The Health Consequences of Competing Conventional and Alternative Definitions of Health
Conventional medicine defines health as either absence of disease, or various Utopian definitions, such as “a state of complete well-being”. The definitions of the absence of disease is the basis of all therapeutic interactions in modern medicine. These definitions have led to a frustrating lack of familiarity with health itself and its manifestations. It can have drastic effects in practice on our experience of medicine and of illness. Various other views have arisen in response to the overly mechanistic view of the human being. In particular, the salutogenic view of Antonovsky sees health as a social phenomena. This has led to the field of health promotion, with mixed results.
Alternative medicine defines health more openly and more vitalistically. It is based on a rich and ancient source of experience into the nature of health and the process of becoming more healthy or more sick. Most alternative therapies see the individual and his life’s journey as the key to health or sickness, health itself is definable only in relation to context — the individual at that moment in his life. There is also an element of the ‘will to be well’, the self-healing powers, which are respected and affirmed. Models of health and disease are more in tune with subjective experience, there is therefore a strong biographical aspect both to treatment and to research in alternative medicine.
The alternative definitions are more vitalistic and as such run counter to the mechanistic world view. This can create a real struggle for patients, for example in the treatment of chronic diseases. The mechanistic view would propose toxic treatments which target specific body processes. The vitalistic view will propose health building attitudes and activities, such as a more harmonious, and balanced life. The patient will often try to do both together and this can create conflicts. Besides, alternative medicine can itself at times be mechanistic, such as in chiropractic or formula acupuncture, and the reverse is also true, such as in the typical caring and listening family practitioner. It is helpful to explore these themes so that both patients and practitioners can learn how to negotiate within the various models of healing available in our current society.
KeywordsAlternative Medicine Modern Medicine Alternative Definition Complementary Medicine Conventional Medicine
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