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  • Silvia Russo

The distinction between holistic medicine and reductionist medicine

There is been much debate over the years around the differences between Western medicine and so called CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) and what the two have to offer in society today. There is a marked difference in not only their philosophy but in their treatment approach and I believe the two medicines complement each other and have many benefits to offer to the health of an individual today.

So what are the differences? For a start, CAM is a holistic medicine, that is, we see the person as a whole, where mind and body are connected and constantly trying to balance and also integrate with their environment, diet and lifestyle factors. Western medicine is a reductionist medicine where it will recognise one part of the body being affected and will concentrate treatment targeted to where the disease or imbalance exists in the body, targeting very specific biochemical pathways based upon science. One would say Western medicine is diseased focused and CAM is person focused.

Holistic medicine has a strong philosophical underpinning which has been in existence for many hundred to thousands of years and has a comprehensive theory of wellness. Whole person focused assessment and diagnosis takes place and treatment is individualised to support self healing. Holistic medicine usually takes place at a slower rate especially if the condition has been in existence for a long period of time. Holistic systems include classic Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, Naturopathic medicine and Western herbal medicine.

Reductionist medicine has very little philosophy, very little theory of wellness and the diagnosis is disease focused and uses generic treatments to eradicate disease, hence the one drug given to the mass population for that condition. You can get fast relief from your ailments or whatever condition you have with that drug, however there are also associated side effects with drugs. Reductionist systems include biomedicine.

There is no reason why the two medicines cannot be used hand in hand in todays contemporary society where we are faced with diseases that can change however the philosophical underpinnings of holistic medicine and its' principles remain the same and have been for thousands of years. The body has a unique and clever way of healing and repairing itself and we as practitioners come in and just give the body a bit of a nudge in the right direction. As practitioners we also offer lifestyle advice such as getting quality sleep, making changes to one's diet and also taking care of one's emotional wellbeing such as through the practices of meditation, yoga, moderate exercise and for some, dancing and yes, finding work/life balance if you can! Socialising and communicating with friends and family is also an important aspect of our mental/emotional wellbeing, feeling connected is important.

The most important thing to remember is that holistic medicine is wellness focused and person focused, therefore much suited to prevention rather than cure. So if your digestion is not functioning as well, your sleep quality is poor, you feel overwhelmed at times, have that niggle that won't go away or you just don't feel quite right, holistic medicine may be right for you. There is however, some evidence based research showing that acupuncture may be effective for headaches, migraines and also lower back pain. This information is taken from the Cochrane library. Cochrane is a highly reputable global independent network of researchers collecting high quality information and research for healthcare professionals.


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