Alternative, holistic, integrative, and complementary medicine are all terms that are often used interchangeably when discussing a certain approach to health care. Although they do share a common thread, understanding the subtle differences between these terms helps demonstrate the goals and philosophies behind each. Here’s the rundown:
Alternative Medicine: Alternative medicine describes practices not taught in or offered at standard western medical institutions, such as medical schools and hospitals. Many alternative medicine methods are based in eastern medicine or traditions of indigenous people. Some of these methods or practices include herbal medicine, acupuncture, and therapeutic massage.
Complementary Medicine: Complementary medicine is alternative methods used alongside conventional or Western medicine. For example, a patient may be taking a conventional Western medication for arthritis and also use acupuncture to manage their pain or other symptoms.
Holistic or Integrative Medicine: Integrative medicine describes an approach that seeks to treat a person as a whole– think, “treat the patient, not the disease.” As with complimentary medicine, it’s not so much an alternative to traditional western medicine as a way patients can improve their quality of life and even potentially improve the outcomes of their more traditional treatments through things like nutrition, exercises and therapies designed to reduce stress, etc.
Interested in learning more about these approaches to medicine? The Advanced Health and Wellness Center will be hosting a series of free lectures on topics in integrative medicine. The next lecture will be Wednesday, September 30th. You can register here, and join the conversation in the comments!