Holistic or Integrative?

charlie-embracing-lifeI had a great conversation with a holistic nurse yesterday who has a book about integrative nursing coming out in December. We talked about the difference between the terms holistic and integrative. It’s been interesting how terminology has changed in the past few decades. It all started out as allopathic medicine vs. complementary/alternative medicine. Then there was a discussion about traditional vs. non-traditional medicine. That was just plain confusing because no one knew what was traditional. I grew up with the tradition of going to our family physician, so allopathic medicine was traditional to me. Others grew up using herbs and natural remedies (yet another term that causes confusion) so they think of alternative healing methods as traditional.

The other challenge in this discussion about terms is the use of the word medicine. My understanding is that physicians practice medicine. So if I am a non-physician who uses massage, music therapy, or natural remedies, it would be incorrect to say  that I am practicing complementary or  alternative medicine, or even integrative medicine. As a nurse, I don’t practice medicine. I practice nursing within the healthcare field. With all these terms flying around, it is no wonder our healthcare system is in need of repair. We can’t even agree on semantics!

Back to holistic nursing vs. integrative nursing. Let me just say that holistic nursing is a way of being with a person, taking into account their entire being, including mind, body, spirit and environment. Integrative nursing focuses more on a way of doing or practicing nursing, taking into account all of the options for treatment, including allopathic treatments and non-allopathic treatments. As a holistic nurse, I want to be able to have a wide variety of treatment options for my patients. So I guess I am practicing holistic integrative nursing. Or integrative holistic health care. Or…. What new words will we come up with in the coming decades to describe exactly what we do? This is an age-old challenge for nurses. Patients know that nurses make a difference, but nurses have trouble describing what we do. And if we can’t describe it, then it is hard to get paid for doing it, and it is hard for nursing to continue to move forward and so what we were educated to do. Now, are you as confused as I am?

The picture I have posted with this blog is Charlie McGuire, the founder of the American Holistic Nurses Association. I know when she founded the organization 33 years ago, these same questions about words were discussed. I really like how her hands are open to the possibilities…


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