Integrative medicine: recognizing our innate capacity to heal

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“What’s up doc?”

Seems the buzz around the medical water cooler these days is integrative medicine.

Think of you and your integrative medicine physician working “as partners to engage body, mind and spirit in attaining and maintaining optimal health.” This is how physicians at University of Cincinnati Health describe integrative medicine on their website, an approach to health care that patients are requesting and health professionals are seeing as beneficial.

“Complementary” and “alternative” medicine (CAM) has been part of the health lexicon for a generation or more. The terms have been used to describe those therapies considered outside the traditional scope of medicine or at least beyond the doctor’s comfort zone. That is changing.

What is being integrated? Complimentary practices such as mindfulness and spirituality, health and wellness coaching, yoga therapy, massage therapy, stress reduction techniques and acupuncture, treatments considered evidenced-based practices according to UC Center for Integrative Health and Wellness.

Why are they being integrated into the medical regimen now? “It’s about time that medicine put mind and body together and began to treat people in all dimensions of their needs,”

says Thomas Boat, MD, Dean of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. He was addressing a group at the launch of the UC Health Integrative Medicine clinic, part of the Center for Integrative Health and Wellness which incorporates three distinct missions: education, research, and clinical care.

“The word ‘Integrative’ medicine is particularly, I think, meaningful to me because it does signify that we have finally arrived at the point where we understand that all dimensions of people’s existence and people’s experiences really do need to be dealt with,” Boat said.

“If you look at the number of people who are engaged one way or another with integrative medicine, it’s a huge part of health care,” Dr. Boat told me later.

Dr. Sian Cotton, executive director of the University of Cincinnati Center for Integrative Health and Wellness agrees. She is responsible for bringing Integrative medicine to UC, a project begun in 2009.

Cotton sees part of her responsibilities as educating “both faculty and students about what is the evidence out there, the good and the bad, so we know what people are doing and what works and doesn’t work.”

The growing body of research pointing to successful uses of integrative practices in health recovery and preservation as well as the increasing demand for these approaches by the public has helped to propel the movement. Dr. Cotton reports that UC Center of Integrative Health and Wellness is part of a growing number of academic health institutions that currently totals 56 and are a part of the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine. The organization has established basic core values:

Every individual has the right to healthcare that:

Provides dignity and respect

Includes a caring therapeutic relationship

Honors the whole person – mind, body, and spirit

Recognizes the innate capacity to heal

Offers choices for complementary and conventional therapies

Like Dr. Boat, Dr. Cotton appreciates the significance of all human dimensions being tapped in order to expedite healing. To her thinking, “when you look at holistic health care and you look at physical health and you look at mental and emotional health and social health and when you look at spiritual health…people get it. We are of a spiritual nature, a religious nature, we are very spiritual,” Dr. Cotton told me.

Curiously, the spiritual/mindful component has been absent from traditional medical practices with an emphasis solely on physicality. Wisdom books like the Bible often point to an active spiritual life that “will make you healthy, and you will feel strong.” (Proverbs 3:8) Certainly, health and wellbeing have been a key part of many spiritual practices over the centuries. And while not singling out any specific spiritual practice, an integrative approach that recognizes the healthful influence of spirituality and mindfulness appears to be gaining wider acceptance.

According to Dr. Cotton her colleagues are embracing much of the integrative philosophy, and medical students participating in integrative classes are being put on the “national landscape” setting “them up to be on par with the students around the country.”

And as health professionals are exposed to the fundamentals of integrative medicine and get more familiar with its application, it will be interesting to document our “innate capacity to heal.” As Dr. Boat put it, integrative medicine, “It’s here to stay.”


Steve Salt is a syndicated health blogger and a Christian Science teacher and practitioner. This post was originally published on the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Follow him on twitter @saltseasoned.

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