When you’re not sick or have any serious health concerns, a doctor is a doctor. It probably doesn’t even matter much who you see, other than maybe that the person has a decent bedside manner. Who you see definitely starts to matter when you’ve been diagnosed with something serious and/or chronic like autoimmune disease, inflammatory bowel disease, heart disease, cancer, diabetes.
The problem I have found with conventional western medicine is that they can’t actually help you very much when you’re chronically sick. They simply don’t have enough tool in the toolbox, aside from drugs and surgery, which of course can be life-saving. But I challenge that drugs and surgery to manage chronic conditions are really beneficial. Western medicine can diagnose and name (if you’re lucky and they can match your symptoms to an established diagnosis). But conventional western doctors, including specialists, often have no idea why you got sick, what’s causing your body to malfunction in the specific way it is, and they have NOTHING to fix it or solve the problem.
And let’s face it, covering up symptoms is a band aid approach. No one is fooled, least of all the person who is sick, that they are better when given a drug that masks the symptoms for a short while only to get sick again or in a different way later. So the long term drugs prescribed to manage a chronic health issue are just chemically turning off the body’s alarms that something is wrong. And as if that weren’t bad enough, there are the laundry list of side effects to deal with because drugs are imprecise and do not only target what the doctors intend.
So if you’re in the uncomfortable place of being sick, your body’s not working as you want it to, the medicine isn’t helping, and the doctor don’t know what to do, where do you turn next?
You may intuitively know in some way you’re not living well. Maybe it’s something in your environment or even in the circumstances of your life and how you are responding that is causing imbalance and dysfunction.
So off you go, in search of someone credible, articulate, intelligent and with a track record for helping people with hard cases and with your particular disease. Right? Or not.
I have seen more integrative professionals and spent more money in the alternative, holistic, complementary and integrative health world than I care to admit, but I think it makes me somewhat qualified (as anyone who has been sick for a long time and has traveled this route can attest) to know what to look for and what to watch out for in this field.
And apparently I am not alone, because 83 million adults spent $33.9 billion out-of-pocket on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in 2007 according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH), which accounted for 11.2% of total out-of-pocket expenditures on health care that year. That data is 10 years old, and I am certain these numbers are increasing, especially with the medical industrial complex in the current failing state that it is.
So first off, I look for a holistic health professional the way you find any professional you are looking for, whether it is a plumber or lawyer: ask friends and family in person and on social media, google search, read reviews if there are any, etc. Word of mouth is always the most natural place to start. So what do you need to look for in a health professional as you are searching to find someone who can actually help you?
What are their credentials?
This may not be the most important one, but it is definitely important to check into and find out. A practitioner who gets good results is the most important thing, but their credentials can give you a clue to how well trained they are and what type of experience they may have. Whether you are looking for a medical doctor with additional training in some other area like functional medicine, a chiropractor, a nutritionist, massage therapist, energy healer, meditation specialist, or herbalist, find out where they went to school. Do they have a certification, a license, etc? What experience do they have? Ask them if it isn’t obvious or clear.
How do they help people?
What is their chosen method for helping people? Do they do talk therapy? Will they place their hands on your body to manipulate your muscles, spine, energy field? Will they order diagnostic tests and make recommendations for supplements? Will they place electrodes on your brain to train you to modify your responses? What does a visit with them actually entail?
What does it cost?
Duh. Find out the price up front. Also ask how many visits are necessary or typical. What are the additional costs or fees that are typical for someone with your problem? Most alternative practitioners don’t accept insurance, even if they are a medical doctor because insurance won’t reimburse for the necessary time spent with a patient while counseling or educating.
What is their experience in helping someone with your problem?
Health conditions can be super-complex and while they may have had success helping clients with diabetes get off their medications, they may have little or no knowledge or experience with helping someone with Rheumatoid Arthritis or Inflammatory Bowel Disease or whatever problems for which you’re looking for relief. Make sure they can help you with your condition.
Research, then Go with your Gut
As you find the answers, ask yourself if you’re ok with the answers you’re getting. How does it feel? Are you getting mental greenlights as you hear the answers? Don’t just check out their website or google reviews. Also call their actual office (if they have a physical location and it’s not only a virtual practice) to ask questions. Check out their social media accounts. What are they talking about there? Get a feel for who they are. Do you like them? Do you agree with their perspective? If this is their business and you can’t figure out who they are before contacting them, don’t work with them. Do they seem like someone you want to work with?
Things to Look Out For
I just want to include a word about supplements. I am not a big fan because I see this as a sort of inherent conflict of interest when a practitioner is selling these. They make money off of them, so it benefits them to sell you a bunch of them and to keep you on them. Now, not all practitioners are unethical in this way. I also see the practitioner’s perspective and need for temporary supplementation while sick, however just be aware. I quit seeing a nutritionist who had me on a buttload of supplements for several months with no end in sight. I am also just as happy to take a recommendation and go seek it out myself.
Being an Active Participant
So the funny thing about going down the rabbit hole of taking your health into your own hands, is that it is proactive instead of reactive. Who you decide to work with, when, and why is your choice. How you decide to face your illness is your choice. How you choose to treat your body and yourself is your choice. The doctor-patient relationship is often an unequal relationship similar to that of an adult to a child. Doctors tell patients what to do. But we are all adults, whether we have medical degrees or not, and we often know what’s best for our own bodies even if it is only that we want to work with someone who considers themselves an equal partner and we want to take an active part in recovering our own health. If you’re tired of working with a doctor who is all about disease management as you get worse or do not improve, consider seeking out someone who will actually help you get well. And of course, you must be willing to to be open-minded about how you got to where you are and willing to participate in getting well again.
Suffering is always an option. But unnecessary suffering and feeling powerless compounds the physical pain, etc, being the victim is a choice, even when it feels like you it’s you against you and your body has turned on you. Getting well is possible.
So there’s my A-Z guide on how to find an alternative medicine practitioner, holistic health professional, or integrative physician. Let me know if this is helpful or if you have any questions, let me know in the comments.