Imagine a medical environment where your whole health is taken into consideration by your treating doctor. In this world attention would be paid to not just your physical symptoms, but your emotional, spiritual and mental states as well. So often a physician is fearful of being seeing as a too unorthodox if he or she embraces the concept of treating the whole person. Most doctors are more comfortable just being body mechanics whose only job is to treat the patient’s symptoms.
Most people accept by now that our emotions can definitely affect our physical health. When we are stressed or angry we often see a connection between high blood pressure, headaches and stomach upsets to name just a few. Yet, there has been reluctance to embrace the holistic treatment of patients by the majority of the medical community.
In my book, Soul Service: A Hospice Guide to the Emotional and Spiritual Care for the Dying (Balboa Press, 2103) www.soulservice.info focus is put on the need for more use of holistic treatments as well as complementary care. The terminal patient should be treated as still able to participate in these modalities until no longer able to do so. Comfort can be received from the various types of treatments currently available such as music therapy, pet therapy, art therapy and a host of others.
At MD Anderson at the University of Texas they are on the right path. They are one of our nation’s most prestigious cancer treatment facilities who are incorporating integrative medicine along with the traditional care for their cancer patients. Dr. Lorenzo Cohen PhD and Dr.Richard Lee MD are heading up the centers attempts to combine the traditional with the complementary. Here you will find them using biological therapies that include herbs, vitamins, diet plans along with mind/body practices designed to reduce stress, such as, yoga, tai chi and guided imagery. Body modalities like chiropractic and massage therapy to relieve pain and lessen stress and anxiety are employed along with energy work like Reiki and Healing Touch therapy. They even have a class for laughter yoga. Whole medical systems are used like Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine from India. Many of these treatments are not at all new but have been around for centuries and there is some clinical evidence of their benefit. Acupuncture for instance has been around for a long time and has been proved beneficial in treating pain and nausea.
These holistic health therapies allow those with life threatening conditions to utilize all the treatments in their restoration of wholeness and wellbeing. Treatment of the physical along with the mind/spiritual and social wellbeing of a patient is the most successful approach to total wellness.Meditation is a wonderful way to relax the body and the mind and reduce the anxiety that often accompanies a life threatening or terminal illness.Sometimes just communing with nature and enjoying the flowers, sunsets, beach or mountains can restore some balance. Watching a funny movie can put some laughter back into lives that are challenged by disease. Reconnecting with loved ones for emotional support and joining support groups that are in most cities can help when a diagnosis or prognosis is made.
Spirituality is always an important component in holistic care. Use of prayer and connection with a higher power is often a comfort to the patient with a serious illness. It is a rare doctor who can pray with his or her patient. In the integrative medicine world this would be a normal happening.
As integrative medicine becomes more socially accepted as normal and not seen as an oddity, more people will be able to access its many benefits. There should be facilities available in most large cities not just a precious few. One day health wholeness will be viewed as total care for all of our selves, mind, body and spirit.