Holistic healthcare includes natural, alternative, integrative and complementary medicine.  When alternative medicine is used with conventional medicine in a fully coordinated approach to patient care, this is referred to as complementary medicine, integrative medicine or holistic healthcare. Complementary, integrative and holistic healthcare is based on a physician-patient partnership in which both conventional and alternative modalities are used to stimulate the body’s natural healing potential. This enlightened approach to diagnosis and treatment brings together the best of all traditions and has the advantage of putting an increased emphasis on disease prevention and general wellness

Holistic healthcare addresses the whole person’s mind, body, and spirit in the healing process.

Holistic healthcare involves the everyday choices we make and actions we take as we strive to reach a higher level of personal wellness. A holistic approach to creating wellness includes taking charge of our own health by exploring a variety of life enhancing activities until we discover which ones work for us. While we think of holistic healthcare in terms of our personal actions for self-improvement, the same holistic principles can be used to deal with any disease or chronic condition. The holistic approach or philosophy can be applied to any healthcare healing tradition, whether conventional, complementary, or alternative.

The surge of interest in complementary and alternative medicine at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century is apparent from the increased use of alternative healthcare therapies by patients. More people are combining conventional medicine and alternative treatments in their search for better health and wellness. The increasing demand for these treatments stems, in part, from the public's concerns regarding the accessibility of healthcare, its rising costs, and the view that conventional medicine often has of disease. Holistic practitioners do not want passive patients; they teach their patients to take responsibility for their own health. This approach tends to be cost-effective in the treatment and prevention of illness or disease and is essential for optimal health.


  • A study conducted by the Harvard Medical School has shown that complementary and alternative medicine has become a permanent part of medicine. Harvard reported that visits to practitioners of alternative therapies, ranging from herbal medicine to energy healing, have increased 47 percent since 1990, propelled chiefly by mature, health-conscious baby boomers. Healthcare professionals, including physicians, trained in oriental medicine, for example, will increase to 24,000 by the year 2010. The number of chiropractors will nearly double from 55,000 to 103,000. (Healthcare Review, March 13,2003 by Todd Hanson)
  • According to a survey published in 2001 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the number of Americans using alternative therapies rose from 60 million in 1990 to 83 million in 1997. Many of these therapies have been used for centuries, but they lost favor with the advent of conventional medicine. Today, four out of ten Americans use some form of complementary or alternative medicine, and some projections speculate that by the year 2010 at least two-thirds will. (Psychology Today, March 2001, Guide to Natural Health by Norine Dworkin)
  • Most medical schools now offer coursework in alternative medicine, and increasing numbers of managed care organizations provide benefits for such therapies. At Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, for example, alternative therapies enhance each patient's quality of life through healing regimes that address the body, mind, and spirit. Complimentary therapies offered include various types of massage, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, meditation, visualization, music therapy, and nutritional counseling. Patients are also offered classes in yoga, tai chi, and chair aerobics. (Healthcare Review, March 18, 2003, by Todd Hanson)

As complementary medicine becomes more popular, distinctions between it and conventional (western) medicine will become clearer. Today there is an increasing trend in our society to look outside the usual, old, conventional medicine, also referred to as Western or allopathic medicine, to find answers for healthcare problems. Conventional medicine is still preferred in the treatment of trauma and emergencies. For example; if you have a broken arm, you would have the bone set by a conventional doctor. Then you might seek a complementary method of therapy instead of drugs to help manage the pain.

A therapy is referred to as complementary when it is used in addition to conventional treatment. Alternative therapy is used instead of conventional treatment. Alternative practitioners often find that symptoms are related to seemingly distant causes, such as toxicity, digestion, or mental and emotional health. When such causes are discovered, treatment can be determined. Complementary and alternative therapies—referred to as modalities—are used to prevent illness, reduce stress, prevent or reduce side effects of conventional treatments and symptoms, and control or cure disease.

Healing is not just about curing. It takes much more than medicine and machinery to fully heal a person. Learn more about Healing Choices

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) classifies complementary and alternative medicine therapies into five categories:

  • Alternative medical systems. These systems are built on complete systems of theory and practice and include holistic medicine and naturopathic medicine; developed in the Western culture and Chinese medicine and Ayurveda medicine; developed in ancient Eastern cultures.
  • Mind-body intervention. This uses a variety of techniques to enhance the mind’s capacity to affect the body’s functions and systems. Techniques include cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, prayer, mental healing, and art, music, and dance therapy.
  • Biologically-based therapies. These therapies use substances found in nature, such as herbs, foods, and vitamins, and include dietary supplements, herbal products, and natural substances.
  • Manipulative and body-based methods. These methods heal using the movement of one or more body parts and may include chiropractic, osteopathic manipulation, and massage.
  • Energy therapies. There are two types of therapies that use energy fields. Bio-field therapy manipulates our bio-fields by applying pressure and/or manipulating the body by placing hands in, or through, these fields. Qigong, reiki, and therapeutic and healing touch are included in this type of therapy. Bio-electromagnetic-based therapies involve the unconventional use of electromagnetic fields, such as pulsed fields, magnetic fields, or direct current fields. 

Complementary and alternative medicine are now being accepted and integrated into conventional healthcare. There is an increasing interest by physicians and hospitals not only on moderns means to digitalize healthcare, but also in addressing growing consumer demands for non-conventional healthcare practices. But to those unfamiliar with complementary and alternative medicine, the variety of modalities can be confusing. It is difficult to know what type of treatment is right for you and your particular health challenge.