Holistic practitioners pride themselves on being holistic. It's our "thing!" Of course, we connect the dots, of course we see people as whole beings, of course we focus on the mind/body/spirit and understand that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts! And we use NATURAL medicine, so that's great right?
Sadly, my answer is no, because we are still hugely doctor centric. By that I mean, holistic practitioners largely practice with the mentality that they hold all the tools, knowledge, resources, ideas and dole them out to patients to "fix" them. This "doctor centric" way of thinking can be insidious. In fact, when I talk to holistic practitioners about my passion for truly patient centered care and teaching others how to do it too, the response I almost always get is, "Oh, I already am patient centered!"
But let me give you an powerful example. I recently spoke at a symposium for continuing education in acupuncture. This symposium hosts between 300 and 400 attendees each year. The first day's speaker was the author of a book on acupuncture and sports medicine, he's worked with US olympians, speaks all over the US and Europe, and is highly regarded. Day two's first speaker had recently lectured at Harvard School of Medicine and had over 30 years of GI medicine specialty. He was a trained surgeon and acupuncturist. The second speaker on day two was a renown specialist in TCM fertility. Guess how many mentions there were in 16 hours of lectures on empowering patients, teaching them, or helping them help themselves?
Exactly THREE sentences... Two, "You should help your patient learn to relax," asides and one, "your patient could also do stretches." That's IT! In 16 HOURS!?!
When I lectured on the third day I asked the audience if it struck anyone as odd to listen to 16 hours of lectures and have next to no mention of anything the patient could or should be doing for themselves but literally hundreds of specific doctor centric tips… things like what gauge needle to choose, exactly how frequently a patient should come in to see you, which herbal formulas we should give a patient for xyz, what angle and how to stimulate the needles to fix the problem. It hadn't even occurred to them this was anything less than patient centered, when indeed this is just as doctor centric as most Western doctors - it just uses natural tools.
Traditional Chinese Medical training (and ongoing counting education) are almost 100% about what WE as practitioners could DO to our patients to fix them. Natural, yes. Holistic, yes. Patient centered, not even a little bit.
Two weeks ago I was at another conference. As I was eating lunch I listened to an entire table of acupuncturists lamenting, "If patients really want us to fix them, they need to cough up the cash and come in at least three times a week." Then one person said, "or daily!" I thought to myself. If patients really want us to try to fix them entirely with needles, then yes, maybe a daily regiment would be helpful. But my goodness, WHO has the time, energy and MONEY to do that here in the west? And how doctor centric is this way of thinking!?
Consider the relationships you've had with your holistic practitioners. Did they "fix you?" Did they do stuff to you? Tell you what to take? Tell you what you should and shouldn't do? OR Did they make it clear to you that you hold more power over your own health and wellness than they ever will and teach you all the ways YOU can influence your own health and wellness throughout the day. Did they teach you actual concepts, ways to understand what was happening in your body, to interpret your symptoms as they change, ways you can contribute to making things better or worse, and ultimately help you understand all the ways you can walk out their door and either keep things going in the right direction or undo everything the acupuncture is trying to accomplish. Furthermore, have they kept in mind what you actually WANT, what you have the time, energy and money to do?
I believe that what has happened is we've taken a specific form of medicine (that is comprised of needles, herbs, food therapy, massage, breathing techniques…) that was created in the east and has existed in a very specific culture (rooted in the philosophies of confusionism, taoism and later buddhism - not as religious ideas, but as philosophies with ideas like circular logic, harmony, yin & yang, moderation, balance, connection with nature & natural cycles) and then picked up JUST the medicine part (just the needles, herbs, etc.) and plopped them into a totally different culture (rooted in the philosophies of christianity, consumerism, immoderate lifestyles, black and white thinking, agism, disconnection from natural cycles, nature and balance). PLUS we have taken a medicine that was rooted in the idea of serving whole communities, really helping people be well and prevent illness and dropped it into a culture where we are accustomed to doctors fixing us and being paid when things are wrong. We have SO much room for growth.
What I do is truly patient centered holistic care. I empower and educate first. I know acupuncture, herbs and specific recommendations can help your body reset, get better faster, get a kick start, etc. But I also know that if I don't help each of my patients help themselves I'm shooting myself in the foot and doing them a great disservice. If I practice in the "typical" TCM practice in America way (and just focus on what I can do TO someone), I will create more of an uphill battle for myself and my patients. Get results that will just slide right back into imbalance once I stop what I'm doing, and not really help each person truly find balance.
So the first thing I do with my patients is LISTEN. I want to know not just what you have, but how you got it. What adds to your imbalance, what makes it better (some are things you intuitively know, but many are so different than the way most americans think you might not even catch them until I point them out), I also listen to what you are open to and interested in and what you have no desire (or time or energy or money) to do. Then, it's my turn to educate. I explain all these things and layer in the philosophy of the east which can naturally help balance out all the go, go, go achievement, busy, black and white thinking and energy in the west (one isn't perfect, one isn't bad, it's about finding balance and sustainability). For one person it might be a gratitude practice, another mindfulness, another nature, another cooking, I help all patients navigate listening to their bodies (and not the voice in their head that says keep up with everyone else and post it all on FB). And it helps people get better faster, stay better, and take charge of their own health and wellness.
And often I see people LESS frequently than other acupuncturists because it is more about what patients do in between visits and less about me doing something to them. And my results are BETTER!
I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes on what kind of a practitioner I aim to be. It's by a great physician named Rachel Naomi Reman
I hope I can serve you. I hope I can help you find your unborn wholeness and collaborate and strengthen all that is already amazing about you and your life. I promise you, it is SO much better than being "fixed."