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 Alternative and Complementary Therapies: The M.D. as an Alternative Practitioner 
Michael Morton Alan PhD, Mary Morton ©

After that, he asked me a few more questions, all of which seemed very strange to me. Like: Did I crave sweets or fatty foods most? Was I bothered by drafts? What time of day was the hardest for me? How did I feel about being in groups of people? What time of night did my nightmares usually take place? Was there a particular time of day that I got my terror reactions in a car?

I answered his questions and he explained that my answers were helping him to determine exactly which homeopathic remedies would be best for me.

He then got up and went over to the cabinet and took some small white pills out of a bottle and put them in a small envelope for me. He also gave me a small bottle with an eye dropper that also had homeopathic medicine in it. He wrote down the instructions as to how I was to take the medicines. Then he walked me out to the front office where he told his assistant to schedule my EMDR sessions and to give me a list of yoga instructors in town that offered the kind of class he suggested.

The last thing he did was to thank me for coming in. He asked me to remember that we were partners in my healing program and that if it was to work I had to be sure to do my part by taking a beginning yoga class, taking the homeopathic medicines as prescribed, doing the EMDR sessions, and eating more "rabbit food." Also, I was to come back in two weeks to review my progress with him and to feel free to call if I had any questions or concerns. I thanked him and, without even thinking about it, gave him a hug. I was embarrassed by my behavior until he told me that "hugs are spoken freely in this office."

I did the whole healing program for three and a half months and can honestly say I did feel tremendously better. My nightmares have stopped. I do not feel that bruised feeling anymore. And my body is now very supple and relaxed. My knee is also much improved and I have not had a terror episode while riding in a car for four weeks. I have even signed up for an intermediate yoga class and have started to meditate. I still eat some junk food but have really learned to enjoy and appreciate the "rabbit food."

It is obvious that Jessica was fortunate to find a medical doctor not just trained in the techniques of alternative medicine, but also fully committed to practicing the spirit of holistic medicine.

I enjoy playing tennis any chance I can. It is not only a way for me to keep fit, but it is also a way for me to enjoy being with my friends. One weekend, as I was moving to return a difficult serve, I felt a sharp pain. I felt it strongly as I tried to move my arm at the elbow joint. It was obvious to me (and everyone else) that I may have done some serious damage and would not be on the courts for awhile.

An acquaintance suggested I go see their doctor, who specialized in sports injuries and also was into "alternative medicine." My friend felt that maybe this doctor's alternative treatments might help my arm heal faster. I did not like the idea of being off the courts for a prolonged period of time, so I decided to give this doctor a try.

I felt fortunate that I was able to get into see him the next day. I arrived at his office and was given the usual paperwork to fill out. After about fifteen minutes, a nurse escorted me into a treatment room and curtly told me to undress and to put on the robe that was hanging on the hook. Though somewhat startled by this instruction, I did as requested.

A few minutes later the doctor came in. Immediately, he walked over and picked up my chart and began to read my intake form. He never looked at me or even said, "Hello." Next, he walked over to me and, without asking or saying anything, took my right arm and moved it toward him so he could look at it. The pain was excruciating. And I let him know it! His only comment was, "Oh, that hurts?" After looking at my elbow and determining that I was really in pain, he went over to the counter and got some needles. Without ever saying a word about what he was going to do, he stuck five needles in my right arm at various places. Some of the needles were very painful. Not once did he say anything. Not only that, then he left the room and left me just sitting there with those five damn needles in my arm! About twenty minutes later he came back and took the needles out. While he was making some notes in my chart, he said he wanted to see me in five days to do another treatment. I smiled politely as he then left the room.

After I left his office, I noticed that my arm was not quite as sore as before and I could even move it a little better. But what I noticed most of all was my rage.

I had never been treated by any doctor with such disrespect. I mean, even the doctors in the Marines were more humane than this guy. Even though I did feel some improvement in my arm, there was no way I was going back to see this "alternative" doctor again.

Fortunately, there are not many doctors that would treat a patient with such disrespect. Still, Nathan's story makes an important point: just because a medical doctor is trained in the techniques of alternative medicine is no guarantee that that treatment will be done in the spirit of a holistic approach to treatment.

Many of the basic principles and techniques of alternative medicine as practiced by medical doctors are being packaged under a number of different labels for the 1990s. The most popular of these are holistic medicine, alternative medicine, complementary medicine, and integrative medicine. Some other popular labels describing alternative treatments include environmental medicine and preventive medicine. (These labels are not just being used by medical doctors to describe their alternative practices. Many other alternative practitioners, including acupuncturists, naturopaths, chiropractors, and even massage therapists, have taken to describing what they do as holistic, alternative, complementary, or integrative health care.)

No matter how an M.D. labels his or her practice, it is still critical that you make sure that they are competently trained in the nonconventional treatments they practice and that they are committed to practicing in the spirit and ethos of a holistic approach. By doing this, you can be assured of getting high quality alternative medical care.

Holistic medicine, alternative medicine, conventional medicine, and integrative medicine all advocate the use of alternative/ unconventional medical treatments, but where they differ is in the role such treatments play in relationship to conventional medicine.

Holistic Medicine
Holistic physicians are conventionally trained doctors who have chosen to go beyond the basic biomedical philosophical underpinnings of their training as "doctors." They have opened their hearts and minds to include an appreciation of other medicines from different cultures, different times, and different philosophies in their commitment to "treat the whole person."

The American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA) defines holistic medicine: "This emerging medical specialty is an art and science that treats and prevents disease, while focusing on empowering patients to create a condition of optimal health. Far more than the absence of illness, this state of health is a dynamic balance of the physical, environmental, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of an individual. As both a healer and health educator, the holistic physician, in partnership with the patient, addresses the causes of disease in addition to treating its symptoms."13

Interestingly, the initial integration of the spirit and ethos of the holistic approach to health care as an influential force in modern conventional biomedical practices began in the late 1950s and early 1960s with the advent of the holistic medical movement. Though its influence was slow in creating real changes in health care, the changes are steadily increasing and continue to this day.

Many feel that this process formally began with the personal search of one man, Evarts Loomis, M.D., F.A.C.S.I., often called "the father of holistic medicine." In 1940, while on assignment in Newfoundland, Dr. Loomis had a dream. "One night I awoke with the words, 'Treat the whole person,' echoing through my mind," he says. "I saw that there were spiritual, emotional, as well as physical, aspects of man and that they all needed to be looked at during illness. I saw that I had just been treating the effects of illness. Right then I decided to investigate all aspects of man to find the causes of illness."14

This concept was unheard of in the conventional medicine of the 1940s and 1950s and so, on their own, Dr. Loomis and his wife Vera nurtured this dream. In 1958 they founded "Meadowlark," considered the first holistic medical retreat center in the United States.

Dr. Loomis developed a basic program that included a thorough physical examination and such treatments as nutritional counseling, exercise, homeopathic medicine, acupuncture, therapeutic fasts, hatha yoga, art and music therapy, and psycho-spiritual counseling, with daily group therapy sessions incorporating the use of dreams, Progoffian journaling, and instruction in meditative techniques.

Dr. Loomis observed that during an illness the emotions and the mind played an important role in the healing process. So guests at Meadowlark worked to heal resentments through forgiveness techniques and journaled on the meaning of their lives, and considered why their illness had come to them and what it had to teach them. The word patient wasn't used, and staff were not distinguished from the guests by white coats.

"Through fifty some years of practice, and more than 6,000 Meadowlark guests, I have seen many dramatic healings that defy orthodox Western medicine," Dr. Loomis says. "I came to understand that there were no incurable diseases, just incurable minds."15

Patients to this day still seek out Dr. Loomis for his assistance. Just recently, a woman from Chicago called Dr. Loomis. She had been to Meadowlark six times while it was under his direction. She had originally come to Meadowlark to heal a terminal lung cancer condition. Through Dr. Loomis's program, it went into remission. Now, twelve years later, her cancer returned but had not spread. She called to say how grateful she was for those twelve years of remission and asked, "Could Dr. Loomis help again?" At eighty-six, Dr. Loomis is still active as a lecturer, teacher, and counselor with his partner, Fay L. Loomis.

By the 1970s, Dr. Loomis's principles of holistic medicine were beginning to be appreciated and then practiced by a small but dedicated group of medical doctors. In 1978, Norman Shealy, M.D., and some of these doctors founded the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA). Today, there are a respectable number of medical doctors who describe their practice of alternative/unconventional treatments as holistic medicine.

Alternative Medicine
In the mid-1980s the term "alternative medicine" began to gain popularity. Today, it is now more recognized and used by the public and the press when referring to nonconventional medical health care treatments than the terms holistic, complementary, or integral.

Usually, medical doctors who describe themselves as alternative medical doctors see their practices as an "alternative" to regular conventional medicine. To many of these doctors, alternative implies an either/or situation in treatment: that either unconventional treatments are used or conventional medicine is used.

For medical doctors who use the label of "alternative medicine" to describe their medical practices, alternative can mean two very different things: (1) That they are essentially the same as the holistic doctor in their philosophy of treatment and are committed to practicing in the spirit and ethos of a holistic approach to health care in the application of alternative treatments (high quality alternative medicine) or, (2) that they use treatments that are an "alternative" to conventional medicine - not generally taught at U.S. medical schools - while not incorporating the spirit and ethos of a holistic approach to health care.

Given this, it is important to verify a doctor's competency in alternative treatments and also to make sure they are committed to including the spirit and ethos of a holistic approach in their practice.

(Excerpted from Five Steps to Selecting the Best Alternative Medicine ISBN: 1880032945)
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