There are a number of ways in which the term "integrative medicine" might be defined. My personal definition
is "a compassionate approach to healthcare that acknowleges the importance and the inter-relationship of spirit,
mind and body in pursuing a state of wellness and which draws upon any and all healing traditions that the
patient finds of benefit."
In one sense, integrative refers to the holistic aspect.
One may be physically quite well but emotionally or spiritually very ill. Conversely, one might be stricken with a terminal
illness but able to face the unknown with strength, courage and even joy, all because the spirit is well. In seeking
the way to peace, harmony and wellness, the whole person - spirit, mind and body - must be taken into account.
In another sense, integrative refers to the combining of different approaches to healing. Of course, in
our culture modern, scientific medicine (often referred to in China as western medicine) is considered to be the conventional
way. Other approaches, such as traditional Chinese medicine, herbal medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy, massage therapy,
chiropractic, reiki, reflexology, polarity therapy, therapeutic touch and many others are considered alternative or complementary
to what western medicine has to offer. Clearly, western medicine has prolonged lives and relieved much suffering in
the world, yet for some the answer does not lie solely in that realm. Integrative medicine accepts all ways of
healing that are of proven benefit and the role of the practitioner is to work with the patient in establishing the best path
for that individual.
There is a third aspect to integrative medicine that really has to do with the
healer. I remember an article that appeared in volume 1, number 1 of the Journal of the American Board of
Family Medicine written by a medical ethicist who has since died but whose name was Edmund Pelligrino. I was particularly
interested in the article because it was addressed to family medicine educators like me. His basic point was that our
job in teaching residents was to bring about a melding of the head, the hands and the heart. In other words, one must
have the knowledge base and analytical ability to practice modern medicine; there are skills that
must be learned, such as how to do a thorough physical exam, how to deliver a baby, how to sew up a laceration, or
even how to touch someone in a comforting way; but then there is that last thing, the matter of the heart.
Pelligrino was referring to the importance of intention. My belief is that intention and the feelings a provider
has for his or her patients are central to developing healing relationships. Perhaps it can be put in different
ways but my conviction is that the best doctors are those who minister to the needs of their dear patients with loving
kindness and who carry within their hearts the wish, the hope, the prayer that their actions might relieve
suffering and bring comfort.