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October 2021

Complement Ther Nurs Midwifery. 1997 Feb; 3(1): 4-8.

Alternative therapies: are they holistic?

Saks M.

School of Health and Community Studies, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK.

This paper discusses the extent to which alternative therapies are distinctively holistic. It begins by defining what is meant by 'alternative therapies' and 'holism'. In this process, alternative medicine is contrasted with the biomedical basis of orthodox medicine; the critique of which has led to the development of contemporary notions of holistic practice. The historical background to the holistic health movement is then charted with reference to the rise of the medical profession, which has become increasingly unified around biomedicine. The largely holistic nature of alternative health care today is illustrated by case studies of specific alternative therapies and their practice contexts. However, it is argued that not every aspect of alternative medicine can be seen as holistic, nor should it be assumed that all elements of orthodox practice are non-holistic. The paper concludes by emphasizing the opportunities that exist for nurses and other allied professionals to become more involved with alternative therapies in order to extend their holistic approach to health care.


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