One of our goals here at Bialik’s Breakdown is to introduce you to both the traditional and nontraditional treatments for mental health disorders. In our latest episode, we discussed “Integrative Medicine,” but what exactly is this field? Well Integrative medicine refers to the combination of traditional treatments, such as pharmacological intervention and talk-based therapy, with “nontraditional” methods, like acupuncture, meditation, and nutrition (Mayo Clinic, 2020; Stanford Health Care, 2014). Today, let’s take a second to evaluate the discipline of integrative medicine.
Let’s start by talking about the growth of integrative medicine in the United States. I will try not to get political here, however, it is difficult to talk about health care without understanding the political landscape. Compared to other similarly developed countries, the US has subpar access and outcomes in healthcare. Health insurance is prohibitively expensive and more than 10% of US citizens are not insured (NPR, 2008). For those who do have access to healthcare, the treatment options are often cookie-cutter. For many years, American medical systems have sought to treat diverse ailments with standardized measures. Each patient gets a 15 minute appointment where the physician must take a history, gather information on your symptoms, diagnose you, and set forward a treatment plan. The rushed nature of these encounters has left many patients feeling undertreated and ignored. Additionally, when speaking about neurological and psychiatric conditions, much is still unknown about the etiology of these disorders and because of this, treatments have stagnated. This reality has encouraged many individuals to seek out alternative options for healthcare.
Integrative medicine seeks to mitigate some of the issues found in the previously described in traditional western medicine. By combining principles from both western and eastern medicine, this new approach attempts to provide patients with a more individualized, holistic form of healthcare. Integrative medicine operates on core principles meant to create a more positive healing environment. First, the patient and the practitioner are equal partners in the healing process. Treatment is an open dialogue rather than one individual telling the other what to do. Second, the practitioner must consider all aspects of the patient’s existence, eliminating the barriers between mind and body, and taking social circumstances, lived experience, and personal factors into account when creating a treatment plan. Third, the less invasive and more natural an effective treatment is, the better (effective being a key word here). And lastly, treatments should be scientifically backed and evidence-based (Horrigan et al., 2012).
The literature on the use of integrative medicine approaches has been very encouraging. Large analyses conducted on clinical outcomes have shown that integrative treatments can offer meaningful results for many different conditions (Woltmann et al., 2012). It should be no surprise that some of our top medical schools, such as Harvard and Stanford, have started their own integrative medicine programs. That being said, integrative medicine is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. For one, it is often very expensive and does not solve the largest issue in our current healthcare system: access to affordable care. Additionally, there is still not enough research to definitively compare integrative treatments to traditional treatments. While the promise is there, a lot more work has to be done to better understand how we can provide the best, most efficacious treatments!
Due to the booming nature of this field of medicinal practice, we have seen a large rise in “Snake Oil Salesmen,” people who take advantage of the less regulated nature of this treatment to peddle fake cures. True integrative medicine is evidence-based, these opportunists are not. I have attached an article on how to evaluate claims on integrative treatments, to help protect you from these unhelpful treatments: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/complementary-alternative-medicine/in-depth/alternative-medicine/art-20046087