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.