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September 2022

Soc Sci Med. 1988 ; 26(8): 853-61.

Holistic physicians and family practitioners: similarities, differences and implications for health policy.

Goldstein MS, Sutherland C, Jaffe DT, Wilson J.

School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles 90024-1772.

Although loosely defined, holistic or alternative medicine has been viewed by most observers as fundamentally at odds with mainstream biomedical approaches. Convergence or integration of the two are seen as highly unlikely. We attempt to assess the potential for such integration empirically through a survey of physicians, members of the American Holistic Medical Association (N = 340) and a comparison group of family practitioners (N = 142). Although social origins of the two groups are similar, they differ in their completion of residency training and a variety of practice characteristics. While the groups differ in the predicted directions in their evaluation and utilization of holistic techniques and in their attitudes toward the nature of medical practice, there is a good deal of overlap. Personal experiences, especially those in the area of religion/spirituality and psychotherapy differ sharply between the groups. Policy concerned with fostering cooperation or convergence between holistic and mainstream medicine should differentiate between clinical attitudes and behaviors (which appear to be more compatible than has been suggested), and the personal world views of physicians (which appear to be much further apart).


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