Tolle Totum – treat the whole person – is a guiding principle in naturopathic medicine. It understands that our bodies are supremely complicated, and that how we exist today is not incidental, but actually a cumulative effect of our entire life experience. But our medical system is pragmatic and reductionistic. In life and death situations, this is a very good thing. It allows core issues to be logically identified and corrected, which is lifesaving in an emergency. But most of life is not an emergency, and a ‘one size fits all’ approach to health is simplistic, and completely ignores one important concept: that we are all different. Symptoms are viewed and treated as if they are isolated islands in the sea. We need to build bridges between these islands, and better understand their complexities and inter-connectedness — that is, treat the whole person.
Treating the Whole Person
Instead of evaluating and treating a patient as if they are just a carbon copy of every other person with similar symptoms, we should start with a blank slate. Just because two different people find themselves with the same health issues today, does not mean their paths to get there were in any way alike. Reversal of disease happens when the causative agent is removed. This means that one person with high blood pressure may need dietary adjustments, and another may need stress management – yet these underlying causes are ignored, and instead both people are sent home with anti-hypertensive medications. By disregarding the cause and only treating the outcome, we effectively bandage the problem, but fail to create conditions where health can be regained.
Naturopathic Medicine: Whole Practice Integrative Medicine
Whole practice integrative medicine aims to provide individualized, whole person medicine. It is a system spurred on by naturopathic doctors and integrative medical doctors. It evaluates patients not only as they currently are, but more importantly, on the conditions leading to development of their health problems. Treatments are not based on predefined protocols, but rather a conglomeration that seeks to address all of the symptoms of a particular individual. Whereas conventional thinking was to provide single interventions, namely prescription medications or surgery, whole practice medicine is generally more comprehensive: nutrition, exercise, stress management, dietary supplements, counseling, herbs, and/or acupuncture, in addition to drugs and surgery.
Does it Work?
Most medical research focuses on single variable experimentation. Can treatment ‘X’ safely and effectively improve condition ‘Y’? These results dictate the ever changing landscape of modern medicine. But it becomes very difficult to study multiple variable treatments, especially when no two treatment protocols are the same. Thus, research typically discounts the specifics of what was done, and only really cares whether people got better. In a review of many different whole practice studies, titled “Systematic review of clinical studies of whole practice naturopathic medicine”, it was found that there was clinical benefit in each, beyond conventional treatment. More research is needed, but the value of assessing a person as an individual is becoming more apparent. Effective patient centered care may very well hinge upon treatment protocols that focus on the whole person – not the whole population.