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What Does Holistic Mean, Anyway?

veterinary care - dachshund having teeth examined by veterinarian

The term “holistic” is overused in our culture today, applied to everything from our national energy policy to business models. How can we understand this word in order to derive some practical meaning from it?

“Holistic” is rooted in the words “whole” and “holy.” In medicine, this is the science of viewing the organism as a complete whole rather than an assortment of random parts. The reason I practice holistic medicine is that it is easier for me to comprehend my patient as a whole being, rather than separated out into unrelated symptoms and systems. It’s easier for me to see the forest than to focus on individual trees.

In treating patients, my goal is to identify the overall process that is going on within the animal’s body, that will explain all the different symptoms as parts of that process. Often the process is the body’s attempt at detoxification that is somehow stalled or unable to reach completion. My treatment, therefore, focuses on helping the animal complete the process so that health – the goal of living organisms – might be realized.

Your body is a self healing system. Wounds heal, and so do broken hearts. Your body is built for survival. You wouldn’t have symptoms – a rash, or depression – if they weren’t necessary somehow for your body to survive. This applies to lameness after a fall as well as allergies.

The focus of conventional allopathic medicine is to view symptoms as bad, and to make them go away. In the holistic approach, we are aware that the symptoms are serving a purpose, and it is our job as healers to find the source of the imbalance and correct it so that the symptoms are no longer necessary.

This is why homeopathy is such a useful therapeutic modality. A single homeopathic remedy treats a constellation of symptoms that appear in a specific pattern in the individual. When I dispense a homeopathic remedy, the most common question is “What is this for?” We’re not used to a kind of medicine wherein one substance will treat all the things that appear to be “wrong” with us. And yet that is exactly how homeopathy works – it is by its very nature a holistic form of medicine – and that is a huge benefit! Many people give their pet a homeopathic remedy and find that not only the main problem – the stinky skin or the bloody diarrhea – has cleared up, but also their pet is less anxious and no longer has incontinence or ear infections.

Holistic, therefore, is not the same as “alternative” or even “complementary.” It refers to the view that we take of the patient, and not to the choice of treatment. Alternative methods can be used in a non-holistic manner, such as needling certain acupuncture points for hip dysplasia or giving sedating herbs to an animal with seizures. It doesn’t mean they won’t work, but this approach is limited in its efficacy and unlikely to result in a cure.

12 Comments

  1. Marie January 29, 2014 at 10:06 am #

    Dr Jessica Levy is our Vet what awesome article. I recommend to anyone that would like more Holistic Health for all their pets.

    Reply

    • Janet Roper January 29, 2014 at 10:35 am #

      Thanks Marie. Dr. Levy is a spectacular vet, for sure, and so passionate about spreading the word about holistic wellness. I’m delighted she is writing for the blog! 😉

      Reply

  2. sharon ball January 30, 2014 at 8:01 pm #

    Great explanation. Please enter me in the drawing- thanks

    Reply

    • Janet Roper January 30, 2014 at 9:30 pm #

      You are entered! Glad you enjoyed the explanation

      Reply

  3. Simon February 9, 2014 at 12:45 pm #

    Homeopathy was proposed as a theory over 200 years ago, at a time when much of medical knowledge was gained from trial and error. Fast forward to the present and scientific methods have shown that not only was the theory wrong, but also that homeopathy cannot have any effect due mainly to the fact that it is composed purely of either water and/or sugar.

    Why does homeopathy still persist today? Mainly due to some very slick marketing, either by those self-employed as homeopaths, those promoting homeopathic education courses and qualifications and even by a pharmaceutical company. Some of those who receive these ‘treatments’ report a benefit (usually due to a Placebo Effect in humans, Placebo by Proxy for animals or Regression to the Mean i.e. people or animals just get better naturally) which perpetuates the effect of benefit when these improvements coincide with the treatment’s administration.

    Due to the above factors, many people are convinced that homeopathy has shown a benefit and even well qualified and experienced medical doctors and vets can believe this. However, homeopathy has consistently failed to show a benefit in quality scientific trials (beyond placebo) which is of course no surprise when it contains no active ingredients.

    I personally have experience of the overwhelming grief of dealing with a terminally ill pet; I would have tried absolutely anything to save my dog’s life; anything that would alleviate her suffering and provide hope, no matter how slim, that she would overcome her illness. It is entirely understandable that anyone else in this situation would try homeopathy, especially if recommended by a trusted vet. However, it is impossible that this can provide any benefit, beyond reassuring the owner that they’ve “tried everything possible” (and earning some small extra income for the vet.)

    Vets have an enormous responsibility when dealing with such a sensitive and emotional issue as the severe illness of a person’s much loved pet. But they also have a responsibility to treat their patients and their owners ethically and honestly.

    Vets that advise an outdated belief and ineffective treatment to an emotionally vulnerable owner, even under the vague terminology of it being “holistic”, needs to provide justification that goes beyond what has been stated in the article above and is rooted firmly in established scientific facts.

    Reply

    • Janet Roper February 9, 2014 at 6:05 pm #

      Simon, thank you for posting here and sharing your point of view.

      I am sorry to hear about your experience with your terminally ill pet. It is so hard to stand by and watch our beloved animal pals go through an end of life illness. It evokes all kinds of feelings in us caretakers, including feelings of helplessness.

      Speaking for myself, I have used both traditional medicine and homeopathy on my animal family (and myself). I have found it depends on what the animal wants as to which direction I go. My experience has been the focus of trad. medicine has been to keep the animal alive, no matter what, and homeopathy speaks to the quality of life, regardless of how long or short that life may be.

      I have not experienced homeopathy as a placebo, but rather as a gentle way of balancing the energies of the body through natural ways of intervention.

      I agree with you 100% when you say “Vets have an enormous responsibility when dealing with such a sensitive and emotional issue as the severe illness of a person’s much loved pet. But they also have a responsibility to treat their patients and their owners ethically and honestly”, and to me, that includes offering homeopathic services or referring the client out to someone who does offer homeopathy.

      Right now one of my vets combines traditional western and homeopathy in her practice. To me that is the best of both words, and I am *very* grateful to have found someone like her in the tiny rural town in which I live.

      As I say about animal communication, there are three camps: the believers, the fence-sitters and the nay-sayers. Each group is entirely accurate in their perception of animal communication because that perception is determined by their experiences. I believe the same is true about this discussion. We are all doing the best we can with what we know.

      But let me ask you this, Simon……the next time you experience the beginning of a cold, what would happen if your mixed some eucalyptus oil with lotion and rubbed it on the soles of your feet before going to bed? Or mixed a couple of drops of Elm Flower Essence in water the next time your feeling overwhelmed? I wonder what would happen if…… 😉

      Harmony to you!

      Reply

  4. Simon February 10, 2014 at 6:12 am #

    Thank you for your reply.

    “..and to me, that includes offering homeopathic services or referring the client out to someone who does offer homeopathy.”

    I think you’ve missed my point that homeopathy has been rigorously tested, many times by the world’s leading scientists using advanced analysis, and has consistently failed to show any benefits beyond the explanations I’ve previously mentioned. This is a situation where your or my opinion is made redundant by objective scientific evidence.

    Is it ethical to recommend a treatment that has been shown beyond doubt to have no effect?

    Reply

    • Lani February 10, 2014 at 2:30 pm #

      Simon, you posed the question, “Is it ethical to recommend a treatment that has been shown beyond doubt to have no effect?”

      I’m curious which clinical studies, you have read or seen that has shown “without a doubt” to the fallacy of Homeopathic treatments.

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1825800
      http://www.nutrition-matters.co.uk/misc/homeopathy.htm

      Have you tried any homepathic treatments? Most medicine in the modern world, are derived by plant bases, not just chemical formulas.

      Vicks Vaporub – uses ingredients comparable to Eucalyptus oil which derive the same effects.

      Blessings to you Simon, in using the best treatments available to you in any situation. Be it an over the counter drug, or one found in your garden.

      Did you know that local honey taken each day, can help you with allergies? The local bees, gather the pollen, and once it enters your system over time, it will create a tolerance.

      Just wanted to impart some traditional wisdom. Take care.

      Reply

  5. Simon February 12, 2014 at 8:35 am #

    Hi Lani,

    Thanks for your reply.

    Your first link to a 1991 paper concludes that historically, homeopathy research has always been of low quality. Later research, such as http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(05)67177-2/fulltext & https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2010/192/8/homeopathy-what-does-best-evidence-tell-us confirms this and concludes that homeopathy has no effect beyond placebo. (Your other link is to an unpublished, anonymous essay of unknown origin. It is probably best to keep to quality, peer-reviewed publications).

    You go on to talk about treatments derived from plants/insects but I think it would be wise to keep on the topic of homeopathy to prevent confusion amongst readers.

    With such a lack of evidence, is it ethical to tell customers that homeopathy will benefit their pet?

    Reply

    • Janet Roper February 13, 2014 at 10:06 am #

      Hi Simon,
      Dr. Levy made a comment about an “Anti-Homeopathy Resolution that was brought to a vote before the American Veterinary Medical Association last month. The AVMA voted down the resolution, by the way, in the interest of not limiting the rights of veterinarians to practice as they see fit as well as not limiting healing options for our patients.”

      Reply

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