"I've actually started to see a holistic doctor to try and help me treat my irritable bowel syndrome," your friend Donna told you, as you internally scoffed. You couldn't help but think that Donna was so gullible–wasting her money on some "woo-woo" doctor who probably didn’t even have a medical degree! Maybe Donna would fall for that nonsense, but not you. No, not an educated, reasonable, doctor-trusting patient who always went with the status quo and never questioned a doctor!
Still skeptical, you half-heartedly listened as Donna raved about her new doctor's course of treatment. He had asked her so many questions that it seemed silly at first. She had seemingly revealed every piece of information about herself to her new doctor. Then, he developed a treatment plan based on the intricate details of her day-to-day life and the information she shared about her family history.
Donna’s new “holistic” treatment plan involved seeing a therapist to help her handle work stress better, taking a 30-minute walk every day, and practicing some beginner’s breathing exercises. It all felt silly to you–how was a daily walk going to help cure her IBS?–but Donna couldn't have seemed more hopeful. She said that, after a week, her IBS was already beginning to improve, but she also felt terrific in general for the first time in a long time. Her head was clear, her heart was happy, and her body was in a constant state of improvement.
You couldn't help but be curious about this mystery doctor. What were his qualifications? What kool-aid had he slipped Donna to make her speak so highly of him? Lucky for you, Donna was kind enough to offer you his card. Next to the doctor's name, Tyrone Gibson, you saw the two letters that you'd grown accustomed to seeing next to a "real" doctor, not some weird naturopathic one: MD. You'd been so resistant to the idea of "holistic health," yet here you were, staring at the name and phone number of a "holistic doctor" and contemplating whether to make an appointment to have your chronic migraines checked out.
You might find yourself identifying strongly with the skeptical friend in the story; many intelligent, educated people do. For decades now, we've followed a specific song and dance for obtaining respite from our ailments–a song that typically starts with an appointment with a physician and ends with picking up a prescription from a pharmacist.
And as humans, we like this because it's predictable. Input ailment X into formula "doctors appointment," and get medication Y on the other end. The simplicity of this so-called formula can make holistic healthcare feel less reliable because it often doesn't involve a definite solution at the end of the appointment. Instead, it usually takes hard work from patients and providers to learn about the patient's body, brain, psyche, living situation, financial circumstances, and more. It can take months and even years to narrow down the ideal treatment plan for each patient.
Holistic ≠ Fringe
Yet, just because holistic healthcare is not the formulaic process that we’ve grown accustomed to, holistic healthcare isn't fringe healthcare. In fact, Dignity Health, the fifth-largest health system in the United States, abides by the principles of holistic healthcare, emphatically proclaiming:
“We define health as more than an absence of disease. We believe caring for the whole person–and realizing whole health–is best achieved by providing for the physical, mental, spiritual, and social needs of every patient we see.
Our holistic approach to medicine means treating each individual with the type of care they need when they need it, including the invaluable support of palliative, spiritual, and chronic care. Caring for the mind, the body, and the spirit is an integration of faith and wellness that helps us keep you happy, healthy, and whole.”
How’s that for social proof? If it’s good enough for Dignity Health and its 10,000+ board-certified, medical school graduated physicians, it’s probably good enough for you!
Beginning Your Holistic Health Journey
So, how can you, the once skeptical reader, begin a journey into holistic health?
It's simple: talk to your primary care doctor. Ask them about the benefits of a holistic approach to healthcare and how you can begin to access those benefits. You may find that a journey down the holistic highway will see your doctor referring you to partner providers to help provide care in areas where your primary care doctor is not an expert, such as mental health, sleep health, exercise fitness, and more. Or, you may find that your current doctor is unwilling to take a holistic approach, and you may find yourself looking for a new primary care provider.
As you seek answers to some of your burning questions, remember to be patient. Holistic health can often feel like a blast from the past. Instead of writing a quick prescription to treat the symptoms with a concoction of amphetamines, opioids, and antibiotics, holistic health requires trial and error combined with listening to feelings and symptoms in a way that can sometimes seem less than scientific.
But holistic health is beneficial because it is not always formulaic and strictly scientific. It allows healthcare providers and patients to work together to dig deeper and "treat each individual with the type of care they need when they need it." It's not always the fastest course of treatment, but for many patients, it's the beginning of a path that helps them find true health, a state that is much, much more than just the absence of sickness, but is instead the actualization of the whole person.