A woman on the beach doing yoga.
Taking time to nurture the physical, mental, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual self is considered – integrated medicine, or a holistic approach to health. (Pixabay photo.)

When you think of visiting the doctor, you likely think about your physical health. However, physical health is only one aspect of wellness, which is why more medical professionals are working toward encouraging complete wellness with holistic approaches.

“Every aspect of wellness can affect a person’s life,” the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration writes in its guide to wellness. “Working toward all of them in one way or another is a great goal, because wellness relates directly to the quality of a person’s life.”

The idea is that wellness is multidimensional, so holistic health — also called integrative medicine — “encourages individuals to recognize the whole person: physical, mental, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual,” according to Western Connecticut State University’s Institute for Holistic Health Studies.

How treatment works

With integrative medicine, any treatment you undergo will incorporate all aspects of health, rather than approaching healing by looking only at the physical aspect.

“These approaches include use of traditional medical systems, mind-body-spirit interventions, manipulative and body-based approaches, biological based therapies and energy therapies,” the Institute for Holistic Health Studies says. “Most of these approaches are used in combination with each other and with conventional medicine to provide a holistic and integrated approach to health.”

A guiding principle of holistic wellness is that the patient is a person, not a disease. As such, integrative health care providers offer a combination of patient education, complementary alternative therapies and modern medicine, and surgical procedures to reach the best overall health outcomes.

Non-mainstream treatments can be divided into five categories, according to The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, as reported by Verywell Health:

  • Alternative medical systems, such as practices from ancient cultures.
  • Mind-body interventions, such as yoga, meditation, or support groups.
  • Biologically based therapies, such as aromatherapy, herbal medicine, or supplements.
  • Manipulative and body-based methods, such as massage therapy or chiropractic.
  • Energy therapies, such as Reiki or qi gong.

Combining mainstream and alternative treatments into integrative medicine can help with long-term or debilitating health problems like chronic fatigue, chronic pain, cancer, anxiety, and fibromyalgia, according to the Mayo Clinic. The key is to use all the options, not to switch to only alternative treatments.

“The treatments promoted in integrative medicine are not substitutes for conventional medical care,” the Mayo Clinic says. “They should be used in concert with standard medical treatment. Certain therapies and products are not recommended at all or not recommended for certain conditions or people.”

The Mayo Clinic recommends researching treatments you’re considering through the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, and then talking to your doctor before trying anything new.

Finding a provider

You can search for integrative health care providers near you on the Foundation for Alternative and Integrative Medicine website. As with any health care professional, not all providers will give the same level of care or use the same techniques.

“When selecting a holistic doctor, find out as much as you can about that person’s training, experience, specialty, and association with professional organizations and hospital affiliations,” WebMD says. “Are they board certified in holistic medicine by a credible medical board?”

Because it is unlikely that doctors will be trained in every facet of holistic wellness, you can create your own health care team with several providers that address different areas.

“If Western medicine could embrace a system where physicians, social workers, spiritual counselors and behavioral healthcare providers are able to collaborate more freely by co-locating, they would readily see how the quality of the care provided to their patients improves,” according to research in Integrative Medicine Insights journal.