Five Names for Practicing Medicine
There’s a lot of different names for the kind of chiropractic care I do. I use the term “Integrative Medicine”, but other practitioners use terms like “alternative”, “complementary”, or “holistic”. These mean subtly different things, and the preferred terms have evolved over time.
Mainstream medicine as distinct from what I do is sometimes called “allopathic medicine”. If you know Greek, you might be able to guess that the term was coined by the founder of homeopathy. The prefix “allo-” is greek for “other”, while “homeo-” is greek for “same”. The term has since become popular outside of homeopathy, and even mainstream western doctors find it a useful shorthand for the kind of medicine they practice.
“Alternative medicine” used to be the popular term for non-allopathic medicine, but has since fallen out of favor. It was used to signify that there is a medicine that is different from the mainstream kind of care you’d get in a hospital, and that was a good distinction to make back when awareness of chiropractic care was less than it is now. Nowadays, though, chiropractic has a lot more recognition from mainstream doctors, and emphasizing the divide between them no longer seems as appropriate.
The term “complementary medicine” was coined to indicate that both allopathic and non-allopathic medicine can be used side-by-side in treating patients. While it helps bridge the divide between the two, I don’t use the term. Calling chiropractic care “complementary” suggests that it should only be used as a supplement to allopathic practices such as drugs or surgery, but for some conditions, chiropractic care is a much better primary treatment.
Another often-used term is “holistic medicine”. The name come from the philosophy of Holism, which states that people and other things are greater than the sum of their parts. Holistic medicine is based on the idea that if you examine a person’s many systems in isolation, you’ll miss the big picture about their overall health. I think you could reasonably describe chiropractic as “holistic”, but I think we focus too much on musculoskeletal issues for the term to be a great fit.
Instead, I prefer to use the term “integrative medicine” which emphasizes instead that chiropractic care and allopathic medicine are each appropriate in different circumstances, and a patient’s healthcare would ideally integrate both. Many allopathic doctors favor an integrative approach, and refer their patients with musculoskeletal problems to chiropractors when they think that’s the best line of treatment. Similarly, if I get a patient with a condition that isn’t appropriate to treat with chiropractic, I’d refer them elsewhere.
I hope that helps clarify the distinction between these terms 😀