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What Is Integrative or ‘Holistic’ Medicine?

  [ 23 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ]
By William Collinge, PhD, MPh* • • April 1, 2008

The principle of complementarity is at the heart of integrative medicine. An abundance of research shows that integrating multiple forms of medicine together in an organized way can be more effective than relying on any one approach by itself. The eight forms of medicine on The Integrative Medicine Wheel are described as follows:

Mind/body Medicine - uses the pathways of communication between mind and body to promote physical health. Methods include imagery, relaxation training, biofeedback, meditation, hypnosis, hypnotherapy, autogenic training, psychotherapy, and group therapy.

Energy Medicine - works with the energy system of the body, or treats with energies introduced from outside. Methods include acupuncture, homeopathy, energy-based touch therapies (Therapeutic Touch, Healing Touch, Reiki), qi gong (chi kung), breath therapies (pranayama, transformational breath work), spiritual healing, flower essences, magnetic therapies, and electrical stimulation.

Manipulative Therapies - use the physical manipulation of soft tissue or the musculoskeletal system to promote healing. Methods include chiropractic, osteopathy, massage therapy, bodywork, physical therapy and hydrotherapy.

Surgery - includes all invasive surgical procedures.

Pharmaceutical Drugs - includes all forms of synthetic drugs, prescription and over-the-counter.

Herbal Medicine - includes Western herbs, Chinese Herbs, Ayurvedic herbs, and aromatherapy.

Nutritional Medicine - includes specific dietary therapies and nutritional supplementation.

Lifestyle & Behavior - includes general eating habits, work habits, stress reduction, self-healing practices, exercise, rest, sleep, intimate relationships, social support and spiritual involvement.

An integrative approach involves a thoughtful inquiry into the benefits of each of these forms of treatment for a given health condition. Priorities are set after careful consideration of their relative contributions, their complementarities, and any potential conflicts between modalities.

Integrative medicine is not a matter of trying to do everything all at once - not indiscriminately "throwing in everything and the kitchen sink." An individual's plan is tailored which follows the priorities while also taking into account the person's unique circumstances and resources, so that he or she is most likely to follow through.

* Dr. William Collinge, PhD, MPh, is an internationally recognized consultant, author, speaker and active researcher in the field of integrative (holistic) healthcare. His research includes studies of integrative approaches to ME/CFS, Fibromyalgia, immune enhancement, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and community mental health practice. This article is reproduced with permission from Dr. Collinge's website (

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