This information is excerpted and adapted from the book, “Recapture Your Health,” by Walt Stoll, M.D. and Jan DeCourtney, C.M.T. Feel free to use any of this information in an article or story as long as you quote the source and ordering information for the book (at bottom).
Do you have symptoms that you think would benefit from receiving medical care? If you do, before you seek treatment, consider this. Most conditions that motivate patients to see their doctors – approximately 85% of all visits to gatekeeper physicians – are chronic in nature, meaning persisting over a long period of time, or recurring (repeating). Despite chronic illnesses being so commonplace, not all physicians or healing practices are effective for chronic conditions, so it is important to choose what will help you most. To help you make an informed choice for working with your own health problems, let us examine two major categories of medicine and how they work.
Allopathic medicine is the dominant form of medicine practiced in the United States. All medical doctors in the United States are trained in allopathic methods. The term allopathic medicine refers to the use of modalities based on the assumption that symptoms need to be treated. Allopathic medicine claims a scientific basis, and the main treatments are pharmaceutical medications and surgery.
Conventional allopathic medicine is useful for and is still the best choice for acute conditions like broken bones, gunshot wounds, acute infections, and management of trauma. We need conventional (allopathic) medicine, and it’s useful for what it does best –- work with acute conditions. However, for chronic illnesses, standard allopathic treatments may not always be the optimum choice. They may produce temporary results in a short time, but along with this, there is commonly a high price in complications. Since only symptoms are dealt with, not causes, the problem will surely recur because unresolved causes will just move deeper into functional body systems. In our opinion, allopathy is incomplete when it comes to healing chronic conditions.
Holistic medicine, in its broadest sense, could include all of the healing philosophies and modalities that exist in the world. There may be other ways of defining holistic medicine (for example, some people do not consider certain allopathic methods as part of holistic medicine), but this will be the definition used here.
Holistic medicine encompasses all safe modalities of diagnosis and treatment, emphasizing the necessity of looking at the whole person, including analysis of physical, nutritional, environmental, emotional, spiritual, and lifestyle values. Holistic medicine searches for the root cause of illness in consideration of the whole person and the whole situation. It particularly focuses upon patient education and the patient’s personal efforts to achieve balance. Medicine that is holistic has an emphasis on health and individualized care, rather than on disease and high technology. Ideally, the best form of holistic medicine matches the best modality to the individual problem. Holistic medicine has a broader philosophy than just disease-crisis management. It includes the science and art of preventing, curing, or alleviating ill health.
The name used for holistic medicine is currently in flux in the United States, which means that many names are being used to describe it. Some of those names are functional medicine, integrative medicine, complementary medicine, alternative medicine, natural medicine, and others. The term CAM, short for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, is a popular term being used by the National Institutes of Health to describe all methods that are not drugs or surgery. We do not think this term is very accurate, because many of these approaches have a totally different function than drugs and surgery. Therefore, they are not really complementary (done alongside), nor are they alternative (done instead of). The term complementary seems to give conventional medicine the upper hand. The term alternative tends to give the connotation of rejecting conventional medicine.
To describe all of the world’s healing modalities, including allopathy, we would use the terms “Holistic Medicine” or “Functional Medicine.” To describe all the healing approaches that are not allopathic, we could just use the term “healing methods.” All approaches are a co-equal part of a comprehensive health care approach.
Holistic health and healing sees illness as a creative opportunity for a person to learn more about oneself and one’s fundamental values. When following the holistic model, everyday choices are used to take charge of, improve, and maintain one’s own health.
Of the many methods that comprise holistic medicine, each approach, paradigm, or philosophy has areas of strength and weakness. Also, no one approach to healing works for everyone, because chronic problems are much too complex, plus we are all so very different. Eastern approaches can be very effective when Western approaches have not worked. Of course, the opposite is also true. One can even be healed by what some people call the Grace of God. There are thousands of documented cases of spontaneous remissions of incurable conditions following devout prayer or through faith healers.
With such a large number of healing options, it may be hard to know which one to choose first. Research and study, and hearing other people’s experiences, may give you clues. Often, the best way to see if something works for you is just to try it.
Using the Allopathic Approach for Chronic Illness
If you have a chronic condition, giving conventional medicine one good chance to come up with a diagnosis that can be resolved by allopathic precepts may be worthwhile, since about 15% of conditions are best approached allopathically. If you have one of those conditions, it can be resolved by that allopathic approach forthwith. However, by definition, except for acute conditions, allopathic approaches are not “healing.” Drugs and surgery are usually designed for treating the symptoms of chronic illness and can be effective for that result, but do not resolve the causes of the illness.
Examples of conditions that are best approached allopathically are broken bones, acute or life-threatening infections, end-stage hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, heart failure, and poisoning. The point is that anything that gets bad enough may be helped allopathically, but the idea is to do all the holistic things earlier so that point is not reached so soon or so chronically.
Let us explain why medications and surgery often do not resolve the causes of chronic illness. Chronic health problems are caused by an accumulation of factors (genetics, stress, and choices) that finally push an individual to the point where symptoms become visible. Symptoms are only made apparent by the “straw that breaks the camel’s back” -- the last small thing that made the problem apparent. Allopathic medicine tends to focus on getting rid of the straw (by making the symptoms disappear with drugs or surgery), and unfortunately, does not even look at the rest of the underlying load that caused the symptoms.
Using allopathic medicine for conditions that have been building up for a long time can be initially helpful, or help for a while. The problem with short-term and long-term medications, surgery, or even taking something essentially nontoxic such as herbs, is they often temporarily work to relieve chronic symptoms. Consequently, the person who has the problem thinks she is cured and puts off doing something about the real problem until it evolves into something worse. In the end, the medications and herbs you take, or the surgery you have had, may eventually stop working -- if that is all you do to try to improve your condition.
There is no problem with using conventional medicine as long as you have also started dealing with the causes of your chronic condition by using the 3LS Wellness Program or other lifestyle approaches. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, once a person uses conventional medicine and the symptoms are better, human nature is to ignore the cause and just go on with the same lifestyle. Focusing on the straw or symptoms using allopathic medications practically guarantees that a condition will continue to become more serious the longer you live.
Although we would all like to finally have a magic pill, there is not one out there yet, as far as we know. When something is not a true cure and has significant risk to taking it (such as drugs with all their side effects, or surgery, which is mostly irreversible), why bother, except for temporary relief? Many people get along (some for a long time) with covering up their symptoms, but this does not resolve what is causing the symptoms. If that is their choice, it is all right as long as they truly understand what they are doing.
If nature has handed you a lemon in terms of your health condition, the more knowledge you can amass before doing anything irreversible, the better chance you have. You need to sit down with your doctors and not budge until they have fully explained all of your options to your satisfaction. Then obtain similar opinions from other kinds of practitioners.
Using the Holistic Approach for Chronic Illness
If you have a chronic illness, the vitalistic or holistic approach is frequently the most effective way of addressing your condition. The goal is to relieve symptoms by supporting the body’s own self-healing mechanisms.
Ideally, when addressing your symptoms, you would consult a holistic physician who is very knowledgeable about many healing methods and who can point you in the direction of the options most helpful for you. Another approach would be to first see an allopathic physician for a diagnosis or to rule out any acute or life-threatening conditions. Then, do enough research and study on your own to learn about a variety of healing methods, and then make your own choice about which lifestyle choices to make and which healing modalities and practitioners to try. Generally, unless a condition needs urgent care, start by using less invasive and less expensive modalities before choosing those that have side effects, are irreversible, or are expensive.
With holistic medicine, many techniques recommended to diffuse any symptom or condition often help a person’s entire health condition. This has lead to the descriptive statement about holistic medicine that “doing anything good may help everything.” This does not mean we are saying that anything cures everything. It means that all parts of a person are connected to each other, and each thing influences the other. Since everything works together and is interconnected like a spider’s web, anything that helps any part also helps the whole. Because of this, when you are on a path of holistic healing, pleasant and unexpected surprises in healing often occur along your way.
Since holistic health and healing emphasize the body’s innate ability to heal itself, your relationship with your holistic practitioner or physician is not one in which you put your life into the hands of an “all-powerful” doctor. Instead, it is more a relationship of mentor and disciple, or a partnership.
Remember, when you go through the process of choosing a holistic practitioner or doctor, that professional has the same option of choosing you as a patient. Beginning this relationship means that you are both accepting responsibility for each other and giving each other rights that need to be honored throughout your relationship. Once you’ve selected your practitioner, and he or she has selected you as well, then you both need to work on making the relationship mutually beneficial.
As you become more knowledgeable from your study of available alternatives, you can find and choose the best professional to serve as a consultant to you. You choice will range among appropriate conventional (allopathic) physicians, holistic physicians, and practitioners of other healing methods. By making informed choices, you will have the best potential for overcoming whatever chronic pain, symptom, or illness that leads you to seek medical care.
Walt Stoll, MD, and Jan DeCourtney, CMT, are co-authors of the book, Recapture Your Health: A Complete Step-by-Step Program to Reverse Your Chronic Symptoms and Create Lasting Wellness, (ISBN 0965317129), available at local and online bookstores, and from Sunrise Health Coach Publications, 1-877-357-9355 or www.sunrisehealthcoach.com.
Walt Stoll, MD, and Jan DeCourtney, CMT, are co-authors of the book, Recapture Your Health: A Complete Step-by-Step Program to Reverse Your Chronic Symptoms and Create Lasting Wellness, (ISBN 0965317129), available at local and online bookstores, and from Sunrise Health Coach Publications, 1-877-357-9355 or "http://www.sunrisehealthcoach.com".
Recapture Your Health by Walt Stoll, M.D. and Jan DeCourtney, C.M.T., (Sunrise Health Coach Publications, 2006)
Order at www.sunrisehealthcoach.com, 303-527-2886, or toll free at 1-877-3LS-WELL (1-877-357-9355)
Contact/info: Jan DeCourtney, firstname.lastname@example.org, 303-527-2886, www.sunrisehealthcoach.com