The system of medicine that has long been established in western culture can be described as being primarily concerned with symptoms, not causes. Illness is addressed once it has already become a fact. What’s more, little consideration is given to the overall well being of a person. The “pill for every ill” system confronts his or her ailments, but not the underlying emotional and spiritual conditions that those ailments are likely to be the result of.
Holistic medicine is often viewed as taking a similar approach, but substituting natural substances for synthetic ones. For example, herbal remedies may be used in place of synthetic prescription drugs. It’s true that a variety of herbs and supplements are often used to facilitate healing within schools of alternative medicine; but these things are viewed only as temporary aids. The real healing work takes place within each person, and draws upon his or her own life-giving mental attitudes and beliefs. For this reason, holistic medicine acknowledges that every human being is unique; there is no quick fix that can be tailor made to address every symptom, because illness is a personal matter for each person. The holistic movement is not primarily concerned, then, with simply replacing prescription drugs with herbs.
In the eyes of established medicine, people’s thoughts and feelings have little impact upon their health. Modern science (with the possible exception of the New Physics) perceives things in purely materialistic terms (i.e., biology and chemistry). A disease is seen as a physical condition that must be cured by physical means – for example, with a counteracting substance. The body is viewed as the battleground, then, and the mind-body relationship is seldom emphasized or even considered.
Holistic medicine perceives the mind, body, and spirit of the human being as composing one single system. One’s state of health or illness cannot be separated from one’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. It is significant that many practitioners of alternative medicine stress exercise, meditation, visualization, and prayer over more direct (and distinctively western) approaches like megavitamin therapy and taking herbal supplements. The former practices draw upon people’s inner resources and healing powers instead of relying upon outside interventions (even if they are natural).
With the rising costs of health care, and the lack of adequate coverage for many of us, more and more people have begun to seek alternative ways of treating themselves and promoting their health. Others are drawn to holistic healing methods not because they can’t afford to see traditional doctors but rather because they’ve stopped believing in them. Taking responsibility for our own health and well being rather than relinquishing control to an outside authority may be the trend of the future. This is the approach fostered by various branches of holistic medicine.