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Holistic Healing: What is it and what Types of Practices Exist?

Are you tired of the never-ending cycle of stress and illness? What about the cycle of medication, side effect, then more medication to treat the side effects? If you were to look for an alternative to pharmaceuticals and relief from an unfortunately common stress-induced lifestyle, you’d probably run into things that promote “self-care” and “wellness”, most often under the umbrella term “holistic healing”. But what exactly is holistic healing? It’s more than just a buzzword – it’s a whole person approach to health that considers the mind, body, and spirit. From ancient practices to modern techniques, holistic healing embraces self-care and natural methods to achieve optimal health. In today’s fast-paced world, where stress and illness are rampant, embracing a holistic approach to health and wellness can be transformative. In order to understand the real benefits of holistic healing and whether it’s worth applying into your own life, it’s essential to understand the different types of holistic health practices out there.

What is Holistic Healing (and how does it differ from Conventional Medicine)?

In a nutshell, holistic healing is a comprehensive approach that focuses on treating the whole person – mind, body, and spirit. Therefore treatments are often more personalized than conventional medical treatments, with more client and practitioner collaboration. By focusing on overall well-being, holistic health aims to promote balance and harmony in all aspects of a person’s life, whether that’s mental health, emotional well-being, healthy diet choices, fitness routines, and even the influence of nature and our surroundings. It recognizes that all aspects of an individual are interconnected and seeks to address imbalances in order to promote overall health and wellness.

The philosophy of holistic healing is based on the belief that the body has an innate ability to heal itself. It emphasizes the importance of addressing the root causes of illness rather than just treating symptoms.We can clearly see from the eight pillars of holistic health that that holistic healing extends beyond just alleviating physical symptoms. It takes conscious balance and consideration of different aspects of self to find the root cause of disease, restore harmony, and maintain balance within these systems, making holistic healing a comprehensive and personalized experience. Due to the many personal factors it considers as well as the different types of practices that fall under holistic healing, it’s not a one-size fits all approach, and requires more active participation from both client and practitioner which means more detailed and longer appointment times. You can expect more encouragement to take an active role in your own well-being by making positive lifestyle choices and adopting practices that support balance and harmony with self-care practices like exercise, meditation, mindfulness, nutrition, and stress management.

Holistic healing practitioners often use a combination of conventional medicine and complementary therapies to not just treat but also maintain health and wellness. These may include techniques such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage therapy, and energy healing modalities like Reiki. By incorporating complementary therapies into their treatment plans, holistic practitioners aim to support the body’s natural healing abilities and promote overall well-being, while also taking into consideration and integrating individualized aspects of the client’s eight pillars into treatment. While holistic healing practices don’t shy away from using pharmaceuticals, this approach is often a last resort, with more natural methods preferred as first-line therapy.

When we look at conventional medicine, we mostly see a focus on treating symptoms using pharmaceuticals, surgery, or other medical interventions. It often takes a reductionist approach by focusing on specific body systems or organs, and treatment plans upon diagnosis are based on population-based outcomes from clinical trials and scientific studies. With conventional medicine’s usage of synthetic medications and more invasive interventions, we can generally say that it excels in acute care situations and emergency interventions, while holistic healing and it’s comprehensive and natural approaches, can provide valuable support for chronic conditions, stress management, preventive care, and promoting overall wellness.

Different types of Holistic Health Practices

Now that we’ve covered what holistic healing is and how it differs from our typical conventional medical model, let’s briefly describe the different types of holistic health practices available, including their benefits and limitations.

Integrative Medicine

Integrative medicine is a holistic approach to healing that combines conventional medical treatments with complementary therapies. This practice recognizes that physical health is interconnected with mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. By addressing all aspects of a person’s health, integrative medicine aims to provide comprehensive care.

Benefits: Integrative medicine offers several benefits. It takes into account the whole person rather than just focusing on symptoms or diseases. It emphasizes preventive measures and encourages patients to take an active role in their own healthcare. Integrative medicine has shown promising results in various areas such as pain management, stress reduction, and improving overall well-being. Integrative medicine practitioners are often medical doctors that have undergone the same extensive training and education as conventional medical doctors, with additional training in complementary and alternative medicine, with preferences in utilizing more natural treatments while reserving pharmaceuticals and more invasive therapies when needed. This helps reduce side effects from conventional treatments and improve overall quality of life.

Limitations: One limitation of integrative medicine is that it may not be covered by insurance plans, making it inaccessible for some individuals. Also, because of the different types of holistic health modalities utilized by practitioners, effectiveness of certain complementary therapies used in integrative medicine may vary from person to person. Despite the rising client testimonials, more research is needed to validate its effectiveness for specific conditions.

Functional Medicine

Functional medicine is another type of holistic healing practice that focuses on identifying the root causes of illness rather than simply treating symptoms. It views the body as an interconnected system and seeks to address imbalances through personalized treatment plans. There is a strong focus in managing and preventing chronic disease by considering the eight pillars of health and wellness.

Benefits: Functional medicine offers personalized care tailored to each individual’s unique needs. By addressing underlying imbalances, it aims to promote long-term healing rather than providing temporary relief. This approach also empowers patients by educating them about their health and encouraging lifestyle changes.However, many individuals have reported positive outcomes in managing chronic illnesses and improving overall health through this approach.

Limitations: The main limitation of functional medicine is that it requires a comprehensive evaluation and may involve multiple tests or consultations which can be time-consuming and costly. Some critics argue that there isn’t enough scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of certain functional medicine approaches. While functional medicine has gained popularity among practitioners and patients, more research is needed to establish its effectiveness for various conditions.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) refers to a broad range of healing practices that are used alongside or instead of conventional medical treatments. To better grasp the various holistic health practices, it’s useful to familiarize ourselves with the terms that encompass these methods – complementary and alternative. These terms are often used interchangeably, but actually have different meanings. Complementary Medicine include practices that are used together to complement conventional medical practices while alternative medicine is used instead or in place of current conventional treatment. CAM encompasses five major categories, each offering unique approaches to holistic healing.

  1. Whole Medical Systems: These approaches are complete systems of practice that have philosophies of care and standard definitions of disease and treatment. Most of these systems have origins dating back to ancient practices all over the world, and have evolved over the years. Common practices include:

  • Ayurvedic Medicine: Ayurvedic medicine (or Ayurveda) is a traditional system of medicine that originated in India thousands of years ago. The philosophy behind this practice is that a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit is essential for optimal health. When this balance is disrupted, it results in disease; therefore, the goal of Ayurvedic medicine is to restore balance and harmony in the body using a combination of herbal remedies, dietary changes, and lifestyle practices. The belief behind Ayurveda is that each person is made up of the five basic universal elements: air, water, fire, earth, and space. These elements are interconnected in the body to make up three life forces called doshas – Vata (space and air), Pitta (fire and water), and Kapha (water and earth). These doshas influence bodily physiology that practitioners use to guide treatment and restore balance.

  • Traditional Chinese Medicine: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a comprehensive medical practice that originated in ancient China. It’s based on the belief that the body’s vital energy, known as Qi, flows along meridians or pathways in the body. There are positive and negative aspects of this energy called Yin and Yang that are in balanced harmony in a healthy person. When this energy is disrupted or imbalanced, it can lead to illness or disease. TCM practitioners use various techniques to restore the balance of Qi to promote overall health and well-being. One popular technique is acupuncture that stimulates the flow of Qi to alleviate pain or other symptoms using fine needles placed throughout the body. TCM also utilizes herbal medicine, moxibustion, cupping, and tai chi to treat a wide range of conditions and promote wellness.

  • Naturopathic Medicine: Naturopathic medicine focuses on using natural substances like plants or plant extracts as well as other complementary practices like acupuncture, homeopathy, and herbal medicine and to promote healing and well-being. Naturopathic practitioners believe in the body’s ability to heal itself and aim to support this natural healing process through various therapies and interventions. These may include dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, herbal remedies, and other natural treatments. The goal of Naturopathic medicine is to address the root cause of health issues and restore balance within the body , considering the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of an individual.

  • Homeopathy: Homeopathy is based on the principle of “like cures like.” It was developed in the late 18th century by German physician Samuel Hahnemann. Homeopathic remedies are made from highly diluted substances, such as plants, minerals, or animal products, that are believed to stimulate the body’s natural healing response. The remedies are prepared through a process called potentiazation, which involves diluting and shaking the original substance multiple times. Homeopathy aims to treat the whole person, taking into account their physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. It is often used to address chronic conditions, acute illnesses, and promote overall well-being.

    1. Mind-Body Medicine : Mind-body medicine focuses on the connection between the mind and the body in promoting health and well-being. It recognizes that our thoughts, emotions, and beliefs can have a significant impact on our physical health. Mind-body medicine emphasizes the importance of using various techniques to enhance the mind-body connection and support the body’s natural healing abilities. Examples of common therapies in mind-body medicine include meditation, yoga, guided imagerybiofeedback, and relaxation techniques. These practices aim to reduce stress, promote relaxation, improve mental clarity, and enhance overall well-being. They can be used to manage a wide range of conditions, including chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. By addressing both the mind and the body, mind-body medicine seeks to promote holistic health and wellness.

    2. Biologically based Therapies: Biologically based therapies involve the use of natural substances derived from living organisms to promote healing and well-being. These therapies focus on harnessing the power of nature and its biological components to support the body’s natural healing processes. Biologically based therapies may include the use of herbal remedies, dietary supplements, vitamins, minerals, and other natural substances. The goal is to provide the body with the necessary nutrients and compounds it needs to function optimally and restore balance. These therapies are often used to address various health conditions, boost the immune system, support detoxification, and promote overall wellness.

    3. Manipulative (Body Based Therapies): Manipulative (body-based) therapies involve the physical manipulation of the body to promote healing and well-being. These therapies focus on manipulating the body’s structures, such as the muscles, joints, and bones, to restore balance and alleviate pain or discomfort. Examples of manipulative therapies include chiropractic adjustments, osteopathic manipulation, and massage therapy. Chiropractic adjustments involve the manual manipulation of the spine to correct misalignments and improve the function of the nervous system. Osteopathic manipulation is similar but encompasses a broader range of techniques that target the musculoskeletal system as a whole. Massage therapy involves the manipulation of soft tissues, such as muscles and tendons, to reduce tension, improve circulation, and promote relaxation. These therapies can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including musculoskeletal pain, headaches, and sports injuries.

    4. Energy Healing: Energy healing focuses on balancing and manipulating the energy fields within the body to promote healing and well-being. It is based on the belief that disruptions or imbalances in the body’s energy can lead to physical, mental, and emotional health issues. Energy healing therapies aim to restore harmony and balance within the energy system, allowing for optimal health and vitality. Some common examples of energy healing therapies include Reiki, therapeutic touch, and acupuncture as used in TCM. Reiki involves the gentle laying on of hands to channel healing energy into the body, promoting relaxation and stress reduction. Therapeutic touch uses the practitioner’s hands to assess and balance the energy field around the body. Acupuncture, although primarily known for its effects on the physical body, also works with the body’s energy flow by stimulating specific points along the meridians. These therapies can be used to address a wide range of conditions and promote overall well-being.

Benefits of CAM: We can see several overlaps within the different CAM practices, however, all approaches commonly focus on treating the whole person rather than just the symptoms of a specific condition. This holistic approach can lead to a better understanding of the underlying causes of health issues and can promote overall well-being. Additionally, CAM therapies are often less invasive and have fewer side effects compared to conventional medical treatments. This can be particularly appealing to individuals who prefer natural remedies or who may have had negative experiences with traditional medicine. Furthermore, CAM techniques such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, and meditation have been found to be effective in managing pain, reducing stress, and improving overall quality of life. Overall, the benefits of complementary and alternative medicine make it a valuable option for those seeking alternative forms of healthcare.

Limitations of CAM: Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has gained popularity in recent years as individuals seek alternative approaches to healthcare. However, one of the limitations of CAM is that when it comes to effectiveness, opinions and research findings vary. Some studies suggest that certain CAM therapies, such as acupuncture, herbal remedies, and yoga, may provide relief for certain conditions or symptoms. However, it is important to note that the evidence supporting the effectiveness of CAM is often limited or inconclusive. While some individuals may experience positive outcomes from CAM, others may not find it beneficial. In addition, since supplements and herbs are not heavily regulated in the United States, many have been found to have inactive ingredients, contaminants and heavy metals. Therefore, it’s crucial for individuals considering CAM to find and consult a qualified holistic health practitioner and make informed decisions based on their specific health needs and circumstances.

Common Misconceptions about Holistic Healing

It’s easy to see the advantages of holistic healing when it comes to self care and wellness, however, despite holistic healing’s many benefits, there is still skepticism and misconceptions that can create misunderstanding. Here are some common ones.

Holistic Healing is only for alternative medicine enthusiasts

After going over the different types of holistic healing modalities, it’s obvious to see that holistic healing includes more than alternative medicine. There are entire whole medical systems under the complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) alone, not to mention approaches that combine both conventional and CAM such as integrative and functional medicine. Therefore, to believe that holistic healing is only for people who believe in alternative medicine is far from the truth. Anyone seeking a more comprehensive approach to their health and wellness can benefit from holistic healing because of it’s ability to meet clients where they are in considering their mind, body, and spirit, creating a personalized treatment plan that can utilize both conventional and natural methods to achieve optimal health and well-being.

Holistic healing rejects conventional medicine

Holistic healing modalities often work hand in hand with conventional medicine rather than against it. Contrary to the misconception that holistic healing rejects conventional medicine, it actually complements it by considering additional factors that may impact a person’s health and well-being. Holistic healing recognizes that addressing a person’s overall well-being requires a comprehensive approach that takes into account various factors such as lifestyle, diet, emotional well-being, and environmental factors. By incorporating complementary therapies and practices, holistic healing can enhance the effectiveness of conventional medical treatments and support the body’s natural healing processes. It is not about replacing conventional medicine, but rather about integrating different modalities to provide a more holistic and personalized approach that not only addresses the root cause of disease, but also promotes long-term wellness.

Holistic Healing is not evidence-based, therefore it doesn’t work

While it’s true that there are limited studies that provide scientific evidence to support holistic modalities, it’s best to first understand why that is before we can conclude that holistic healing is ineffective. The lack of evidence is certainly not due to a lack of trying. The main issue we see with most holistic health modalities is the inability to fit and confine approaches to the scientific research protocol that conventional medicine utilizes. Modern clinical trials create a a well-controlled, often double-blind study with the goal of finding evidence to conclude whether or not a treatment is safe and effective in the general population, hence the term “evidence-based”. These studies are meant to be well designed and controlled to rule out potential probability of chance and bias. While this set up logically makes sense, unfortunately, due to holistic therapies often tailored and individualized to a person based on the eight pillars of wellness, most approaches do not adhere to a set of techniques and therefore cannot fit in most modern scientific research protocols. Despite this, there are a few approaches that researchers have been able to isolate and study to fit the study mold. These include acupuncture and meditation, both shown to have promising results for certain health conditions and stress and anxiety.


In conclusion, holistic healing is a comprehensive approach to well-being that considers the interconnectedness of the mind, body, and spirit. It aims to address not just the symptoms but also the root causes of imbalance in our lives. There are various types of holistic health practices that one can explore, and while the benefits of each are often met with growing client testimonials, it’s important to consult with a qualified holistic health practitioner before adopting a treatment plan for safety and efficacy. Holistic healing is not a one-size-fits all approach, but a personalized and collaborative experience that not only provides options outside of conventional medicine, but oftentimes provides complementary methods that optimizes healing and prolongs health and wellness.


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