It’s often quipped that Holism is something that others say, but only herbalists do. There is some truth in this – herbal medicine is the broadest and most versatile of therapies, whilst close observation of the plant world tends to lead us towards a more open and inclusive world-view. Holism is the ideal context in which to practise herbal medicine – formalised paradigms ultimately limit potential and ‘lower the ceiling’ on what can be achieved with herbs. It’s amusing to note how often holism is quoted as the antithesis of reductionism (the prime methodology of western material science). This is not true: reductionism is an aspect of holism, albeit a small one, that in the grand scale of things needs to be kept firmly in its place.

Holism is not a paradigm, it’s a philosophy – albeit the most all-embracing of philosophies – embodied in the disarmingly simple statement, ‘everything is connected to everything else’. Nevertheless what follows is one of a number of versions of the ‘Paradigm of Holism’, having its origins in the 1970s when work first started to reestablish holistic principles in western healing traditions. This said, as a series of affirmations, characteristic of holism and of critical interest to practitioners of all sorts, it serves as a tremendous source of guidance and inspiration: –

  • Each patient is treated as a unique whole person – body, mind and spirit, – and in the context of family, community, culture and environment.
  • Holistic medicine emphasises the responsibility of each individual for his or her own health. Good therapy promotes understanding and self-care rather than treatment and dependence. Holistic medicine uses therapeutic approaches that mobilise the individual’s innate capacity for healing.
  • Holistic medicine promotes health as a positive state, not just an absence of disease. Likewise illness is seen as an opportunity for discovery as well as a misfortune.
  • Holistic medicine acknowledges that the cornerstones of health are good nutrition, good exercise, good relaxation and good sleep.
  • Holistic medicine makes use of perceptions and diagnostic systems additional to those validated by western material science.
  • Holistic medicine emphasises the potential therapeutic value of the setting in which health care takes place.
  • Holistic medicine demands an understanding of and a commitment to change those social, economic and environmental conditions that perpetuate ill health.
  • Holistic practitioners are not judgmental – rather they assist their patients in pursuing their own life choices according to their own beliefs.
  • Holistic medicine transforms its practitioners as well as its patients.