Alternative Medicine is Holistic, Western Medicine is Reductionist
The major difference between alternative medicine, or what I'll call
holistic health, and Western medicine, is in approach.
A Western doctor, or MD, sees his duty as searching out disease,
diagnosing it, and treating it. If he does that correctly and
effectively, he's done his job. Most often, this means the doctor
prescribing a pharmaceutical drug or a surgical procedure to remedy the
situation. The patients is passive in all of this.
A holistic health practitioner sees her duty as an educator and a
facilitator. She feels that the body can heal itself, and it doesn't
necessarily need outside influences (drugs, surgery) to heal from an
illness or to prevent an illness. In holistic health, the patient is an
This is the best and the worst thing about holistic health! The patient
is actively involved in the healing process. Everything you know about
your body says that this is the right approach. It makes so much sense.
That's the good part. The bad thing about this is that it is HARD WORK
for the patient. In most cases, the patient must make changes to their
lifestyle. Change your diet, do more exercise, stop using sugar, do these
stretches, stop negative thoughts, meditate twice a day, etc.
Making lifestyle changes is immensely difficult. The only time it's easy
is when you are faced with a life-threatening disease. When you find out
you have lung cancer, it's pretty easy to quit smoking. However, it's far
too late by that time. Lifestyle changes need to come before the illness
Let's examine one of the big differences between holistic health and
Western medicine: holism versus reductionism.
Holistic versus Reductionist
This is a major shift in perspective. Taking a holistic perspective means
that you cannot understand a single problem with a single part of the
human body without looking at the whole person. We use the short-hand
“mind, body, spirit” to refer to the whole person.
This is not how a Western doctor is taught to see a patient. He sees the
patient as the disease. “This is an epileptic,” it is not a whole person
who has epilepsy. He feels that he can administer a drug or perform a
surgery that will cure a person's liver without making any difference to
the rest of the person. Of course, this is never possible, so when the
inevitable “complications” arise, the Western doctor deals with those one
at a time, often causing additional problems for the person, whether in
body, mind or spirit.
Even those three parts of the person are treated by separate people in
Western society. The body is the domain of the medical doctor. The mind
is the domain of the psychiatrist. Spirit is left to the priest, rabbi or
pastor. There is no overlap in roles, except for referrals from one to
the other. In our bodies, of course, there is tremendous overlap. A loss
of connection to God or the universe will cause no end of mental and
physical problems. Mental stress causes many physical diseases, as we
well know. Who can coordinate between these in the Western system? No
one. Problems falling “through the cracks” between mind, body and spirit
is a common failure of Western medicine.
A holistic practitioner understands the interconnections between mind,
body and spirit. They work on the connections, and, although the
practitioner may not be an expert in all three, they focus on the
overlaps rather than ignoring them.
In my opinion, a holistic approach is better in almost every case for
almost every person. Understanding the linkages between mind, body and
spirit is essential to understanding how to stay well and how to heal.
Western medicine can play a part within the scope of holistic health by
offering emergency solutions to problems that arise quickly and need to
be fixed immediately.
Daryl Kulak is the author of Health Insurance Off the Grid, a book that
explores how a combination of holistic health and the new Health Savings
Account (HSA) can make an enormous difference in the budget and health of