Integrative Medicine: Caring For the Whole Person

surgeons operating

Despite the rapid pace of advancements in modern medicine, many individuals feel that traditional Western approaches to healing and health maintenance are inadequate or too firmly entrenched in the “medical model” that compartmentalizes physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

In response to this, a movement has arisen to shift the emphasis of health care from solely treating physical defects or problems to an approach that takes a holistic approach integrating the now-cliched  – body, mind, and spirit – as well as lifestyle issues. This approach is called integrative medicine.

woman walking in field

How Integrative Medicine is Different

Integrative medicine differs from the traditional medical approach in several key respects:

  • The medical model is based upon a relationship in which the doctor is the expert and the patient is the passive recipient of knowledge. Integrative medicine, by contrast, is built on a partnership forged between the practitioner and patient in the process of healing. The patient is seen as playing a central and active role in his or her own treatment.
  • Traditional Western medicine focuses almost exclusively on pharmaceutical and surgical interventions, while integrative medicine also emphasizes the use of complimentary methods to facilitate the body’s own healing response and using natural, less invasive interventions are utilized when possible.
  • While Western medicine concentrates on curing a problem once it has arisen, integrative medicine stresses the importance of health promotion and prevention of illness as well as treatment of disease.
  • Integrative medicine encourages openness to non-traditional forms of therapy and is willing to embrace nonconventional methods whose effectiveness is supported by good science.
  • Instead of seeing physicians as disconnected experts, integrative medicine casts them as role models of health and wellness who are focused and adhere to the process of patients’ personal development as well asself-exploration .

The Mind-Body Connection

Not so long ago, the medical community was widely skeptical about the connection between physical health and mental, spiritual, and lifestyle factors. However, extensive work in human immunology has shown definite connections between the immune system, disease, and the brain chemistry of emotional responses. Esther Sternberg, MD, a senior scientist at the National Institutes of Health who has spent years studying interactions between the brain and the immune system, has remarked:

“Physicians and academic researchers finally have the science to understand the connection between the brain and the immune system, emotions and disease. All of that we can now finally understand in terms of sophisticated biology.”

acupuncture techniques

In recent years, traditional medical practitioners increasingly have been embracing the field of integrative medicine. According to the American Hospital Association, in 1998 less than 9 percent of all hospitals in the United States offered complementary therapies. By 2004, that number had more than doubled to almost 20 percent. A new survey conducted in 2010 showed that the total had doubled yet again, with 42% of hospitals offering such therapies in addition to conventional approaches.

Even some medical schools now offer courses on nontraditional therapies. The University of California at San Francisco, for example, offers medical students courses including “Herbs and Dietary Supplements” and “Massage and Meditation.”


Looking For the Evidence

Both proponents and skeptics of integrative medicine agree on the need for well-designed and controlled research to study the effects of complementary treatments and nontraditional therapies. Integrated medicine, its practitioners stress, does not advocate blindly following any medical or health regimen without first thoroughly investigating its potential benefits and dangers. Mainstream medical schools have been active in experimental testing of alternative treatment approaches.

Researchers at the Duke University Medical school, for example, are conducting clinical studies of the effects of meditation, acupuncture, and biofeedback on brain activity and the potential implications for treating conditions ranging from incontinence to sleep disorders related to Parkinson’s disease.

If you would like to learn more about this holistic, person-centered approach to health maintenance and overall well-being, get in touch with an integrative medicine specialist in your area. He or she can explain to you the philosophy and practice of integrative medicine and answer any questions you may have about this approach to wellness. In South Florida, Dr. Jorge Bordenave of Miami Integrative Medicine offers patients a person-based approach to caring for and promoting optimal health and wellness. For more information about Dr. Bordenave, please visit his website.

Posted by: Axiom Health Care Marketing

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