changes.
In India, Ayurvedic medicine is a primary system of healthcare. Practitioners complete professional, standardized training at an Ayurvedic school to become Ayurvedic doctors.
However, in the United States, there isn’t a nationwide license or certification for Ayurvedic practitioners. Ayurvedic doctors aren’t recognized as medical doctors.
A naturopathic doctor, or doctor of naturopathic medicine (ND), is trained in naturopathic medicine.
This system of medicine combines Western science, natural therapies, and holistic approaches to treat health conditions. Natural therapies may be used as both primary and complementary treatments.
Naturopathic physicians attend a naturopathic medical college, where they are educated in the same basic sciences as traditional medical doctors. They also take a professional board exam to become licensed, but they aren’t recognized as medical doctors.
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is an ancient form of Chinese medicine.
According to TCM, every person has a life force, or qi. Good health depends on a balanced or flowing qi. But if the qi becomes imbalanced or blocked, the result is disease. The goal of TCM is to balance qi through acupuncture, herbal medicine, and lifestyle therapies.
In the United States, TCM practitioners are people who practice acupuncture or Chinese herbal medicine.
Training includes 3 to 4 years of schooling and a certification exam. Some institutions offer degrees like doctor of Oriental medicine. However, these degrees aren’t recognized as medical doctor degrees.
Generally, traditional doctors treat symptoms. They provide medical solutions to alleviate a disease.
A holistic doctor treats the body as one. They aim to find the cause behind the disease, instead of just fixing the symptoms. This could require multiple therapies.
For example, if you have eczema, a medical doctor may give you a prescription cream. But a holistic doctor may suggest dietary and lifestyle changes. The holistic doctor might also recommend using the cream, plus natural home remedies like oatmeal baths.
There are many forms of holistic therapies. Depending on your practitioner’s specialty, your treatment plan may involve:
Educational treatment teaches you how to make lifestyle changes. This includes habits and self-care techniques that may benefit your condition.
Treatments may involve:
- nutrition counseling
- dietary supplements
- tai chi
- support groups
Complementary and alternative therapies
Your holistic practitioner might also perform or prescribe certain therapies. Examples include:
Many holistic doctors combine conventional Western medicine with the therapies above. They might recommend traditional options like:
- prescription medicine
- radiation therapy
When choosing a holistic doctor, look at the practitioner’s qualifications. Check their:
- associated organizations
It’s also a good idea to ensure that their qualifications meet your state’s standards.
Where to find a holistic doctor?
To find a holistic doctor in your area, visit the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine. Use their search feature to find providers near you.
If you’d like to work with a provider with a whole-body approach, a holistic doctor may be an option. They can suggest alternative therapies for your conditions or goals.
Holistic medicine is not a replacement for traditional medical care. Consult a traditional medical doctor before trying holistic treatments, especially if you’re taking prescription medicine. This will ensure you get the best, safest care possible.