Originally Published March 05, 2012
There is a slightly erroneous perception among many people in regards to conventional and alternative medicine that requires some attention and clarification. The differences between the conventional and alternative health paradigms are deeper than most people understand.
Most consider the scope of getting alternative treatments as making a visit to an alternative healthcare practitioner such as a naturopathic doctor, herbalist, energy healer, massage practitioner, aromatherapist, or other non-conventional healer. We think of traditional medicine as involving a visit to the doctor, usually resulting in drugs and/or surgery.
While this is true at a superficial level, there is far more going on with these two types of visits, which I lump into the categories of conventional and alternative treatments. These two forms of treatment are coming from completely different medical or wellness paradigms, and understanding these paradigms is crucial for getting the type of care you expect as well as the results you expect.
Here are the main differences between the two paradigms:
In the allopathic medical paradigm, patient involvement is minimal. The doctor is seen as the ultimate authority and source of information. The patient follows “doctor’s orders” which involve drugs and/or surgery, both patient-passive solutions. The patient complies and waits to get well. It’s straightforward for both doctor and patient, and there is no active participation required for the patient.
Causes are not necessarily discussed, and the patient’s lifestyle is examined minimally, if at all. Lifestyle, if discussed, would involve physical aspects such as diet and exercise. Every solution is the same for every patient with that ailment. For the doctor, it’s a simple “ailment –> prescription” approach or equation. The patient’s opinions and feelings generally interfere with this process rather than assist it.
Prevention is usually not discussed, or minimally touched upon. The focus is disease-care rather than health-care. There is not a lot of learning that goes on, except about the ins and outs of the particular disease being addressed. Conversation is mostly minimal. The underlying belief is that the body is broken and needs to be fixed. It needs new substances and elements introduced to destroy any threat. Body parts that are not functioning well may need to be removed.
After their experience, the patient may feel fear of the unknown, feel a lack of control, and wonder what other bad things could randomly pop up into their lives in the future.
In the holistic medicine view, everything is opposite. The individual person is an integral part of healing, their uniqueness is examined and taken into account when designing treatment, and patient involvement is required for treatment to be effective.
What they are experiencing mentally, emotionally, and physically are all not just listened to to make the patient feel good, but necessary information for designing proper treatment. Two patients with the same ailment could have different causes and completely different treatment programs. Lifestyle factors are thoroughly examined and investigated so causes can be narrowed down. This includes physical, mental, and emotional factors such as family responsibilities, workload, relationships, and other factors that can contribute to stress, exhaustion, and the body’s lack of balance. The mind-body connection understood by the practitioner and taken as a matter of fact, and they assist the patient in understanding it as well. In fact, the patient often knows the reason for their illness (it is often related to a stressful event that has occurred or other difficulties in their lives), and this information is invaluable because finding the cause of any given illness is considered crucial for finding its solution.
Causes could be inadequate nutrition, toxicity, stress, depression, lack of exercise, isolation, and a hundred other things in between. If the cause is unknown, all areas of the lifestyle will be improved and addressed to facilitate healing and prevention of any future ailments.
The underlying belief is that the body is the expert on healing itself. The body is already working toward healing itself, and all we really need to do is get out of the way and support it as best we can. Getting out of the way simply means to stop introducing harmful substances, whether this is nutritionally-empty food, negative thoughts, toxins, or other forms of pollution.
Holistic healing practices are a team effort, and always result in deeper understanding of the nature of disease and how the way we live our lives ultimately affects our bodies. It results in a better understanding of our minds, bodies, and spirits and how these are all inextricably linked with one affecting the other and leading to unexpected changes in health. This methodology usually ends in the patient feeling empowered, educated about taking care of their bodies, feeling more in touch with themselves, and feeling increased control over their bodies and lives.
Getting What You Expect From Your Practitioner
How is it we attempt to take a holistic approach with an allopathic practitioner? We think the doctor is ready to listen to us, take our personal thoughts and emotions and life circumstances into account. That he or she will consider our opinions about causes and care. The problem is that even if a caring doctor listened and did his or her best to take this information into account, how much can they do with it? Their training does not prepare them to contextualize this information, and has mainly taught them it is irrelevant. The body-mind connection, while shown scientifically valid in many ways, has still not made its way into the conventional medical model. The body is seen as a machine in need of repair. A patient hoping to learn about future prevention may be surprised to hear their doctor may know little about answering that question, as, again, their training does not focus on it.
In this case, the patient can feel let down and disappointed. They may feel that their side of things or their innate wisdom about their body has not been heard or taken into account. They may also be disappointed to be given a narrow list of options for healing, as medical doctors are trained only in drugs and surgical options.
Conversely, how can an energy healing client think they are getting one style of treatment when they have signed up for another? While a client may know they are receiving a non-traditional form of treatment, their mentality can still be 100% allopathic.
They may not expect to participate in the healing process by talking about their lifestyle or making any changes to it. They may not expect to do personal investigation into mental or emotional causes of their ailment. They may not know about the mind-body connection and therefore see relevant personal information as irrelevant and not want it taken into account or discussed.
They may think that showing up for their appointments for treatment is all the work that is needed and be surprised when they do not get excellent results from that alone. I would say that while a doctor may make some lifestyle suggestions, a holistic health practitioner more likely makes lifestyle mandates :).
The good and bad news is that YOU are the most powerful person in their healing scenario, NOT your practitioner. The good news is that you have the power to heal, and the “bad” news is that it will require some effort.
It is understandable that we would not realize this because we are taught nothing of the sort growing up. We are taught that our health is basically a random situation for us to be in, and all we can do is cross our fingers and hope. Causes and lifestyle factors are not taught to us at any point in our lives, so how can we understand their importance?
While it can be a relief to see a practitioner who does not ask us about our lifestyle, mental health, or spirituality–or challenge us in any way–if there is one thing I would urge any reader to take away from this article, it’s that nothing is more important in healing than the above factors! Any practitioner who does not inquire into them is unaware of the most powerful causes of disease as well as healing forces available. These are the forces of our own bodies and minds being fully and healthfully supported and nourished. No human-made potion can come close.
It can be scary to scrutinize ourselves in these areas and admit those small shortcomings that can add up. “I always meant to start exercising, but somehow it never happened….” “I’m still angry at him/her, but I don’t ever think about it consciously, so what could it have to do with my disease?” It’s in these intimidating conversations with ourselves that we find the easy answers we were always looking for! It just doesn’t feel easy to get started, and sometimes it’s so close–right on the end of our nose–we can’t see it.
However, no skill will be more useful in our lifelong quests for health and happiness than that simple one of honest introspection.
Remember, as always, I encourage everyone to get a surface-level health “education” in the three main access points to health. These are the leverage points where a little goes a long way. You don’t need to be an expert in any of them, but only understand the basic underlying mechanisms. See my blog “The Triumvirate of Health” for more information on this.
We first have to understand what we are and what we have before we can change the state of our health. In the literal sense, we are a soul, and we have a physical body and energy bodies. (Yes, there are several layers of energy bodies that overlap and interpenetrate each other, though I won’t go into detail on that today.)
In a nutshell:
Your Physical Body is affected by how you treat it physically: Nutrition, Exercise, and Toxins exposure. This next affects your energy body as those changes, for good or not-so-good, filter to the next level.
Your Energy Body is instantly and immediately affected and changed by your thoughts and emotions. The thoughts and emotions you create and experience are your energetic “food.” If the food is poisonous, the energy bodies are poisoned, malfunction, and this eventually filters to and affects and alters the physical body, causing malfunction. Your energy body is the blueprint for your physical body which must follow that blueprint. This is the quick and easy way to understand the mind-body connection.
As you can see, the physical and energy bodies are inextricably intertwined and both have to be treated healthfully for the body to heal and stay healthy.
I hope you have enjoyed this long-winded explanation of the two different wellness paradigms currently practiced! Our choice of practitioner is very personal and up to the individual, so I hope this gives you a better picture of these two healing methodologies as well as added to your understanding of why a holistic view is inclusive of many critical factors in health. Your comments and feedback are always appreciated! Blessings for your good health!