Although many Americans once scoffed at untraditional healing practices, a good deal of people are now dipping their toes into this trend. Holistic healing practices—aka alternative medicine—are any form of healing or medicine that is not deemed “traditional” by Western standards. Some of these practices include hydrotherapy and Reiki. When used in tandem with Western medicine, they are called “complementary practices”—they are only considered “alternative” when used instead of Western medicine.

Every five years, the National Health Interview Survey assesses how Americans embrace complementary and holistic approaches. The most recent survey taken in 2012 indicates that similar to previous years, 33.2% of American adults use complementary health practices. However, this study did indicate a significant increase in out-of-pocket dollard spent on chiropractic and acupuncture, which suggests that Americans may be relying more and more on holistic practices than ever before.

This means that if you haven’t gotten on the holistic bandwagon, it may be time to at least learn about your options. From treating anxiety to lower-back pain to tension headaches, these practices have been called natural cure-alls.

Below is a list of frequently asked questions:

  • Holistic medicine is a healing philosophy that views the patient as a whole person – body, mind, and spirit – not just a disease or a collection of symptoms.  Practitioners may address a client’s emotional and spiritual dimensions as well as the hereditary, nutritional, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can contribute to an illness.  Note:  in my opinion, “vibrational medicine” and “holistic medicine” are the same; the difference is simply linguistics – those using the term “vibrational medicine” are likely more versed in the scientific basis of this modality, whereas a native healer in some remote area, while utilizing the reality of the science, may not be cognizant of the terminology or the research.


    “Vibrational Medicine… is based upon the understanding that the molecular arrangement of the physical body is actually a complex network of interwoven energy fields.  The energetic network, which represents the physical/cellular framework, is organized and nourished by “subtle” energetic systems which coordinate the life-force with the body.  There is a hierarchy of subtle energetic systems that coordinate electrophysiologic and hormonal function as well as cellular structure within the physical body.  It is primarily from these subtle levels that health and illness originate.  These unique energy systems are powerfully affected by our emotions and level of spiritual balance as well as by nutritional and environmental factors.  These subtle energies influence cellular patterns of growth in both positive and negative directions.”

    ~Richard Gerber, M.D., Vibrational Medicine

  • Energy medicine, energy therapy, energy healing, or spiritual healing are branches of alternative medicine based on a pseudo-scientific belief that healers can channel healing energy into a patient and effect positive results. This idea itself contains several methods: hands-on, hands-off, and distant (or absent) where the patient and healer are in different locations.

    Many schools of energy healing exist using many names, for example, biofield energy healing, spiritual healing, contact healing, distant healing, Qi Do, therapeutic touch, Reiki or Qigong.

    Spiritual healing occurs largely in non-denominational and ecumenical contexts. Practitioners do not see traditional religious faith as a prerequisite for effecting cures. Faith healing, by contrast, takes place within a traditional religious context.

  • These days you hear the word Karma pretty often, as in, “Eww, that’s some bad karma” or “Wait til Karma gets you” or “She must have good Karma.”

    Personally, I don’t believe Karma is a tit-for-tat kind of thing.  It’s more like, the energy you put out, the frequency you vibrate at, attracts similar.  And when “bad” things happen, it is often an excellent opportunity to learn and grow.

    Anyway, I’m not the expert, and am learning along with everyone else, but I really do like this definition from Paulo Coelho’s Aleph:

    “…karma…  It isn’t what you did in the past that will affect the present.  It’s what you do in the present that will redeem the past and thereby change the future.”

  • Yes, holistic healing does work for everyone – we are all created with an energetic field.  Whether or not one chooses to allow it to flow into one’s daily life, however, is up to each individual.  Free will, remember?

  • The holistic approach is viable for any and all issues. Well, if you have a broken leg, you better head to the ER. Seriously, spiritual, emotional, physical, mental – they all are connected, and all can be addressed via energy work, which, after all, is the greater part of everything in the Universe.

  • “Yes and No” and “Yes”.   As our understanding of quantum physics and our true selves evolves we will need to rely less and less on “conventional” medicine which can be invasive, though there is no alternative when it comes to repairing broken bones, emergency surgeries, etc.  Yes, you should continue to see your doctor.  While holistic work is comprehensive, an energy worker does not and cannot replace the care and advice you receive from your current medical team.

  • Chances are you’ve had a co-worker or friend who has suffered from such terrible headaches that they’ve gone to get acupuncture—and now swear by it. The process of using needles to stimulate key areas of the body to release energy was actually founded in China many years ago. A 2005 study in the British Medical Journal found that the use of acupuncture was actually able to reduce the number of tension headaches in patients by almost one half. The treatment is also more generally thought to help ease chronic pain, especially in cancer patients when used in conjunction with other therapies.

  • In this treatment, an expert applies pressure from their fingertips on certain points on the body similar to that in acupuncture. A 2011 study’s findings showed that along with other treatments, acupressure was effective in treating those with mild traumatic brain injury. In this particular study, a type of treatment called jin shin was used in which there are acupressure pressure points along the meridians through the body that are linked with energy pathways. It’s believed that different meridians are attached to different organs and body parts, including the brain.

  • Aromatherapy harnesses our sense of smell to calm the body. By breathing in different essential oils, our body can actually feel a sense of calm in both brain and body. One key study shows that lavender oil can actually improve a patient’s pain tolerance after surgery. After giving one control group just pain medicine and another pain medicine with a few drops of lavender oil, those who were supplemented with lavender oil saw a difference in how much they were able to tolerate their level of pain post-surgery. Lavender oil is also associated with treating both anxiety and depression—one study shows that those who breathed in the smell of lavender for three minutes had decreased anxiety scores and experienced a lift in mood afterwards.

  • Also called Ayurveda, this system of medical beliefs has been a traditional method of medicine in India for more than 3000 years, and most practices have actually been passed down by word of mouth. For this specific type of medicine, interconnectedness among people and their environment is stressed. It specifically utilizes herbs, metals and unique diets as treatment for health issues, but studies have not proven either its effectiveness or safety from a Western standpoint (for example, ingesting some metals improperly can get you sick). At this point, the Western POV is that Ayurvedic medicine can be helpful, but you should consult a trained practitioner for guidance.

  • Chiropractic revolves around how the body’s structure—usually the spine—affects the rest of your body’s functions. Often times, spinal adjustments or tweaks are made to alleviate pain in other areas. Researchers believe chiropractic may treat a variety of ailments including low-back pain, asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome and headaches. A 2013 study found that chiropractic therapy decreased pain and improved function in patients 18 to 35 when used alongside standard medical care.

  • Naturopathic medicine is a combination of traditional methods and approaches from 19th-century Europe that “heal” with nature. This practice looks to dietary and lifestyle changes, taking herbs and dietary supplements, and using acupuncture and exercise to keep your body healthy. No specific studies prove the overall effectiveness of naturopathy, but it’s believed to help with migraines, diabetes, asthma, and depression, among other things.

  • This is a Japanese method for relaxation that relies on the concept that a “life force energy” flows inside of us, which is why we are alive. The belief is that when the energy is low, we are weak and unhealthy, but when it is high, we have a larger probability of being healthy and finding happiness. Reiki is a form of healing—a practitioner places their hands on or near a person’s body to eliminate the negative energy that causes us to feel sick. A study in Research in Gerontological Nursing found that Reiki was successful in improving symptoms of pain, depression and anxiety in older adults residing in community housing.

  • Reflexology revolves around applying pressure to certain points on the feet, hands or ears. These reflex points are thought to specifically connect to organs in our body. It’s believed that pressing them helps to keep us healthy (for example, when a practitioner places their thumb on a certain part of the foot, it’s thought to help bladder function). Reflexology is linked to treating cardiovascular problems, PMS and sinusitis, among other things. One study found that 55% of patients experienced relief for their headaches and migraines through the use of reflexology.