Allopathic or Holistic Medicine?

By Melba M. Black, PhD

A growing number of people have discovered the limitations of conventional (allopathic) medicine and its myopic view, which focuses on compartmentalizing the body and prescribing synthetic treatments to address physical symptoms. In the face of this increasingly inadequate system, many are turning to holistic medicine to address their needs, realizing the effectiveness of holistic medicine’s approach to health, which blends body and mind, science and experience, and traditional and cross-cultural methods of diagnosis and treatment.

Let’s dive into more detail about these two methods of health care.


The roots of conventional medicine can be traced back to Rene Descartes (1596-1650), the famous scientist and philosopher. His philosophy, which embodied separation of the “mind” from the “body,” led to various fields of specialization, each of which focuses on a particular branch of medicine and the organ it treats with little regard to how these parts are intertwined and the dynamic relationship between them.

In the mid-19th century, the discovery of disease-causing microbes added further “validity” to the conventional medicine theory. “Germ theory,” which was advocated by Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), heralded the birth of conventional medicine with its emphasis on infectious causes of disease. This was followed by the rapid development of microscopy, bacterial cultures, vaccines, x-rays, and antibacterial drugs, which focused on treating specific ailments.

It also led to organization of medical schools into departments of specialty—cardiology, nephrology, neurology, dermatology, orthopedics, and psychiatry—and disease classification by the organ it affected—appendicitis, prostatitis, colitis, heart and gallbladder, disease, etc.—which diverted attention from the intrinsic relatedness of all parts of the body. The allopathic model is the whole is equal to the sum of its parts.

The guiding principles of conventional medicine are rooted in synthetic measures and departmentalization of various body parts so symptoms can be treated without recognition of the interplay of the rest of the body for proper balance and functionality.

  • Preference is to treat the symptoms through drugs and surgery, rather than searching for underlying causes of disease in order to eliminate physical symptoms, with prevention through diet and lifestyle being a secondary option.
  • Patients are diagnosed and prescribed treatment, following allopathic protocols that focus on the particular condition while not addressing the whole person.
  • Care is considered successful primarily through the absence of symptoms rather than quality of life.
  • Management of disease is considered successful when patients visit the conventional physician regularly, keeping up with prescribed medications and taking them consistently, and keeping current on all recommended laboratory tests and treatments.

The strengths of this system are that it is highly effective in treating both acute and life-threatening illnesses and injuries.

The weaknesses of this system are that it is ineffective at preventing and curing chronic disease and is very expensive. Self-efficacy of the patients is not a priority.


The underlying concepts of holistic medicine began as early as 5000 BC, when the ancient Sages formulated the healing traditions of traditional, Chinese, and Ayurvedic medicine, and recognized that human beings were comprised of mind, body, and spirit and their health was dependent on the balance of all three factors.

This view was also held by the ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, whose genius was not in the drugs he used or his diagnostic skills. His insight for producing and maintaining natural health included hygiene, a calm and balanced mental state, proper diet, a sound work and home environment, and physical conditioning.

The primary role of healers and physicians in each of these traditions was to teach others how to live harmoniously with themselves and their environment, and how to utilize the above categories effectively to obtain true health.

The guiding principles of holistic medicine are rooted in education, empowerment, and prevention through natural means, taking into effect the dynamic of the entire body and how the individual body parts work together to create optimal health. The model is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The guiding principles include:

  • Embracing a variety of safe and effective diagnostic and treatment options, including education for lifestyle changes and self-care, and complementary diagnostic and treatment approaches.
  • Searching for underlying causes of disease are preferable to treating symptoms alone.
  • Establishing a history of the patient, who has imbalances in other areas such as emotional, mental or spiritual, not just the physical condition(s).
  • Preventing illness is preferable to treatment and more cost effective.
  • Establishing a quality of relationship between physician and patient is paramount, in which the patient is encouraged to take responsibility of their own health.
  • Considering the needs, desires, awareness, and insight of the patient, as well as the physician, is ideal.
  • Learning opportunities for both the patient and the physician exist in illness, pain, and the dying process.
  • Encouraging patients to evoke the healing power of love, hope, humor, and enthusiasm to release the toxic consequences of hostility, shame, greed, depression, and prolonged fear, anger, and grief.

The strengths of this system are that it teaches patients to take responsibility for their own health. Also, it fosters the preventing and treating of chronic disease and is essential in creating optimal health. Patients feel more empowered and more in control of their health.

The weaknesses of this system are that it is time-intensive, requires a commitment from the patient to the healing process, and is not a quick fix. Lifestyle changes are indeed the patients’ responsibility.

In 2007, the National Health Interview Survey concluded that approximately 38 percent of adults used alternative, or holistic healing, practices. In 2017, that number doubled. The current trend of combining allopathic medicine and alternative therapies is now available in many major medical centers in the United States and has been coined “integrative medicine.” In this practice, patients receive the best of both worlds, though conventional medicine remains the mainstay of treatment.

As long as we continue to mask symptoms or control health problems and not get to the root cause of the issue and address them through education and natural methods, our quality of life will be diminished. As Dr. Joe Dispenza states, “You are the placebo!” Your thoughts about healthcare matter. It is time to recognize that the way to be empowered and achieve a high quality of life is to adopt a more holistic approach to our day-to-day habits.

Melba M. Black, PhD, CLC is a writer, mentor, innovator, and scholar. She has over thirty years of experience in holistic health, spirituality, and energy healing, including Life Coaching, Reiki, Intuitive Development, Meditation, Yoga, Qigong, and more. She currently teaches classes and conducts personal sessions at Sphere Innovation Group.