So, there’s a lot of talk about healthy and natural therapies, and so much to think about, so what is Holistic Therapy?
Before we can begin discussing individual therapies, regimes and treatments alongside their unique health benefits we first need to reference our terminology. Most of us have a general understanding of what is meant by holistic medicine and therapies, others may have a good deal more knowledge and some no idea whatsoever. Believe it or not confusion around terminology and meaning can be found within the very ranks of those who earn their living offering therapeutic treatments. This doesn’t mean that the therapist isn’t excellent and that s/he doesn’t know the subject it is simply testimony to changing values and how styles of practice have changed and developed over the years.
Let us start at the beginning. Whenever I speak to people about natural therapies I always refer to the importance of achieving natural balance in their lives. This in turn leads to discussing therapies and generates a lot of questions. If I was a betting man I would be rich by putting money on the first question being “But what is Holistic Therapy?”
The answer is simple – It doesn’t exist, there is no such thing.
I can now feel the steely daggered looks of hate from all Holistic Therapists and Holistic product retailers. The reality is, as eluded to earlier, there are many Myths in the Natural Health and Medicine world, usually started innocently by people who themselves were not totally clear on meaning or understanding. In regard Holistic practice there are 3 major Myths that hopefully we will sort today.
Myth One – The therapy called Holistic.
We now know there is no such thing as Holistic Therapy but:
- there are Holistic practices,
- there are Holistic Therapist,
- there are Holistic Medicines and products.
The reason being is all of the above are plural – there are many of them. Holistic Therapy could never exist simply because by definition a therapy is a singular system, technique or practice such as Hopi Ear Waxing or Chakra Realignment. When we attach therapy to something it means there is a set of techniques or step by step processes that should be followed. When I mentioned Hopi and Chakra Balancing I’m sure you could see them in your mind and if you decided to book a session you would know what to expect. I doubt that anyone attending a session of Acupuncture would be shocked or surprised when out came the needles. A therapy is unique and can be explained and rationalised.
Holistic in meaning alone gives reference to that fact that it is unable to be defined and labelled by the singular. Rather than being one thing or technique it is a concept, a thought process and a belief system. Most importantly it is a belief and mindset of holistic medical practitioners or healers that they must provide whatever possible in order to treat the whole person.
Let’s discuss Holistic Practice
Holistic practice differs from our current allopathic medicine (or modern medical practice) because of the belief in treating the whole person rather than just treating a diagnosed condition. Holistic practice goes further than the identification and cure of disease. While still identifying and treating disease the holistic practitioner also looks at other possibilities such as seeking to identify if the illness has had impact upon other areas of a person’s health and well-being or whether the illness currently being treated is actually a symptom, a manifestation or a reaction to other external influences in the persons physical, mental or lifestyle health. Issues which may not yet have surfaced and if left unchecked would bring about relapse. With consideration to these factors Holistic practitioners will recommend a course of treatment designed for the individual – body, mind, spirit. Recommendations may also include reference to social situations such as living arrangements, relationships and belief systems. Holistic practice at times extends beyond the person seeking treatment and recognises that the best intervention and therapy may be the provision of service to someone else, for example an obviously exhausted daughter is provided 1 day a week respite through the allocation of a nursing assistant for her elderly parents. What would you consider is best for the daughter? Medication to sedate her to sleep? Or allowing her a break from the stresses of being a fulltime caregiver and therefore providing her space and time to herself.
The most important aspect to remember and which differentiates Holistic practice from a therapy is the methodology. The holistic practitioner works with the individual to establish any underlying causes of illness and then suggests therapies, products or lifestyle choices that help to bring about natural balance and harmony.
Myth 2: It’s all herbs and home-made remedies.
The 2nd Holistic Myth which needs to be shattered is the belief that practitioners are anti pharmaceutical medications and advocate replacing conventional mainstream medical treatment with herbal tea, incense and the laying on of hands. While Holistic practice would certainly claim preference for natural, healthy medications and supplements the notion of being against prescribed medication or trying to convince individuals they should choose between the two is nonsense. It is in fact the complete opposite. Holistic practice advocates partnership and adds value to a persons current medical provision rather than detract from it. Holistic practitioners when consulting with individuals first seek to understand what current medical treatment is being undertaken, advice the person of the importance of continuing treatment from their medical clinician and then begins the process of developing a complementary therapeutic regime. Anything recommended is to add additional value to the individuals treatment and supports the work and practice of any medical practitioners already involved.
Often the Holistic practitioner is the first person consulted by an individual and there is no medical history or treatment being undertaken. In this case should any medical concerns come to light during their time with the client the holistic practitioner is obliged to ensure they recommend the individual attends medical screening.
Myth 3 – Holistic, Alternative and Complementary – They’re all the same!
A good friend of mine once said to me when we were chatting that the problem with ‘us naturopath types is we confuse people with our holistics, alternatives and complementary therapies and as they’re all the same why do why make life difficult.” In that one statement not only did he manage to confuse a therapy with a belief system and two diametrically opposing methodologies but he also learnt if you ask me a deliberately provocative question then I will most certainly offer you an answer and any notion of us naturopath types being all love, light and peacefully forgiving was also wrong. He does however now know what the difference is and I doubt will be confused by them again.
All joking aside it is a fairly regular and common confusion and this one we can lay blame with the medical fraternity. Not because of any malice but simply as time passes each generation of experts can’t make their mind up what they want included in their camp and what they don’t. We need remember not so long ago the notion of psychology or mental health was laughed at and those practitioners mocked for believing such antiquated thoughts. Likewise some therapies traditionally seen as alternative have been accepted as modern medicine and you may now get medical advice to consider such things as hypnotherapy and meditation (relaxation in their booklets).
So to deal with Myth 3 lets look at what we know:
- A Naturopath is a therapist who practices a specific therapy. This therapy could be included as part of a Holistic Regime.
- Holistic practice is a conceptual theory, a mind set and a belief system which advocates the treatment of the whole person not just the disease.
- Holistic practitioners promote modern medical practices and medication, with a preference for natural health and products.
- Any therapy recommended adds value rather than replaces what is alreasy being provided.
This leaves is with Complementary and Alternative therapies and treatments. Today it would be fair to say that there is very little to differentiate between which therapy should sit within which label and I suspect many therapies are advertised as either or both. I would also suspect the majority of therapists would be happy to use either or both titles or at least would not be overly offended if branded with their least favoured of the two.
Isn’t it odd that a therapist wouldn’t object to which label was placed on their therapy?
We are talking about practitioners who take their chosen therapeutic service extremely seriously, ensuring the public continue to have the choice to access natural medicine all the while lobbying to gain influence on wider society in the hope of finally being recognised as a valued and integral part of the medical profession.
I hazard a guess that most therapists also recognise that the labels Alternative and Complementary in today’s society are accepted as one and the same. If used it simply comes down to the preference of each therapist to label themselves. As a consumer we wouldn’t book an alternative therapist simply based on that title alone because we would not know what therapy was being offered. You would, I believe, book a crystal healer who was listed under either alternative or complementary headings because you wanted to have crystal healing therapy. Probably the only time Alternative or Complementary is used as a reference or starting position when you look in the phone book or online.
The other reason no one is making a fuss about what could be a potentially heated debate is the fact that no therapist or natural healer or herbalist or in fact any other holistic practitioner ever decided on or came up with these titles anyway. We must cast aside romantic notion that Alternative derives from a secret pact of Wiccans and other magical groups and also forget the tales of Complementary meaning gifts and healing powers from Angels. I have heard both of these numerous times.
The reality is these titles were created decades ago and assigned to specific therapies dependent on the current mood of the medical establishment.
- Labelled Complementary – your therapy was accepted as possibly being acceptable to a person’s health and therefore considered as complementary to or complementing of the modern medicine of the time.
- Labelled Alternative and your therapy was exactly that – In the eyes of modern medicine your treatment was not considered as acceptable to modern practice. Individuals who wished to consider your therapy were told they could choose Modern Medicine or the Alternative.
Thankfully these terms are no longer used in this manner and are I imagine the true meanings are likely unknown or at least forgotten by most. Today within surgeries or hospitals or other medical facilities, as is befitting to our topic of discussion, the NHS and other private facilities have a recognised practice of offering to patients and their families guidance and in some cases a booklet either on release from hospital or following a course of treatment. This guidance and booklet inform of the need to look globally at their health, the importance of gaining balance and the need to have rest, take time to relax and contemplate. There are also references to other useful resource for better health. The title? CAT, a guide to Complementary and Alternative Therapies.
Keep Healthy All!