Holistic vs. Modern Medicine
Holistic medicine is an expression has become a household term in our time. Suddenly, the rational world of the highly technological super-developed nations has rediscovered the composite nature of humankind, that we are just the visible physico-chemical entity as claimed by conventional science. Contemporary discoveries in the field of physics have revealed to us that “dust” is no longer that inert, trivial thing that we think it is. Transfer of information or communication exists at the molecular level.
Thus in the field of medicine, some practitioners have found it necessary to add the spiritual dimension of metaphysics to modern physics in order to treat the totality of a person (Hobert).
This, then, is holism, the theory that the living universe is correctly seen in terms of interacting wholes that are more than the mere sum of elementary particles. Holistic medicine accentuates the organic and functional connection among parts and the whole. In modern medicine, holism is already at work in the concept of homeostasis which stipulates that the functioning of every organ (skin, bone, brain, heart, kidney, liver, and endocrine glands) concurs to maintain the integrity, the wholeness of the individual and the constancy of the interval environment (Pieterse).
Holistic medicine is an opposition to reductionist medicine that attempts to explain biological process by the same explanations used by chemists and physicists to interpret non-living matter. In fact the reductionist method, that is, the modern scientific method has been successful in giving us understanding and power over nature and diseases. But modern science has limitations. Holistic theory enters to redirect attention toward the spiritual aspect of man and woman and invites us to exploit that other dimension for the maintenance of health or the eradication of disease (Hobert).
Holistic Medicine in Modern Medicine
According to the concept of holistic medicine, health and wholeness imply the integration of the physical, mental, and spiritual levels of being. From this perspective man is more than a machine that can be serviced like the family automobile. He is a person with spiritual and social aspects whose well-being is as much a reflection of the health of his psyche as it is a reflection of his physical health. Man is meant to function as a totally integrated being, and any medical system of analysis or diagnosis that effectively treats him must also be complete (Pieterse).
Holistic practitioners feel that modern medicine has done well in treating many illnesses and containing infectious diseases but has not gone far enough in defining and teaching the principles of health and in creating an atmosphere of wholeness. Physicians have been given the opportunity to explore the meaning of health and disease. Their traditional medical training with all the sophistication that modern technology provides has helped them understand anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and pathology. However, it is necessary to expand that knowledge in order to gain a greater understanding of the seemingly subtle influences that underlie the body’s physiochemistry and orchestrate integration of the human being. The desire to blend scientific training with that which can only be experienced intuitively and instinctively has led to the exploration of alternative philosophical systems. These are studied systems of health care, both modern and ancient, that facilitate an understanding that body, mind, and spirit are interdependent. Some commonalities, unifying principles, behind the fundamental teachings of different medical and philosophical systems were found then studied (Aginam).
Holism spans past, present, and future as it is based on ancient tenets, recent changes in orthodox medicine, and on future ideals. The integration of technology with the psycho-spiritual dimensions of man underlies this approach. In holism, ancient and modern systems and technologies can complement one another in a cohesive and universal manner (Hobert).
Holism does not necessarily imply alternative modes of treatment, for these methods can often be superficial, non-verifiable, or unidimensional. Nor does it imply that traditional physicians could not be holistic. What is most important is for the practitioner of holism to create an atmosphere where mind and body are seen to be interconnected and the psychological and spiritual dimensions of physical illness are consistently acknowledged.
All healing therapies begin with the assumption that the individual to be treated is ill or damaged in some way. The healer’s task is to find and realize the method or condition that will make the patient better. Any efficient therapy needs an answer from the patient. Persons who do not retort to treatment at any aware or unconscious levels cannot be assisted. The body is an evident target of healing in modern medicine. But from time to time the viewpoint of the patient are more influential than physiological reactions, and on instance can even direct the body’s commands of reconstruction (Aginam).
These rudimentary observations are as true of the most technological, allopathic medicine as they are of spiritual healing. All therapy helps the person to heal herself, though sometimes medical intervention can be crucial in restoring health and avoiding death. But the methods and conditions of effective therapy differ widely even when these truisms are accepted. Western medicine today relies on a mechanistic view of the body that inclines physicians to regard illness as a malady caused by bacteria, viruses, or organic damage (for example, genetic flaws). The goal of therapy is a restoration of that equilibrium defining the healthy organism. Today this restoration is usually accomplished with modern medicine and/or surgical techniques (Hobert).
The healing therapies that are regarded as nonstandard or unconventional from allopathic perspectives generally have a different view of the individual, of health and illness, and the range of methods and conditions that can successfully heal. Nonstandard therapies tend to regard individuals in holistic terms. Individuals are seen as singular wholes and as constituent parts of some larger reality. The problem is that an abundance of evidence and argument suggest that individuals are more complex and fragmented than commonly thought. Rival social and intellectual context can provide competing definitions of the individual, so that societies often present different selves with no changes in psychic references. Also, the brain seems to be a heterogeneous arrangement that can contain multiple selves within a single physical endowment (Aginam).
Nonstandard therapy uses a wide and interesting range of justifications to prove that the whole individual is better than the fragmented self, for example that the individual as an integrated whole can respond more effectively to treatment and is closer to a more complete equilibrium extending to both body and mind. Even the duality of body-mind is rejected in most holistic medicine. In its place is a unity of mental and physical domains. The healthy individual is one who is in a state of harmony achieved by subordinating the self to a larger purpose. This purpose meets the enduring interests of the individual. Health, and the therapy that secures health, is as much a matter of attitude as physical condition (Hobert).
Some Conceptual Elements in Modern Medicine
The mechanistic basis of modern medicine has grown out of an early Christian view that it is important to study nature as a sacred task, recognition of God’s work. However as the sacredness with the Church declined in the Post-Renaissance period, the observation of nature became a valued task in its own right, as a part of control over nature and its forces. Nature could and should be tamed, and it was man’s study to his intelligence to do so. Taming nature meant understanding its laws. Thus, science was born and with its scientific medicine.
The basis of medicine then became the search to understand processes going on in the body and mind, and if they have gone astray, to put them right. Gradually this objective relationship to the body as mechanism, led to all kinds of extreme positions. For example, the letting of blood, repeatedly, was justified by a bad-blood, mechanistic theory, which was held to even though it should have been clear that in many cases it was killing the patient. Arabic medicine, which was more holistic and naturopathic in orientation, never having lost its Greek parentage, looked on such bloodletting by European doctors with horror (Hobert).
Concern for processes, and mechanism, the need to find objectively verifiable laws, and to prove them to be absolutely real within nature, and not a figment of the ‘unreliable’ human mind, and the growing sense of power over nature, led eventually to the modern medicine of today, which is so highly mechanistic that patients are generally viewed as no more carriers of symptoms. The human being is a machine, the mind is an elaborate computer, and the doctor essentially an engineer rather than a healer. Indeed, what healing actually is, the power of life to restore health, is unknown and uninvestigated in modern medicine (Aginam).
Introduction: Holistic vs. Modern Medicine
Holistic Medicine in Modern Medicine
Some Conceptual Elements in Modern Medicine
Aginam, Obijiofor. Global Health Governance: International Law and Public Health in a Divided World. Toronto, CA: University of Toronto Press, 2005.
Hobert, Ingfried. Guide to Holistic Healing in the New Millenium. Australia: Harald Tietze Publishing, 1999.
Pieterse, Jan Nederveen. Development Theory: Deconstructions/Reconstructions. New York: SAGE, 2001.
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