Integrative Health Care

Few would argue that a patient is best served by a comprehensive healthcare program that integrates both conventional and traditional medical approaches to health/healing, as needed and desired by the patient.

The World Health Organization recognizes “health is not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Health is a dynamic, resilient state of well-being. A healthy person has the capacity to weather reasonable stress and return to balance.

Conventional medicine focuses on the detection and treatment of disease and has no explicit model for health beyond the absence of disease or infirmity. Complementary and alternative medical therapies usually approach the patient from a holistic, whole-person, perspective that extends beyond pathophysiology. Such therapies follow the advice of Hippocrates that it is more important to know the person having the disease than to know the disease the person has, and these approaches typically seek to engage the person in self-care as a vital contribution to well-being.

This person-centered perspective has been largely set aside by conventional medicine’s increased dependence on technology and the impact of healthcare insurance on medical care. As patients and professionals alike recognize that conventional medicine alone will not return patients to well-being, they increasingly create an integrative approach to health care, choosing appropriate interventions from both therapies based on science and those rooted in tradition (a few of which, such as acupuncture, have also been studied scientifically). Integrative healthcare involves an open-minded, clear-headed combination of therapies and lifestyle changes that suit the individual’s needs on every level, physically, emotionally, socially, financially, and in terms of values and beliefs (Astin, 1998). But it is not simply an integration of techniques that characterizes an integrative approach to healthcare; it is also the integration of the person into the healthcare team. At its most comprehensive level of functioning, integrative health care rests on the foundation of the patient’s engagement in healing and self-care.

Integrative health care underscores the need to integrate disease management, curative treatment, and healing. Although conventional medicine retains its primary focus on treatment of disease, there is an increasing acknowledgement of the wider needs of patients. Overview courses in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are currently taught in most American medical schools, and a variety of clinical settings from academic clinics to hospitals to private practices have begun incorporating CAM techniques and referring to CAM professionals. In spite of the limitations in the evidence base for CAM, medical professionals are increasingly comfortable with low-risk CAM practices used by their patients. Reiki practice seems to be a safe and effective way to help the body regain balance and reduce stress which can be accessed by patients at home, and which is especially popular among healthcare professionals and the mainstream public. Patients can safely combine Reiki practice with any other conventional or CAM technique. Additionally, it can be used by healthy people to support continued well-being (Miles and True, 2003).

Astin JA. Why patients use alternative medicine: results of a national survey. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1998;279(19):1548-1553.

Miles P, True G. Reiki-Review of a Biofield Therapy: History, Theory, Practice, and Research. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 2003;9(2):62-72.

Self Care

At home or in hospital, the care of the patient begins with the care of the caregiver.

People with chronic disease understand the importance of self-care. Diabetics must monitor blood levels, self-administer medications, and watch their legs and feet for ulcers and other signs of decreased circulation. People with less threatening conditions need to take their medications reliably to avoid medical complications. Others use diet and exercise to prevent disease and enhance health. That is the extent of self care for many in our postmodern culture.

Indigenous medical wisdom views well-being very differently. Ayurveda, the traditional medical system of India, sees the maintenance of well-being as its highest priority; disease management comes second. Maintenance of well-being is interwoven through all facets of life; physical, mental emotional, and spiritual. How would adopting this value change your life?

Physicians often say that 80 percent of the conditions their patients bring to them would resolve on their own if the patient simply rested, allowed the body to heal, and used preventive medicine strategies.

The scientific documentation that stress undermines health and well-being is unassailable. Relaxation and stress reduction strategies are not a luxury; they are medical necessities. Relaxation shifts our nervous system out of the stress response, improving our biochemistry and reversing the degenerative internal environment created by prolonged stress. Yet many people, even those with chronic illness, don’t develop relaxation skills to protect their well-being. Instead, they place control of their health solely in the hands of their physicians. An approach to health care without the active participation of patients is similar to pouring water into a leaking bucket. Ultimately, how effective can it be?

Patients who support their conventional medical care with stress reduction get the most from their healthcare dollars and may have better medical outcomes. Stress reduction is easily accessible through techniques such as self-hypnosis and visualization. Spiritual practices such as Reiki, meditation, and yoga reduce stress while also connecting people to their inner resources. All those practices are easily learned even by people who think they can’t learn them, especially if you take the time to find a good teacher. Look for a professional who is not only well trained but who also actually practices what he/she teaches. Health-promoting practices are further supported by simple lifestyle tweaks such as taking time to eat slowly, staying in touch with friends, and not watching the news before bed.

Beside such commonsense measures, there are many low-risk interventions that people can use to keep bringing their bodies back to balance in the face of the unavoidable stress of contemporary living. We each have different levels of sensitivities to different stressors. Knowing ourselves is the first step in strengthening our well-being. Although there is no conventional medical explanation for how becoming cold might make you sick, for many people, getting chilled precipitates an unbalanced state that leaves them more vulnerable to pathogens. If you have noticed that you are one of these people, simple measures such as preparing yourself for a cold weather outing by covering the neck and head, and warming yourself with hot ginger tea when you have gotten a chill can make a difference.

Self care is always advisable, but it becomes even more important in times of increased stress. In the days immediately following September 11, 2001, I wrote an article to encourage and empower people to make taking care of themselves part of their trauma response. The perspectives and information in the article remain valuable.
Simple Steps for Self Healing


Early detection and treatment are valuable. However, they do not replace prevention. Maintaining a balanced state of well-being is always preferable, and much easier, than trying to regain lost balance. Whereas conventional medicine focuses on disease management, traditional medicine seeks first to strengthen and maintain existing well-being.

Traditional medical approaches such as Chinese medicine, Tibetan medicine and Ayurveda view the person as an ecological whole, like a garden. Adept gardeners know that if a plant isn’t thriving, one cannot simply add fertilizer. If in fact fertilizer is what’s needed, it’s necessary to add the right kind of fertilizer in the right amount. Before making any intervention, the gardener carefully considers the entire situation—light, temperature, moisture, pH of the soil, appropriateness of the plant to the existing conditions, etc. If something is attacking the plant, the gardener knows the situation must be managed skillfully so as not to create more problems, appreciating any toxins introduced to kill the attacker might also kill friendly organisms.

Although ecology is a scientific discipline, its principles have not yet been utilized in health care. The refinements of prevention and maintaining balance are complex and subtle. The high technology favored by conventional medicine for early detection may not be useful in prevention.

Traditional medical systems address not only the physical body, but also the subtle components of health. Traditional healers use highly refined intuitive skills to identify imbalance at subtle levels, beyond the reach of technology, where it’s easiest to recover balance. Ayurveda, for example, recognizes six levels of disease. Conventional medicine can detect pathology only at the final, grossest level, the proverbial tip of the iceberg, supported by many layers of invisible yet discernible imbalance. Palliation is still possible at the final stage of disease, and the progress of disease may be slowed, but complete reversal, including both cure of the disease and overall rebalancing and restoration of health, is considered at best to be difficult to accomplish.

Stress is unavoidable. Reiki practice supports the system to rebalance itself, evoking a profound self-healing response from deep within the individual, potentially returning the various systems of the body to harmonious, efficient functioning. There’s no way to measure the preventive benefits that might accrue through regular Reiki treatment or daily Reiki self practice. Each person must gauge the value of Reiki practice from considering what is known about the degenerative effects of stress, the effectiveness of Reiki practice to help the system rebalance and reduce stress, and his or her own experience and intuition.

Medical Intuition

What is medical intuition and can it help me?

Medical intuition can be an invaluable support to well-being if the intuitive is clear and credible, and if the information is used with intelligence and common sense. Medical intuition helps you identify often subjective areas where you can strengthen your wellness, creating your own highly personalized care which physicians have historically extended their patients, but which has been largely lost as the practice of medicine became increasingly involved in technology.

Patients with serious medical conditions may feel simultaneously grateful for state-of-the-art conventional medical care and disempowered by the process of receiving that care. The seemingly exclusive focus on the wizardry of high technology in conventional care supports a reductionist view of the human body as a machine. Patients can become overwhelmed and passive as they feel themselves shifting from being a person to being a collection of parts. Passivity on the part of the patient makes it easy for hopelessness and depression to take hold, which does not bode well for medical outcomes. Patients need to support their healing between medical visits, and physicians need to acknowledge the value of engaging the patient in the processes of both curing disease and regaining health and well-being.

Medical intuition can help patients regain a sense of control by bringing attention to areas of well-being and lifestyle where they can become active partners in their health care. Such information is rarely offered in conventional health care. For example, a medical intuitive may sense a particular change in eating or social patterns that would support healing, or help the patient identify ways to self-nourish. Although a medical intuitive does not diagnose in the medical sense, the intuitive may bring awareness to a significant aspect of the condition or an obstacle to healing that is not receiving attention.

Often patients have to decide among various treatment plans recommended by several equally respected medical specialists. In such a scenario, a medical intuitive may help the client connect with his or her own intuition. This might happen when the intuitive mirrors the client’s own intuitive sense, but even a contrary opinion can be useful if it galvanizes the client’s preference and helps him or her commit to a course of treatment.

When considering the use of medical intuition, it is important to find an intuitive who is credible and reasonable, one who has clear boundaries and understands he/she is offering perspective only, that ultimately patients need to make the healthcare choices that are meaningful to them. Such a professional appreciates that his/her role is supportive rather than authoritative. Beware of intuitives who are too sure of themselves or aggressive in sharing their perspectives. I practiced for years before I felt comfortable sharing intuition with my clients (again, I would like to draw a clear distinction between practicing Reiki and serving as an intuitive consultant, a distinction too often ignored.). As in the use of any consultant, the client should never turn over responsibility for decision-making. An intuitive consultation can support the decision-making process by bringing insight into larger issues and raising meaningful questions which the patient must answer for himself.

Advisory – I have seen much confusion about medical intuition among Reiki practitioners, who may mistakenly think that Reiki treatment includes giving their feedback. This puts the client in the position of receiving unsolicited “information,” often delivered without skill or sensitivity to the client’s deeply relaxed post-treatment state. Before I learned to practice Reiki, I was already a professional healthcare consultant. I provided mind/body consultations and training, lifestyle guidance, and medical intuition. Reiki treatment and medical intuition are two distinct skills. Reiki treatment is safe and non-invasive. If you are receiving Reiki treatment from a new practitioner, ask whether or not he/she routinely gives feedback after treatment and decide for yourself if this is something you want.

Intensive Healing Retreats

Retreat is a time-honored approach for creating profound life changes. Withdrawing from the busyness of contemporary lifestyle for a period of time to deepen our inner engagement is an investment that yields powerful dividends. Retreat can be as simple as an evening or morning spent in silence and contemplation and without ringing phones, or it can be something longer and more structured.

An intensive healing retreat can be a catalyst for inner transformation. Each intensive is a co-creation with the client designed to meet the individual’s needs and goals. The client elects to stay alone for a predetermined period of time (usually 7 to 10 days) in a setting free from distractions and outside communication. During the retreat, clients receive daily Reiki treatment and individualized training in meditation and self-inquiry, Reiki self-treatment, and hatha yoga. Other practitioners and therapies are included as suits the retreatant’s needs and goals. Each client remains alone except for visits from practitioners, using the abundant solitude to practice the skills being learned, and for journaling, contemplation, and artistic self-expression.

The goal of the intensive healing retreat is profound inner immersion. From the perspective of ever deepening self-awareness, the client reviews important life choices, identifying and re-evaluating the values that have shaped those choices. At the same time, clients learn spiritual practices that will support them to continue creating well-being as they re-gather the threads of their lives after the retreat.

The inspiration for these intensives arose from the wisdom of indigenous medicine and the retreat traditions of various spiritual paths. All spiritual practices included in the retreats are non-sectarian and can be comfortably used regardless one’s religious affiliation or lack thereof. Clients integrate personal or religious images or themes as they feel inclined.


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Written by Pamela Miles

Explore Wellness in 2021