What is Alternative Medicine? Terms Include Herbology, Homeopathy, Holistic and Natural Healing

What is Alternative Medicine? Modalities, Their Definitions and The

Question for Dr. Leia: I am interested in alternative medicine and I am trying to better understand the fundamental differences between the various “natural health” practitioner methods.

I am currently a Level II Reiki practitioner interested in becoming more involved with homeopathic methods of healing. I need to know the difference between:

  • homeopathic medicine
  • herbology
  • chinese herbology
  • natural healing
  • holistic medicine

And all the other terms thrown around that seem to be synonymous yet considerably different at the same time. I would also like an educated opinion about reliable educational institutions in these fields.

I am located in West Virginia, although I lived on O’ahu for three years, and there aren’t a lot of NDs in the area (if any at all). Any information, or any sources of information, you could give me on the subject would be greatly and sincerely appreciated.

Dr. Leia’s Answer: Thank you for your wonderful question! I am sure that many other people are equally confused about these issues and the terminology which loosely swirls around natural health and alternative healing in our current society. Since you live in the United States, most of these answers will pertain to our country and not to the rest of the world, especially the training and instruction programs and schools available here.

What is Homeopathy?

Homeopathy or Homeopathic medicine refers only to a small segment or discipline of natural medicine. Originally, Homeopathy was “discovered” by a German doctor called Samuel Hanneman who lived in the 1700’s in Germany. At that time, he was discontent with the status and effectiveness of modern medicine and wanted to find a better, more effective means to heal people. By accident, he discovered Homeopathy.

Hanneman had a garden of herbs and plants and learned to prepare these plants, along with minerals and animal products, in a specialized way to use as medicines on himself and his patients. He would take the plants and dilute them in water. Sometimes, he would dilute the plants and herbs until there was no more physical evidence of these plants in the final preparation. In fact, the more he diluted the remedy, the more powerful he found the medicine to be.

He would take a plant, such as poison ivy, which would cause a skin rash in most people, and he found that it would act as a remedy to help patients who came to him with a skin rash caused by an unknown source. From experimentation, he found that each remedy had specific actions on different parts of the body, thus he accumulated and formulated massive information about the curative powers of his new Homeopathic medicines.

Homeopathy comes from a Greek word meaning “like cures like”. Thus, the term Homeopathic technically refers only to medicines or remedies which are in their diluted form, prepared in the manner that Hanneman used. Homeopathy has been improperly used to refer to the broader term natural medicine.

Not all natural medicine is Homeopathy. Specific Homeopathic schools are available which train certified Homeopaths. Usually these courses can run about 1-2 years in length. Homeopathy is also part of the curriculum taught at our four year Naturopathic medical schools in the US. After finishing the Homeopathic studies at these schools, there are standardized national exams to pass and to become certified to practice Homeopathic medicine in the US.

What is Herbology?

Herbology refers to the science of the study of herbs or plants which are used for medicinal purposes. Most of these herbs can be used in the form of tablets, capsules, teas, herbal liquid tinctures or solid extracts. It is best to find products which are standardized to contain the active principles of that particular herb in order to be assured that it will be effective. Simply stated, herbology refers to indigenous herbs studied, researched, and categorized from the rich heritage of the Western world, including Europe and the United States.

What is Chinese Herbology?

Chinese herbology refers to the study of herbs as used by China and the Eastern world, and is an integral part of the study of Chinese medicine and Acupuncture. Chinese herbology has a long history of effectiveness in combining synergistic herbs together to create extremely elaborate formulas that have been time-tested for over 4000 years. Please note that all herbs are not Homeopathics. Homeopathics need to be prepared in a certain manner such as described above.

What is Natural Healing?

Natural healing is a broad term which refers to treating disease with natural remedies or natural medicines, herbs, vitamins, supplements, homeopathy, energy healing methods, etc. instead of with the traditional modern allopathic medicine approach using chemical, synthetic drugs. Natural healing could refer to the disciplines of Naturopathy, Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, Chiropractic, Osteopathy, Reiki, Herbology, massage, Aryuvedic medicine, just to name a few major categories.

What is Holistic Medicine?

Holistic or Wholistic medicine is another broad term which refers to treating the whole person, rather than just treating a part of the body of a person. Modern medicine is divided up into specialists who treat only one part of the body, such as: cardiologist, gynecologist, orthopedist, urologist, internal medicine specialist, endocrinologist.

Holistic medicine usually means that the practitioner also takes into account the complete person on all levels, including the body, the mind, and the spirit, usually using tools which could include relaxation techniques, counseling, sound, music, emotional release techniques, natural remedies, vitamins, and other supplements. The goal of Holistic medicine is to take into account the cause of the particular problem, which might include the emotional and mental aspects along with the physical aspects.

What is a Naturopathic Doctor?

You mentioned the initials ND, which stands for Naturopathic Doctor. There are four Naturopathic medical schools in the United States and one in Canada which train Naturopathic Doctors who can be licensed to practice in the United States and Canada.

These schools include: The National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon; Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington; The Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Phoenix, Arizona; the University of Bridgeport in Massachusetts; and the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto. These are the only reliable accredited professional Naturopathic medical schools available in North America.

There are several “mail order” schools and other bogus schools which offer degrees via mail but do not lead to licensing. Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Montana, Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, Alaska, Maine, Utah, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Colorado are the only states which license Naturopathic doctors, however, currently, there are legislation in many other states which are pursuing licensure.

I hope that this information gives you a better idea of the scope and practice of natural medicine and natural healing, and assists you in pursuing your higher education goals. Good luck.

Dr. Leia Melead

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