Although current medical practice has started to recognise some connections between mental, emotional and physical conditions, the dominant approach is to break the whole down into parts with separate diagnostic labels and to treat those parts individually.
In conventional medicine it is common for numerous different drugs to be prescribed for seemingly unrelated symptoms. The traditional linear approach includes diagnostic tests and scans to identify something which is ‘wrong’ with the body and the application of drugs, surgery or physiotherapy to ‘correct’ the problem. However, this approach has not always been successful, particularly in chronic illness, where patients often return for different or more powerful medication. In addition, most medications have side effects which add to the burden on the body and contribute further to ill health. To counteract these side effects even more drugs may be given, and the chances of the patient ever becoming drug-free rapidly decline. With this approach suffering is ultimately not decreased at all, but actually increased.
Natural medicine looks at all facets of illness, taking physical, psychological, emotional and social aspects into account. It recognises that the whole is more than the sum of its parts; seeking to obtain an overview and to understand the disease making process in its entirety. Individual symptoms are understood to be expressions of the ‘whole’ person – it is from here that we get the word holistic (wholistic).
This approach has been successfully used for centuries by natural therapists, but was not popular in conventional medicine due to lack of scientific explanation. In recent years, however, neuroscientists, healthcare practitioners and physicians are starting to understand that disease is more complex than a person’s biology, and interest has grown in the biopsychosocial model of disease which incorporates a person’s psychology and social framework. This helps to explain why two people with similar biology can suffer a similar injury but experience it in very different ways, and why giving the same drug to two people with similar symptoms does not always produce the same results.
Thus when someone presents to us with disease, we must take all factors into consideration when deciding on a treatment path.