As a medical biochemist I have been working for many years side by side with medical doctors toward the same goal - to protect and heal patients from diseases. During my professional training program I got very basic knowledge of medicine, but I never understood why highly trained medical professionals were never taught anything about self-healing and the natural healing capacity of human beings. I asked myself why they were so uncomfortable with alternative (traditional) therapies and spirituality. Where are all the free thinkers in modern medicine that have the power to bring attention to alternative therapies?
My next question was; is modern medicine neglecting our natural mind-body connection? I hope, not. Although integrative medicine is gaining recognition by the medical establishment, the pace is much too slow. By the end of their training, many doctors feel that the compassion and spirit which drew them to medicine has been lost. Why is that?
To better understand the terms used in this article, I would like to give you a few definitions:
Modern medicine, also known as western, regular or conventional medicine, is focused mainly on the physical aspect of the body for treatment. Another name for modern medicine is allopathic medicine.
Alternative medicine, known as traditional or natural medicine, is a general term given to wide range of therapies, most of which are more than 100 years old. Alternative medicine takes a holistic approach, meaning that it does not involve only the physical body, but also considers the mind and spirit. It defines health as a state of complete balance between the mind, body, and spirit.
Integrative Medicine combines western and alternative approaches and supplements, but does not replace conventional therapy. Integrative medicine neither rejects conventional medicine nor accepts alternative medicine uncritically.
At the very beginning of the Integrative medicine era, many physicians were faced with a huge dilemma: either they learn and incorporate alternative therapies into their practice or they ignore them. But to incorporate them was to take a risk, the risk of losing the trust and confidence of their patients who were accustomed to other therapies. Also, physicians didn't want to violate the sacrosanct principle they were taught: "First, Do Not Harm". They were afraid of trying something new or different because conventional science tells us that "alternative treatment can't work because we don't know how it works "!
The dilemma is understandable from a medical point of view. Modern medicine wants everything to be explained scientifically and logically. That's OK, but, on the other hand, there is a demand for alternative medicine, which people have tried and benefited from. How should one respond to huge demands for alternative methods? If alternative therapies work, and we know they do, then physicians need to consider them. Happily, they finally are doing so.
The medical profession is finally learning the ancient theory that we cannot understand disease unless we understand the person who has the disease and accept the fact that the mind and body are bound together. Our minds and bodies are designed to stay in balance. The great majority of diseases for which patients seek medical help are in part psychosomatic, meaning that bodily symptoms are caused by mental or emotional disturbance.
Therefore, we need the help of science to deal with our health, but we also need to provide the patient with hope and faith in the treatment. Today's MD's should be emotionally and scientifically competent to treat psychosomatic illness; if not the patient will return with another problem! Do you know why? Because no one looked into why he developed the illness in the first place!
Future generations of physicians need time to become familiar with integrative medicine. Hopefully they will find the time to better understand not only illness but also their patients.
Integrative medicine is one step closer to a better relationship between patient and doctor.
We are glad that we now have Integrative medicine: a combination of alternative and western medicine, healing-oriented medicine. Integrative medicine considers the body, mind, and spirit, including lifestyle. This medicine uses conventional and alternative methods, bringing together the best of both worlds.
In many cases traditional healing methods were introduced to western medicine by patients! They brought their own healing traditions to their MD's . Actually, they knew their tradition had been effective for them in the past and they wanted to use them now!
Fortunately, they have found very gifted, open-minded doctors, who let them use their own healing traditions, but kept a watchful eye on the treatment to make sure they didn't hurt their patients. And that's how modern western medicine learned about traditional, alternative therapies. Bit by bit, modern medicine accepted the reality that western medicine can not offer all the solutions, yet it remains confident in modern science while accepting alternative treatments.
Integrative medicine use mind-body therapies such as meditation, spiritual healing, acupuncture, self-hypnosis, mindfulness, stress reduction, visualization, yoga, Tai Chi, body energy fields, reflexology, massage, guided imagery, prayer and many other alternative methods. Although we know for sure that our mind plays a positive role in the healing process, how it does so remains a mystery!
Yes, integrative medicine brought the patient's attitude, spirit, hope, faith, meaning and beliefs into medical offices, definitely changing the western approach to healing. Integrative medicine is still surrounded with skepticism and controversy. In the near future, it needs to be implemented in medical schools and residencies, with more certificate courses for practicing physicians and other health professionals. The challenges are many, and the opportunities are great.
Integrative medicine is not only for the ill, but for those who wish to increase their self-awareness, enhance their well-being, and help prevent health-related problems. In bringing meditation and other spiritual and alternative therapies into western medicine, medical professionals have changed the face of modern medicine.
Thankfully, after many years of denying alternative therapies, modern western medicine is ready to accept mind/energy oriented therapies and other alternative treatments as powerful tools in their battle for people's health. In this way patients and practitioners are partners in the healing process.
Today, physicians are more educated about alternative methods yet remain uncomfortable while practicing it. A new approach to medicine requires a new approach to medical education. However, this is changing because of newly introduced training programs in Integrative Medicine. The world of modern western medicine is changing every day for better, and that is good for patients.
It is my wish that alternative therapies will gradually play a more important role in our current medical system.