Integrative Health: Complementary vs. Alternative Healing

Integrative Health: Complementary vs. Alternative Healing

by Bonnie McLean O.M.D., A.P., M.A., B.S.N.

As a practitioner of Chinese Medicine, I would imagine that I would be considered to be in the category of alternative healing. Complementary healing incorporates both allopathic medicine and alternative healing. To me that is using the best of both worlds, and that is actually how I see my practice. I work in a chiropractic office with two chiropractors and three massage therapists. We work as a team in an integrative fashion. We refer patients to one another and we work together with a patient who would benefit from a team approach. We also exchange referrals of patients with other practitioners in the community, such as MD’s, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, functional medicine practitioners, and health coaches, as well as to drug rehabilitation programs, weight loss programs, etc. Therefore, even though we don’t provide all services under our roof, I consider our practice as integrative medicine.

We live in a culture of quick fixes. Unfortunately this also often includes health. Many people tend to wait until they have a health issue, such as pain or illness, before they seek help. They also tend to get the more aggressive kinds of treatment, such as medications, procedures, and surgery first. Treatments such as acupuncture, chiropractic, and massage are often a last resort. This is backwards from how I think it should be.

Living a healthy lifestyle should be the first focus. A healthy diet and regular exercise program will go a long way to prevent pain and illness. Unless a health challenge is potentially life threatening, natural health approaches should be tried first. Yes, they may take longer to work. They stimulate the body to heal itself which does often take time. But in the long run we know that simply treating symptoms is a temporary solution to a health problem. If the natural approach isn’t working, then, yes, I am advocate of the approaches provided through Western medicine.

There are many kinds of natural medicine approaches. I see them as on a continuum with the subtle modalities of energy healing at one end and the physical healing modalities at the other. At the energy medicine end we find methods that use healing hands, such as Reiki. We would also find energy medicine, such as homeopathy, essential oils, flower essences, color therapy, vibration healing, infra red therapy, electrostimulation, acupuncture, etc. at this end. Then I would place mind and brain therapies, such as hypnosis, imagery, and EFT. Because they work both on the physical as well as the energy body, I would place yoga, tai chi, and qi gong in the middle. Toward the physical end of the continuum, I would place biological medicine, such as nutrition, supplements, and herbs. At the physical end I would place hands-on disciplines, such as chiropractic, craniosacral therapy, physical therapy, massage and body work, and the Chinese medicine modalities of acupuncture, cupping and gua sha. Each person may choose what approaches they want according to their particular problem. A number of practitioners, including myself, incorporate more than one modality their practice.