There's a lot in the health marketplace calling itself "holistic" which isn't; you and I may not mean the same thing when we use the term, which, etymologically, indicates respect to/for the Whole. In a health context, it usually means that a patient's/client's entire Life picture - biochemical, behavioral, social, spiritual - is, again, respected at the very least, and incorporated into treatment modalities, ideally. But there's a particular angle that's got me miffed, because it usurps the "holistic" adjective and some of its positive rhetoric while advocating/promulgating practices that are anything BUT.
I work with urban, upper middle class postpartum women, their newborns and mates, older children and extended families. It's a particularly vulnerable demographic, insofar as the postnatal transition of a family (especially the transition of an erstwhile buttoned-up, professional 30-40-something woman, at the top of her game, to "beginner Mom") is somewhat of a crisis. I have lectured publicly about this crisis to future doctors and nurses ("The Matrescence Crisis: Modern Transitions to Motherhood" - UCSF) because the education of tomorrow's pediatrician, obstetrician, psychiatrist, and nurse is of great importance to all of us. But I've also spoken to more "alternative" and "natural" modality audiences about "Phony Holisticness". What do I mean?
In my field, there are all sorts of questionable practitioners vying for the ignorant and easy dollars of the expectant and new parent. The deal is: You take a couple at the peak of their dual-career attainments, with plenty of discretionary income and natural fear, and you convince them they need to spend it on your product or service. Then, if you're particularly unscrupulous, you throw in some scare tactics to reel 'em in to a more insidious proposition: Fomenting the Revolution, Sister, one obstetric/pediatric patient at a time.
There are extremists out there who believe that this life-transition is the crucial time for converting a woman from reliance on Standard Western Medicine to "the alternative" and, more subversively, from her own previous life-orientation to "the Cause".
Second- and Third-trimester pregnant women of established wealth and lifestyle, innocently taking Yoga or Pilates classes in order to "tone" for their labors/deliveries, are sidelined by instructors who smilingly suggest they investigate a different birth model and "attend an informative tea / evening". Sometimes its a childbirth class instructor who uses a particular "Western model"-bashing book or ideologically-skewed handout. In many late-term cases, it is a covert attempt to derail the pregnant couple's set plans for their imminent labor/delivery (and, often, postpartum and early parenting practice), away from the norms of their own established sociocultural group, i.e., from the pre-existent setting into which the child shall be born and integrated, indeed: From their truly holistic reality.
Follow me closely here, lest you entirely misconstrue my point. If I thought Standard Medical/Hospital practices were always the Absolute be-all and end-all, and that no alternatives or auxiliary approaches are ever to be considered, I wouldn't have the column-location I do. So here's my point:
It's a gross distortion of "Holism" to, at this major and vulnerable Life juncture, separate the mid-term-or -later pregnant woman from – and propagandize her against – the person she is probably then trusting as much as her own husband or mother: Her obstetrician. For the urban 38-year-old corporate attorney in her 3rd trimester, and residing 3000 miles from her mother, and who doesn't have a strong clan- or church-based community of helpful friends nearby, to be hijacked, at that critical time, from the OB with whom she's comfortable (not to mention from the social construct in which she's used to living), verges, to my mind, on the criminal. We make a mockery of the word "holistic" if it means we ever berate/vilify/malign, or even subtly cast doubt upon, another human being's very support system. Yet this is repeatedly done by "alternative" practitioners in the birth/postpartum/newborn field, as it is in others, too, in the name of the "natural" and "holistic" approach.
I have been present when circles of "energy healers" and yoga teachers (in rent-free spaces granted them by the liberal San Francisco medical establishment!) have "lovingly" addressed upscale 3rd trimester couples who'd been very happy with their reputable and excellent OBs, "lovingly" imploring them to take on a more militant and adversarial tone with their doctors and their hospitals ("Demand her 'interventions-record'." "If 'change' is going to happen, it'll have to start with YOUR letting your doctor know you insist on her changing her [fill in the blank] policy, or you'll change OBs, even though you're due in 4 weeks! THEN she'll get the message!")
In the absence of outsiders/prospective clients, these "healers" would giggle together, mocking the "probably Republican" voting tendencies and "hopelessly straight" lifestyles of their clients: "I'm scared of these couples!" they'd gasp, commiserating about the life choices made by the professional women who sign $1000+ contracts with them.
Can we step back here, folks?
Can it possibly be loving and "holistic" for a labor-doula to meet, for the first time, a 37-year-old in her 8th month of pregnancy with her first baby, and under the care of the city's top obstetrician, and try to persuade her that the latter is "backward" for not permitting the labor-doula at the birth, and that the woman should therefore ("It's NEVER too late!") switch OBs and hospitals? At that late date? I heard that one last summer.
Is it loving and "holistic" to tell an anxious 40-year-old sleep-deprived mother (whom you've just met) of a 2-week-old, with trusted private lactation consultants and pediatrician, whose baby is struggling with latching onto the breast and thus failing to optimally thrive (an anguishing state of affairs), that her lactation consultant, postpartum coach, and pediatrician and her nurses are ALL "definitely ignorant" and "part of the problem", "on a mission to make [her] milk dry up", and then take her by the hand to an "Infant Chiropractor"? And when that "doesn't work either" (surprise, surprise) leave her high and dry, mistrusting everyone she knows? I witnessed that case just over a year ago.
Often the "alternative practitioners" who "know better" than the OBs entrusted with these higher-risk cases (Yes, the over-35 primipara - first-time childbearer - is at higher risk for such real complications as placenta previa, preeclampsia and eclampsia, gestational diabetes, obstructive leiomyomas [fibroids], premature labor/delivery, etc., than a woman in her 20s, much as some radicals refuse to acknowledge it) are simply lately-certified masseuses or instructors of swaddling-burping or of meditation! And the 3rd-trimester woman had never heard of a "labor-doula" until this evening's meeting!
And yet the activist rhetoric is militant and often supplemented with articles, monographs, references and websites versus everything these vulnerable women (my precious "mommies") trust and depend upon.
NOTE: A minority of urban women have prepared for the more natural birthing modalities, well in advance of their FIRST birth. Other urban women, another perfectly worthy minority, choose on their own to investigate different "birthing" styles and practices AFTER their first birth, when the've chosen to do it differently the second time. I'm all for either scenario for the healthy mother-to-be; the educated consumer, choosing without being pressured or diverted, investigating alternatives under her own steam and in a timely manner: Ideal.
NOTE: The employment of statistical horror-tactics, and the (ab)use of real, ignorant, and frightened human beings (as first-time imminent parents are) as a crowbar for a forced Revolution in Obstetric and Pediatric Medicine is not my idea of "holistic".
Do we say we stand for Holistic Medicine, i.e., treating the whole person within her (not our) whole situation? Then we certainly do not advocate the de-stabilization of the holistic setting, the comprehensive pre-existing support team/community, of a fellow human being in her hour of crisis. Nay, we honor those boundaries, we bow to those structures and endeavor to tread lightly, even invisibly, on the sacred ground of her (not our) story. A Revolution based on trashing the landmarks and lifebuoys of those seeking healthcare - of any kind - is not only not holistic, it isn't even humane.
I know I speak for many in medicine and, especially, its auxiliary and "alternative" orbit, when I decry this thorn in our side. It's painful to see unethical behavior such as this, and downright malpractice on the part of our ostensible/self-proclaimed "colleagues"; it also makes those of us with higher principles
-- come under unfairly pessimistic scrutiny and
-- exert heroic energies to distinguish our noble practices from those of the Ideologue-pack.
Who pays your fees, fellow practitioners? If you can't respect and embrace the Totality of your clients'/patients/ rooted setting(s) and orientations(s), then Guess What: There's nothing Holistic about your work.
Last month I turned on the radio and immediately heard a man saying "OK: As for the blood group diets? They're nothing, nonsense, a lot of hooey. Liz Hurley and everything? It's just ridiculous!" He then derided breatharianism, iridology, colonics, anything called "Detox", and ear-candling, ending with "These are the twelve [I'd missed the others] alternative therapies/modalities that are pure hogwash". The speaker? Dean Edell.
Poor guy. Just think how much less trial and error he'd have to resort to if he knew his patients' blood types. Just think of how many lives he's positioned to positively impact and what an opportunity he's throwing away, all because he's ignorant about the inexorable direction medical science has begun to take, not to mention eastern systems of medicine that date back thousands of years and which view Edell's brand of medicine as yet one more flash in the historical pan.
One day, in this world or the next, many Western allopaths are going to discover the truth, the open-minded ones to their awe and wonder, the closed-minded ones to their shame, shame for their sheer arrogance.
I have experimented, throughout my lifetime, with a few systems and modalities of medicine. Many had merit, and a few didn't work for me, though others claimed they did for them. Far more numerous are those I haven't ever personally used. Yet I too have been known to make fun of a few really outrageous-seeming ideas; one of these was...(drumroll)...Peter D'Adamo's Blood Type Diet! I saw his first book on the store shelf when it was released, and I said to the clerk, "Next thing you know, someone will come out with the Zodiac Diet." I was cynical about it, and my guess is that most who swear by it - or aspects of it - today, made fun of it at first. D'Adamo isn't ashamed to reveal these instances amid his anecdotes about some of his most extraordinary successes. I admit that it can sound preposterous until you look more closely, as I did, or need it desperately, as do many of Dr. D'Adamo's patients.
For about thirteen years I've been practicing aromatherapy, but I can remember attending a dinner, a few years before I took it up, at which someone asked if any of us knew anything about this "new" modality. I was actually among those who razzed her. "Gimme a break" might have been uttered by me at that time.
It's because I've looked into and found validity to health practices of which I'd previously been ignorant, such as essential oils, Blood type medicine, Ayurveda and Macrobiotics, that I can be lenient with those who bash them. Knowing what I know, I'm aware that these people simply haven't been presented with either the evidence or the need for it. One brief experience with lavender oil for burns, or tea tree oil for fungi, and a person simply cannot laugh at aromatherapy anymore. Reading the chapter(s) about one's own blood type and/or those of one's family, in Eat Right 4 Your Type, renders one hesitant to discard the work as balderdash. Macrobiotics, which many mistakenly believe to consist of a stark brown rice-only diet, quickly catapulted me from grave illness to robust health in the 1980s. And Ayurveda? I'd looked at those questionnaires many times before actually trying an Ayurvedic diet, beginning 3 months ago. Seventeen pounds lighter, hale and hardy, I can say that weight loss is only one of the benefits accruing from this program. And I still don't understand what all the homeopathic fuss is about (though Bach's Rescue Remedy has amazed me a few times), but some must be benefiting from it, just as they do from chiropractic, rolfing, and shiatsu.
One of the most fortunate formative experiences I had in my youth was to personally know Dr. Robert Atkins in the early 1970s in New York City, when he was dating my (divorced) mother. I rolled my eyes many a time over this medical renegade and his convictions about vitamins and minerals. Today, most know of Dr. Atkins's body of work as respected and well-established medicine. But I remember when he was viewed by the orthodox as a fringe crank with a screw loose. When he'd hold forth on Brewers' Yeast and the B-complex, I'd excuse myself and go watch TV or something. My mother would insist Bob was a maverick genius and that sometime in the future the world would recognize his contribution as seminal.
In the early 1980s, a terrific surgeon, call him Frank, asked me out for lunch (we worked at the same hospital in Manhattan). Over our meal he informed me that he couldn't eat in the Doctors' dining room because he was being "shunned" by attending physicians who'd heretofore blanketed him with referrals. It seems he'd been interacting increasingly personally and informally with his in-patients, referring to them by name, spending "too long a time" with them on rounds, and interacting with them out of a deep, genuine concern for them as whole persons. Word had gotten around, and he'd been taken aside and spoken to about his "making the other doctors look bad".
As Frank told me of his ordeal (sotto voce, so as not to be overheard at this restaurant so near the hospital), it became clear that he believed his story was unique, that his need to identify with his patients' wholeness and humanness was some one-of-a-kind aberration, and he - so ingenuously and achingly - didn't know what to do. I proceeded to rattle off names of formerly-mainstream MDs and RNs who'd been at the forefront of the then-emerging holistic movement, and I urged him to locate and contact them, as they'd no doubt be thrilled to welcome him among their number, to assist him in finding more congenial hospitals in which to work, and to refer cases to him. I lost touch with Frank, but I imagine that the sneers of his colleagues launched this truly top-flight general surgeon into a far more rewarding career.
Dr. Peter D'Adamo has advantages that neither Bob nor Frank had: He's not an MD under obligation to play by AMA and associated unwritten rules. He's already operating within an established alternative medical community, and with credentials therein. He's doing so decades after naturopathy and nutritional therapy have appeared in the mainstream public square. He is familiar with the history of the career trials of the likes of Bob and Frank before him. He also has sold millions of books and has a very active website, clinical practice, and nutritional supplements line.
Dean Edell has also sold millions of books, and has a national radio program, to boot. Think of how much back-pedaling he'll have to do if and when he discovers that his public errors, born of a snide skepticism, are historically more worthy of scorn than the (brilliant) contribution of Peter D'Adamo.