Integrative Medicine: An Inclusive System for Treatment

Often, we interact with our doctors in a manner that is not healing. Our communication is one-way and beyond that, some of those interactions may fail to address core aspects of who we are. What if there were an alternative option that incorporated your social, cultural and emotional perspectives into the methods and approaches to the treatment of your health? What if your self-identified method of healing were incorporated into your treatment plans, and you were viewed as a leading member of your own healing team? As an othered person who’s also lived through trauma, and as a researcher dedicated to the health and wellbeing of vulnerable (othered) populations, I have to tell you that any solution resembling this not only sounds incredible but also has the promise of changing the landscape of our communities’ health.

Researchers and practitioners often follow the World Health Organization (WHO) definition of health as a holistic state of wellbeing, where physical, mental and social wellness are included in a common ideal of what it is to be well. This common concept reaches well beyond the space of illness, disease or infirmity.   To this end, the medical field has started the work of collective medicine, hoping to incorporate all aspects of an individual’s life into the medical approach.  Integrative medicine is but one of these medical approaches. This novel approach combines modern Western medicine with community-centered and traditional understandings and approaches to health and wellbeing.  Using a model that redefines the relationship between provider and patient, integrative medicine sets even ground between the patient and provider. In fact, the two are developed as a partnership under this approach, working together to address the disease using the body’s natural responses to various stimuli as a tool. This approach is rooted in inherent egalitarianism. It is also rooted in the sharing of information across specialties, with the patient serving as the expert in her own body, mind, spirit and circumstance. That is, this approach to care focuses on ensuring the care provided is both relevant and reflective of the patient it is treating, at the population level and at the individual level.

The approach demonstrates a preference for natural solutions to health issues using an inquiry-based, personalized approach. Indubitably, solutions incorporate lifestyle medicine into treatment regimen where, under specialized, team-based coaching, patients are expected to self-actualize and incorporate evidence-based behavioral and self-care approaches to address their own conditions. These regimens are also holistic, rooted in a social determinants model where factors of life– social, cultural and otherwise are all incorporated and taken into consideration in developing a model of care for the whole person in their physical, emotional, behavioral, social, spiritual and environmental circumstance. In doing this, psychosocial factors, as well as behavioral, environmental, biological and political circumstances are taken into account.

To address the whole person, integrative health often incorporates various aspects of traditional medicine from around the world. These may include:

  • Mindfulness Meditation
  • Hypnosis
  • Music and dance therapies
  • Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi or other movement practices
  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Doulas and traditional coaching
  • Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Traditional Medicine and Shamanism
  • Social Work and Patient Support

As othered communities, we often have perceptions of illness, wellness and healing that have been crafted over centuries, or otherwise, differ from the mainstream Western way. Not only this, though, we also often have life experiences that alter the ways in which medicine works in our worlds. Stressors, for example, can cause and/or exacerbate conditions that drastically impact our quality of life, or worse, can cause death. Why shouldn’t we then incorporate those circumstances and experiences, understandings and definitions into the ways we understand and navigate treatment and healing, paying homage to the wisdomkeepers and storytellers who have helped to build our perspectives?

What do you think? Would you find an integrative medicine approach helpful? Do you use one now?

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