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History of Holistic Medicine

or at least a few highlights,
and some thoughts on its future


The history of holistic medicine is long, going back to ancient times, and way to big to cover here.

So here we try to give a sense of the whole by looking at some key parts. We cover below:

Holistic Healing in Indigenous Societies:

The history of holistic medicine begins in ancient history, before anything was written and recorded. The ancient civilizations saw the whole world as one, and humans were a part of it, everything connected to everything else. Human health was the result of mind, body, heart, and spirit, all together. This part, which is called holism, they got right. They didn't just have natural remedies, they connected for healing to the Universe, to the heart, to their vision for their lives, to God. Even if they sometimes tolorated superstition, their healing tradition is filled with stories of successes.

The amazing power of science and the scientific method, and the great trauma of subjecting long held superstition and religious belief to testing eventually left the West thinking it had to reject whatever looked like superstition. So the West rejected holism. Without testing it.

Even after experiencing conventional Western medicine for years, indigenous people of Canada, in the United States (First Nations people), and in Australia were found to prefer access to the holistic tribal healing, including and Native American medicine and Australian aboriginal m. Unfortunately, much of this knowledge has been lost, as a result of "civilized" and conquoring groups deliberately crushing and destrying indigenous cultures in order to strengthen their military victory.

Indigenous tribes like the Native Americans, which we may call primitive, used this approach and some still use it today, sometimes with amazing results that are hard for conventional medicine to explain.

The American Holistic Medical Association comments:

The majority of ancient healing traditions believe that healing begins with connection to a higher power, spirit or collective unconscious, though our Western view often eliminates this part of the healing process.

A holistic understanding that utilized scientific techniques was even growing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the USA, but fell out of favor  with the rise of “medical science”, and the power of the American Medical Association (AMA).


The 20th Century:

Who tried to destroy the reputations of holistic medicine professionals?

The discovery that microbes was a cause of illness and that microbes could be killed with a chemical (i.e. penicillin) opened new doors. Modern medical science then decided that to focus on eliminating the microbe was the path to health, and felt obliged to criticize any professionals that did not agree with this. A campaign grew out of this attitude to destroy the credibility of the holistic side of healing.

Key discoveries of the 1920s and 1930s, such as insulin, hormones, sulfa drugs, and antibiotics became mass-manufactured and distributed. Presto! The modern pharmaceutical industry was born.

Around the same time the American Medical Association began a campaign of propaganda to de-legitimize Chiropractors, Osteopaths, Homeopaths, Naturopaths,and professionals of other modalities whose claims of healing  could not be explained from their point of view. They even worked against dentists and psychologists.

Chiropractors were described by Morris Fishbein, an officer and spokesperson for the AMA, as "rabid dogs" and referred to them as "playful and cute, but killers" He tried to portray chiropractors as members of an unscientific cult, caring about nothing but taking their patients money.  He had no evidence for these statements, and seemed only interested in damaging the reputation of chiropractors.

From 1940 to 1963, the American Medical Association campaigned against heterodox medical systems, including naturopathy, calling them quacks.  By 1958, practice of was licensed in only five states. Even today in New Jersey, despite training that is comparable to that of a physician, they are not allowed to prescribe drugs. They quoted falsehoods and statistics designed to be misleading, such as There is no research that shows that homeopathic medicines work." Quite the reverse is true.

This campaign against other health care professionals, and especially against holistically minded fields, and has broadened to include licensed midwives, chiropractors, naturopathic physicians and nurses, perhaps because these professionals are the ones who challenge the narrow biases of the modern medical-pharmaceutical establishment. The AMA has captured a lot of respect in the public mind, and it succeeded in making people think that a holistically oriented modality was always suspect.

Where are we today?

In Europe, such campaigns did not occur, and today holistic approaches such as homeopathy are common and homeopathic remedies are commonly carried in pharmacies.

Amazingly, in this country the idea of holism has gradually gained ground again in the popular mind in this country since  1975. Interest is growing in things holistic, such as cancer treatment, holistic alcohol treatment and drug rehab, holistic remedies for acne, and holistic pet medicine.

Sometimes the most successful areas of medicine turn out to have always been the most holistic part, such as the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous .

It is becoming common for people to use healing modalities that only a few years ago were considered strange, fringe or discredited. Today most doctors simply chalk them up to alternative health care, even if they don't know anything about it or doubt it works. A wave has been created by intelligent people doing their own research and coming to well informed conclusions, and until now the established authorities have not been able to stop this wave.

Dr. Ginsburg, like other holistic physicians, is not a master of all the alternative healing modalities. She stands at the center, knowing conventional medicine, nutrition, herbs, and familiar with how many other alternatives work. She may refer patients to alternatives such as naturopathy, acupuncture or other Chinese medicine, herbalists, other nutritionists, Jin Shin Juitsu, chiropractors, network chiropractors (which is quite different), or perhaps for meditation or exercise coaching or other lifestyle changes. 

Dr. Ginsburg also has experienced the modalities she recommends to patients.


Click for the Wikipedia article on the history of holistic medicine.


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