By Dr. Mehri Moore
If you ask the average American to describe holistic medicine, you’re likely to hear a number of common misconceptions about both its scope and its effectiveness. Many people believe that “holistic” is interchangeable with “organic” or “all-natural,” that holism entails dismissing modern Western biomedicine and embracing some strain of folk medicine or pseudoscience. In reality, holistic health care often utilizes synthetic medicines and natural remedies, antibiotics and homeopathies.
Similarly, people criticize holistic medicine for focusing on general “wellness” instead of pursuing conclusive diagnoses and cures. While holism does consider a broader range of factors – social, spiritual, and environmental, in addition to physical and psychological – than common clinical medicine, it does so always with a sensitivity to specific ailments and an eye toward a cure. Like any medical practitioner in the country, holistic doctors strive to make each of their patients as healthy as possible. Yes, the holistic understanding of “health” is more comprehensive than others, but who would turn up their nose at a deeper-reaching, broader kind of well-being, especially one that is by no means mutually exclusive to “normal” health?
But if holistic medicine is not any of these frequently assumed things, what is it? Let’s consider the bipartite mission statement of Western Michigan University’s Holistic Health and Wellness Program, one of the first (established in 1982) – and still one of the few – academic programs of its kind in America:
To expand the paradigm of health care/human services from a primarily disease/dysfunction model that focuses on diagnosis and treatment to a model that includes both holistic approaches to prevention and a wellness/strength based approach to assessment that may lead to less invasive alternative or complementary interventions that will achieve optimal functioning and happiness.
To cultivate the inter-connective relationships of individuals’ body, mind, and spirit to positively enhance personal, professional, community, and global health.
In short, the principles of holism advocate for prevention, minimally invasive (though not always non-invasive, depending on circumstances) treatments, and the engagement of patients as complex, whole people, not merely as a set of symptoms.
At THIRA Health, we’ve incorporated the spirit – as well as many distinct elements – of holism into our innovative mental health care offerings. We believe in a comprehensive approach to recovery, and this means that in addition to collaborating with medical providers regarding our patients’ physical health and coordinating our patients’ care with any of their previous or simultaneous mental health care treatments, we also advocate for whole-person solutions.
Mental health treatment is most effective, and recoveries most durable, when existing individual and family strengths can be reinforced, and with that in mind, THIRA Health places a premium on identifying and bolstering individual and family values and capabilities, creating a solid base from which to proceed. Recently, we acted upon this treatment philosophy and created a cutting-edge, holistic Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) that addresses all aspects of a successful recovery journey: mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, mind/body balance through nutritional meals and yoga, and relational support through our community setting.
Like the folks at Western Michigan, we assert that an individual’s body, mind, and spirit are interconnected, and that the most effective mental health treatments honor such connections and attempt to build and maintain a well-rounded, multifaceted kind of health. At THIRA Health, we value and practice mainstream psychotherapies – indeed, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, a scientifically tested and evidence-based form of Cognitive Behavior Therapy, plays a pivotal role in our PHP – but we believe that the best courses of treatment involve a more comprehensive, properly holistic approach. We’ve seen the results, and we’ll stand by them.