The holistic approach to healthcare views the individual as an indivisible whole integrating physical, emotional and spiritual aspects. Holistic or complementary therapies(CT) aim to reduce symptoms caused by disease processes or medical treatments, and stimulate the body’s natural healing mechanisms. Individuals are encouraged to improve their lifestyle and establish conditions that are favourable to their recovery. Since no one system, remedy or treatment will work for everyone, we need to understand, experiment and discover which healing modality works best for ourselves.
Regaining a sense of control
People may turn to complementary therapies when medicine is unable to appease their physical and emotional suffering. For example, about two-thirds of cancer patients seek some form of complementary therapies. Despite having faith in their medical team, they often feel powerless and wish to do something to support their own healing and feel more in control. Many legitimate, evidence-based complementary therapies exist that support the current trend toward whole-person care. These treatments seek to optimize the natural healing potential of the body. Integrating complementary therapies in the overall treatment plan creates a winwin, cooperative physician-patient relationship. Some of the most popular and effective options include naturopathy, acupuncture and interventions that target the mind-body connection
Naturopathy is the science of using foods, herbs and supplements to assist the body’s healing. Researchers in the last 20 years have identified several foods and substances that can help patients’ recovery without compromising medical treatments. Cancer patients are usually advised to eat less red meat, cut down on processed foods and “junk” food, significantly reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates and eat foods of higher quality. Some remedies can also ease the effect of symptoms that often accompany cancer treatments, for example, sipping on a fresh ginger root infusion to reduce nausea and vomiting. Saw palmetto is an herb recommended for men with enlarged prostates. It decreases the size of the gland, reduces prostate pain and supports its general functioning. Because natural supplements do impact the body, and may interact with medication or treatment you’re receiving, it’s essential to inform your physician of what you’re thinking of taking.
Acupuncture, a branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, maintains that 12 main energy meridians travel through the body. Physical imbalances and disease are reportedly caused by a block in energy flow (“chi”). The acupuncture needles or acupressure points are used to liberate this vital energy flow and support the entire organism. Acupuncture has been shown to relieve nausea, hot flashes, fatigue, insomnia, depression and pain.
Complementary therapies encompasses several approaches that focus on the mind-body relationship.
Relaxation: Stressful events produce chronic physical tension that can affect various organs, the nervous system and immune systems. Applied relaxation training can help people achieve more control over their nervous system. Concentrating on the breath and consciously becoming aware of the changing bodily sensations bring about a deep sense of peace and tranquility. Usually recommended by behavioural therapists or psychologists, stimulation of the relaxation response produces many benefits, including reducing anxiety, depression, nausea, pain and hot flashes.
Guided imagery: This powerful technique focuses and directs the imagination and involves the participation of the entire body, the emotions and the senses. Studies show that the body responds directly to an image created by the mind, suggesting a direct pathway connecting body and mind. A practitioner will guide you in producing your own personalized healing scenario. Much like a film director, you’ll create and develop the story line, characters, costumes and dialogue. Once the healing imagery is created, you’ll be able to project it in your own mental theatre! More and more literature in the fields of behavioural medicine and psycho-oncology is reporting the psychological and physical benefits of this approach.
Mindfulness meditation: Meditation allows one to let go of daily worries in order to confront life’s challenges with more confidence, clarity and wisdom. Meditation also produces relaxation and facilitates self-healing. The technique is based on creating a greater awareness of the present moment and consciously noticing the inner workings of the mind.
Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy uses concentrated extracts of medicinal herbs (essential oils), whose tremendous life force can revitalize the whole body or help reduce undesired symptoms. A qualified aromatherapist is able to make therapeutic essential oil blends that can help dissipate ailments ranging from headaches to muscle pains, anxiety or insomnia (e.g. chamomile and lavender). The blends can be massaged through the skin, added to one’s bath water or diffused in the air.
Energy work: Techniques such as Reiki or Therapeutic Touch promote healthy flow in the “human energy field” that surrounds the body. Improving this flow eliminates blockages related to physical and emotional disturbances. Recipients often report feeling more relaxed, mentally quiet and peaceful after an intervention. Energy work can relieve anxiety, depression and insomnia, or simply support people in their healing. With training, one can learn to do energy work on oneself.