We’re in the midst of a massive health crisis worldwide, and during this upheaval, many people have realized the limitations of our current conventional health-care model. Health is a delicate balance, and integrating conventional medicine along with prevention and holistic health care is what many people are seeking.
Holistic healing relies on a foundational principle: that healing incorporates all aspects of the body, mind, and spirit in the pursuit of optimal health and wellness. Support for one’s health is steeped in finding balance in life and by taking into account the whole person rather than separating the body, mind, and spirit into separate parts — as is the core approach to conventional health care.
Mind, body, and spirit are not as separate as they first seem. Time and again, I’ve seen problems that start with emotion turn into very real physical issues. And the opposite is true, too; our physical state deeply impacts our mental and emotional wellbeing. An integrative approach to medicine acknowledges these truths, combining the best of conventional medicine and holistic care to resolve the immediate problem, while also focusing on long-term wellness. The first step on that path? Finding an integrative health-care team that’s right for you.
Before I get into the specifics of how to find a health team that integrates herbal and holistic health with conventional health care, I’d like to share a story that conveys the importance of a multi-faceted approach to health.
The Power of a Multi-Faceted Approach to Healing
Years ago, I had a client who wanted to use herbal medicine to help heal her severe eczema and skin inflammation — a problem I’ve successfully helped hundreds of people solve. She’d willingly integrated supportive herbs into her lifestyle and adjusted the food she was eating. But she wasn’t really getting better. Her body was still reacting to a variety of whole foods.
I knew there had to be an underlying issue, a key to a doorway we hadn’t yet discovered. We kept talking, and eventually she mentioned that she loved to cook and made beautiful dinners for her family. Then, as they’d sit down to dinner, her husband would turn on the TV. Evening after evening, she’d spend the meal in silent anger. Of course, when you’re angry you can’t digest your food as well because the state of stress automatically suppresses digestion.
She’d been hiding the extent to which the TV-dinner situation bothered her, even from herself. Once identified, she was able to turn her focus toward therapy, where she and her husband resolved the issue. We knew we’d solved the right problem when her eczema and inflammation cleared up. She had put the right food and herb solutions into place, but the emotional piece was the key that allowed her body to respond to the nutrition and lifestyle changes she’d made.
Many people in this client’s situation might have turned to a pharmaceutical solution to reduce the inflammation and let her ignore the underlying problem. But she was open to finding the root cause of her concerns and willing to invest the time and money to do so. Ultimately, she discovered a long-term solution that not only helped her health but helped bring her marriage and life into closer alignment with her deepest desires. Body, mind, and spirit were collaborating to expose the problem, and when the problem was solved, her body confirmed it.
Before Your Search Begins, Reclaim Your Power
Before finding an integrated health care team, we need to shift our mindset and reclaim responsibility for our own wellness.
Like many in our culture, I was raised to go to the doctor and take any medication as instructed. Many of us still come into health care with that mindset — do whatever the doctor says. It’s time to step into our power as stewards of our bodies. You’re in charge of your health, and when it comes to your health-care team, you’re the director.
For example, imagine you had an outdoor space you were turning into a luscious garden. You might hire people to help you plan and do the work, but you’d expect them to do so according to your vision and direction. You would evaluate information from all these sources. Some may offer input and suggestions. Some will do things for you. But ultimately, you’re the one guiding the process and deciding how you want things to work. This is how I approach working with my health-care team, including if I would like a doctor to take the lead or not.
As you begin to assemble your team, step into the director’s seat. Say to yourself, “I’m hiring a medical doctor. I’m hiring a homeopath, naturopath, or herbalist. Ultimately, I’d love for these people to be able to work together.”
Finding an Integrative Health-Care Team — Three Important Questions
When finding an integrative health-care team, ask these questions to help identify professionals who are willing to work together in ways that fit your specific needs.
- Are you open to working collaboratively with different healing modalities?
Make sure both your primary care physician and any holistic practitioners are open to working as part of an integrative team.
I’ve had clients who told their conventional medical doctor (MD) that they were bringing in an herbalist and were questioned, dismissed, or in some cases belittled. If you experience anything like that, find another conventional care practitioner. You want to find doctors and nurses who are open to input, to nutrition, to herbs… in other words, your
If this piece is out of place, you’ll feel a need to hide your holistic care program from your MD. I’ve had so many clients over the years who felt this way. Fortunately, attitudes in medicine are evolving, and many doctors are more open now than when I started teaching herbal medicine in the 1990’s.
You’ll want to ask this same question of any holistic practitioners, too. Many have no interest in working with the established medical system, and that will be a problem if you were hoping for them to communicate with your primary care physician, a specialist, or another member of your health-care team.
Ideally, you want to be all of who you are with every practitioner you see. You want to feel good about the integration of everyone you work with.
- Do you have experience working with this specific issue?
Many people think all doctors, herbalists, and naturopaths should know everything, but they don’t. If you have a serious illness or a very specific issue, you want to ask the question, “Do you have a history of experience with ______?”
This probably won’t be a problem within the conventional medical establishment. From the ear-nose-throat specialist to oncology, conventional care can direct you to a variety of specialists. Something to watch for in that case is communication. You might end up with three doctors in three different departments, who aren’t necessarily talking to each other or are aware of the other treatments you’re getting. You have to be the person to cross-reference what each doctor does and make sure everybody has all the information.
With holistic practitioners, however, there’s less specialization. For general wellness maintenance, this is fine. But I’ve found that people with specific conditions get the best care when they find a naturopath or holistic practitioner with specialized experience in the area they are seeking help for.
- Is there anything else bothering you?
This is the question I look for from a health-care provider. Someone who asks, “Is there anything else that’s bothering you?” or “Is there anything else you’re wondering about?” is showing they’ll make time to evaluate you as a whole person and to attend to your concerns. True healing and wellness are rarely the result of a rushed visit culminating in a scribbled prescription for a medication to make the symptoms disappear.
Team Members to Consider
Every person’s integrative team will be different. Integrative care is where we look beyond treating the specific situation and symptoms to address the whole person. Ask yourself, what does integrative care mean to you? Do you want a naturopathic doctor with a blend of medical and herbal training? Do you want to bring someone in who can really look at your diet and nutrition to explore how you can support your body’s overall healing processes? Do you want to have follow-up care for prevention? Do you also want emotional and spiritual support?
Here are a few ideas of the types of people you may want on your integrative care team, based on your needs and priorities:
- Medical Doctor (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO)
- Naturopathic Doctor (ND)
- Ayurvedic Practitioner
- Western Herbalist
- Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or Acupuncture Practitioner
- Massage Therapist or Chiropractor
- Midwife or Doula
- Health Coach
- Spiritual Advisor or Priest
Know That Your Team Will Evolve
In finding an integrative health-care team, don’t expect to have the whole team put together right away. You might meet with one person, which brings up a question that leads you to a different modality. Sometimes you don’t need one team member any longer but working with them has taken you to the next step.
Adopt an Investment Mindset
I know someone out there is thinking, “Who can afford all this care?” It’s true that in the vast majority of cases insurance won’t cover your holistic care. I wish it were different, but health insurance doesn’t actually cover all of our health-care needs. This may require another change in thinking, in which standard health insurance is mainly a backup for severe and sudden situations: if you’re in a wreck, you break something, or you need stitches or surgery.
Investing in broad-spectrum care for ourselves goes beyond that and, in the long term, will likely reduce medical costs. If a naturopath can help you get to the root cause of why you have eczema or colitis, you’ll avoid using a drug that might cause future side effects — making the situation worse and never addressing the root cause. Or you might find an herbalist who can identify a problem in its earliest stages. They’ll work with you to correct it before it becomes the kind of serious and sudden event that requires emergency care — which can become expensive quickly even with the aid of insurance.
Still, I understand that assembling a team out of pocket can be an issue. Many herb schools and naturopathic colleges have preceptorships and apprenticeships, and you’ll receive a discounted rate if you meet with someone in training. Other holistic practitioners may offer a sliding scale option or be open to trading and bartering for a service or product that you can offer in return.
When to Gather Your Team
Ideally, you wouldn’t wait until you’re dealing with a health challenge to start finding your integrative health-care team. Once sick, you’d be pressured to make quick choices about who to work with and their approach to restoring your health. You may receive conflicting advice and not have the vitality to do additional research or advocate for your position.
Assembled in advance, your team will work to keep you well and will also be there to support you if you do get sick. When you create a relationship with your naturopath, herbalist, Ayurvedic or TCM practitioner, they’re seeing a healthy version of you. That’s an important baseline for them to draw on if you become ill or a problem surfaces.
One approach is to check in with holistic practitioners once a year, biannually, or quarterly. Work with a western herbalist to formulate seasonal herbal blends specific to your health constitution. Have a Chinese practitioner read your pulse. Get acupuncture or massage once a quarter. This is preventative care, and it can be enjoyable as well!
Our idea of health care has been chiseled down to the bare physical essentials. We have to expand what it means to take care of this very complex being that we are. An integrative approach to health and healing can help us do that.
One of the most important parts of finding an integrative health-care team is moving away from symptom suppression and toward methods that free the body’s innate capacity to heal itself. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and keep looking until you’ve found people who will help you do this! You’ll know you have the right team when you’re getting ongoing care with a focus on maintaining wellness, you’re comfortable sharing the details of your health program with all of your practitioners, and everyone is open to collaboration.
Kami McBride is an herbalist, author, and educator whose online courses and bestselling book, The Herbal Kitchen have helped thousands of people learn how to use common kitchen herbs and spices in delightfully simple and delicious ways. Connect with Kami at www.KamiMcBride.com or on social media @KamiMcBride.