Understanding Holistic Care in Relation to Chronic Illness

In my recent blog post “Understanding Approaches for Pain Management and Patient Care”  I speak on the lasting effects of holistic health care and the benefits that it has in terms of managing pain and taking care of the “whole” patient.

Before I get started, it is important to mention that the holistic approach to health does not reject conventional medicine, but is a sensible, complete form of healing that considers your child’s entire picture of health and uses the best and most appropriate options for healing. It is a process of strengthening every system of the mind-body and allowing your child’s natural healing potential to flourish.

Many of the chronic health problems that affect children will respond best when addressed from a holistic point of view.

Conventional v.s Alternative Medicine

Aside from conventional medicine, alternative medicine covers a broad range of healing philosophies, approaches, and therapies that can be used alone, in combination with other alternative therapies, or along with conventional medicine. Most homeopaths, naturopaths, and doctors  of oriental medicine are holistic practitioners, considering all aspects of their patients and assisting them in achieving a vibrant state of health.

But not all alternative practitioners can be considered holistic, nor is a conventional medical doctor necessarily not holistic. Alternative practitioners who believe that all disease is caused by vitamin deficiencies or spinal misalignments are no more holistic than a medical doctor who believes that all illness is caused by germs.

When it comes to medicine, it is beneficial to not have an either/or attitude. Both conventional and alternative have an important place in health care and can make a powerful team in certain situations.

Integrative Medicine

Integrative medicine (another word for holistic medicine) is an emerging system of health care practiced by medical doctors who respect all valid systems of healing, recognizing the value of each one.

Alternative and conventional treatments are combined in order to meet the needs of the patient on all levels of healing. The treatments that are the most effective in helping the patient are the ones used. It is not a matter of what type of medicine is better. It is a matter of what works for each patient.

 

 

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Meditation Offers a Powerful Integrated Treatment Option

Meditation has been a common spiritual and religious practice for thousands of years. More recently, the practice has been making its way into mainstream and secular use as a strategy to improve stress management, mindfulness, and overall quality of life. Researchers are beginning to take note as meditation becomes increasingly popular and shows promise as an integrative treatment option. Currently, 8% of Americans engage in meditation, and 11% spend time practicing deep breathing. Almost 1 out of every 10 Americans do yoga, which is considered by most to be a form of meditation, and 45% of those who don’t say they are interested in trying it.

Mediation’s growing popularity is easy to understand. Anyone can practice, anytime, anywhere. Meditation requires no special equipment or training. Although teachers and classes certainly exist and techniques vary, practicing meditation can be as simple as spending 15 minutes a day quietly focusing on your breath. Practitioners swear by these simple methods, with many reporting that they feel calmer and more relaxed throughout their day, more compassionate, and better equipped to handle difficult interpersonal situations. Many also report benefits in the form of new perspective and mental clarity, increased intuition and creativity, an ability to live in and appreciate each present moment, and an overall increase in happiness and wellbeing.

Meditation water fall

Scientific and medical research on the effects of meditation are still in the early stages, but a growing body of data promises a strong future for the use of meditation as a healthy, available, drug-free integrative medical treatment option.

Americans today face an epidemic of stress, and meditation may offer a powerful source of relief. Stress-related health problems are at the root of up to 80% of doctor appointments and make up the third highest health care expenditures, behind only heart disease and cancer. Given these numbers, it is shocking that only 3% of doctors attempt to address stress reduction techniques with their patients. A recent study suggests meditation goes a long way to address the problem.

People who participated in a meditation based relaxation program found that they required 43% less medical services compared to the previous year, and the newly relaxed patients enjoyed health care savings from $640 to as much as $25,500 per year. Also indicative of the success of such programs is that Aetna, a health insurance provider, offered its own employees a mindfulness program as an experiment of their own. The company itself enjoyed an increase in worker productivity of over an hour each week, or $3,000 yearly – a 1:11 return on their investment. The employees reported 28% less stress, 19% less pain, and 20% better sleep.

In a similar vein, mindfulness meditation is a natural match for treating both garden variety anxiety and patients suffering from Generalized Anxiety disorder. Based on her research, Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, recommends mediation for anyone “dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power” and “nagging worry that has no benefit.”

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New research suggests that the positive shifts in subjective emotional states that mindful meditators have been reporting for years may even have an objective, traceable physical basis. Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar has been studying the effects of meditation on the brain, and she is reporting some fascinating results. After just an 8 week meditation program, brain scans showed increased grey matter in the frontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with memory and decision making.

They also found thickening in the left hippocampus, which is associated with learning, cognition and emotional regulation, as well as areas which assist with perspective taking, empathy, and compassion. Most notably the amygdala, a brain structure famously called the “fight or flight” center and closely linked to fear, anxiety, and stress, shrank considerably in people who had practiced meditation for 8 weeks. Finally, Lazer found that 50 year old meditators had grey matter density in the prefrontal cortex that rivaled an average 25 year old, instead of the shrunken cortex she would expect to find in someone at that age.

Researchers continue to study and learn about the myriad effects of meditation, but you can start reaping the benefits right now. Even 10-15 minutes a day spent meditating is thought to improve quality of life and reduce stress and anxiety. Meditation certainly can’t cure everything, but it can serve as a powerful tool alongside other therapy and treatment, or simply help to improve your stressful day.

 

 

Click here to check out some downloadable guided meditations

Beyond the Pill: How Integrative Medicine Provides Holistic Care

Doctors Looking to Treating the Whole Person
Going to the doctor can be no fun. So much so that many people avoid it like the plaque. What if there was a doctor that did more than just looked at the problem and tried to fix it but got to know their patients as a person instead. They looked at the whole person, the whole being instead of individual parts. This is called being holistic and is the idea behind integrative medicine.
According to Katherine Kam, the goal of integrative medicine is to “treat the mind, body, and spirit, all at the same time.” Some of the ways integrative medicine goes beyond pills is by teaching their patients about different treatments. These treatments could include yoga, herbal medicines, messages, and tai chi. Naturally, the doctor will not be able to do all of this for the patient. Therefore, the therapists to work together with the doctors, all focusing on helping the patient get better in every aspect. In order to achieve this, each member of the team must be respected and valued.
It is important to note that the number one advocate in the group will be the patient themselves. They must be sure to eat healthy, workout, and get enough sleep. Western society can make this difficult; however, working with the proper team can leave a patient, and their physician, feeling better than they did to begin with and with little to no help from the expensive pharmaceutical system. This has benefits and drawbacks. One of the drawbacks is the potential for the holistic remedies will take longer than traditional medicine. This means forgoing our desire for instant gratification. At the same time, Dr. Sheldon T. Ceaser reminds Melody K. Hoffman that, “They (the patient) are not going to be able to buy a twenty or thirty dollar product and expect it to turn around major chronic illnesses” (p. 15). Another drawback is the cost of eating healthier; however, growing produce can help offset the cost. The benefits may outweigh the drawbacks as a patient feels better in every aspect of their health.
Integrative medicine is changing the face of the medical community. Hospitals in the United States offering complimentary therapies have more than doubled while twenty-four percent of hospitals plan to add these therapies in the future (webmd). The number one advocate for our health is the patient, as they search for the type of doctor such as Dr. Ceaser, that will treat the whole person and not just the problem.

Resources:
Hoffman, M.K. (2009, August 10). Healing Held in Holistic Health. Jet, Vol. 116 (4), pp. 14-15.
Kam, K. (2009, April 16). What is Integrative Medicine? Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/alternative-medicine-integrative-medicine#1