Holistic…Alternative…Integrative…Complementary…Natural…Homeopathic. What do they mean?


“Holistic” gets the most buzz these days. It is also one of the most useful of the above terms for me, because it most accurately explains what I wish to offer. The first definition that appears from a google search of the word sums it up well.

  1. characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.
    • Medicine
      characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the physical symptoms of a disease.

Many of us may go as far as to take into account “spiritual factors” in the treatment of the whole person or animal. “Intimately interconnected.” What a great phrase. I see our entire universe as such, including the microcosm of the individual. In no way could I ever gain my own best health without caring for my intellectual, emotional, and for me spiritual needs, as well as the physical. For that matter, even the physical needs are interconnected in far greater complexity than we understand. Every hormone, cell, tissue, and organ in the body can be related to any other in one way or many. There is no way of isolating a facet of a body or individual and treating just that part without affecting the rest. The human inclination to categorize is useful, particularly in western medicine. It is a useful tool, but not always enough or even appropriate. A disembodied piece of tissue, organ, or system is unrealistic. That is why cardiologists are beginning to discuss carbohydrate intake and have always talked about exercise. It is all part of our health.


“Alternative” is easy. Anything that is an alternative to the mainstream, conventional medicine is “alternative medicine”. For example, acupuncture is alternative in western countries, but is not considered alternative in the east. Whereas “holistic” is an absolute way of looking at things, “alternative” is relative to what is most commonly utilized. In addition, holistic defines the practitioner’s approach to the patient. Their perspective. “Alternative” defines the tools a practitoner uses. Interestingly, a vet using only the most conventional tools can be more “holistic” than a veterinarian practicing acupuncture and herbal therapies. I have seen “alternative” therapies, such as acupuncture or aromatherapy practiced strictly cerebrally with the goal being to treat a specific symptom, disease or system.  Alternatively, I have witnessed a very conventional vet facilitate miraculous healings with her love and concern for the animal and the owner. She, seemingly only employed pharmaceuticals and surgery. However, unconsciously she cared enough for the owner’s experience that healings happened for the animal too. Perhaps love is the greatest healer of all, and the animals well-being often reflects the health of the owner. When the owner feels nurtured and loved, higher health can be seen in the pet. After-all, stress kills. When a person feels nurtured, stress, anxiety and all of their ill physical manifestations can wash downstream. Serenity and love may be the great healers of our time.


“Integrative” and “Complementary” are pleasant, easy terms and are similar. “Integrative” medicine means mixing conventional tools (surgery and pharmaceuticals) with unconventional or “alternative” tools, such as herbs, chiropractic, and prolotherapy. “Complementary” means complementing the mainstream conventional tools with unconventional ones?


What does “natural” medicine mean? Probably up for debate. To me, it means utilizing tools that can be readily found in nature, such as herbs or can be delivered via simple human service, such as massage or acupuncture.  It could be considered to be medical intervention that is minimally invasive, minimally manipulative of the patient’s own systems, and/or has been practiced for 100’s of years, before synthetic materials were introduced into drug or surgical therapy.


“Homeopathic” is a very specific type of “alternative” medicine, unless you are in India or perhaps Germany, where it is a more mainstream medicine. In any case, I only include it here, because I often hear it confused with “holistic”.

Best wishes figuring out exactly what kind of medicine is best for you and yours.