Holistic or Integrative?

In the world of medicine and therapy, terms appear and become fashionable for a while, although the uninitiated are not always sure what they mean.  This is true when it comes to the use of the terms ‘holistic’ or ‘integrative’ in relation to treatments for alcohol, drug or behavioural addiction, as well as for other mental health disorders. Sometimes they appear to be used interchangeably, which only adds to confusion.  That is not helpful to those desperately seeking help.  The obvious question is: What’s the difference?

Holistic medicine

As its name suggests, Holistic Medicine is concerned with the whole person, not solely with the narrow specifics of someone’s presenting symptom in isolation. When considering what ails a person, a holistic approach takes into account every aspect of that individual’s life and the interrelation of those dimensions. Everything is viewed as important when it comes to trying to understand and fashion an effective response to the patient’s ill health: including physical, psychological, spiritual, social, family and environmental factors. 

Integrative medicine

Integrative medicine aligns with the holistic approach.  While keeping the whole person in mind, an integrative approach draws upon a variety of interventions and therapies as considered appropriate to providing effective treatment or to improving wellbeing.  It will combine so-called traditional or conventional interventions with complementary therapies, provided there is valid evidence to support their use. It cannot simply be left to a practitioner’s personal preference or professional allegiance.  Integrative medicine requires well-coordinated care, sometimes involving a number of different practitioners. It will include focussing on improvements to nutrition, diet, exercise and sleep since these are fundamental to good health and to building resistance to ill health.   Residential or in-patient treatment options may be better placed to offer such co-ordinated treatment given the skills available on site.

Greater understanding, greater acceptance

Many people who suffer from addiction come to find their identity defined by their condition. In effect they can feel reduced somewhat dismissively to a set of symptoms.  This is stigma at work. Holistic and integrative practitioners look beyond the limits of a diagnosis to the whole person thus helping people to reclaim a fuller sense of self in the process.  Through this more accepting approach, they may be better able to identify the personal and social resources they have available to them to support their recovery.  The deficits in recovery capital across all domains can be identified and redressed with the right support.

Recovery – adopting an integrated approach to the whole

The patient comes to understand that sustainable recovery from addiction and associated mental disorders is not simply about the absence of symptoms that occasioned the original diagnosis. Rather, they recognise that it involves a commitment to an integrated approach to restoring the wellbeing of the whole system.  Such improved wellbeing in the round will increase resilience. This may mean a radical change in lifestyle and a conscientious increase in attention to self-care.  So, not holistic or integrative; both.

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