What is Integrative Medicine?

Man meditating

1 Aug 2023 | ~5:22 Engagement Time


Roz Kalb , Psychologist

Peer Reviewer

Megan Weigel , Nurse Practitioner

Understanding Integrative Medicine

Have you ever wished that your healthcare providers saw you as a whole person rather than a patient with a misguided immune system, a cancerous organ, a broken leg, or cardiac disease? Instead of seeking out multiple different specialists, you could find healthcare providers who offer a variety of treatments, strategies, and options that fit with your preferences and priorities. The field of integrative medicine is built on a philosophy that shares these ideals.

  • Integrative medicine focuses on you as a whole person rather than on you as a patient with a condition or disease.
  • It looks to your body, mind, and spirit to understand the underlying cause(s) of the problems you are experiencing, and uses a combination or therapies and lifestyle changes to help you attain optimal health and wellness.
  • Integrative medicine brings together conventional healthcare, like medication and psychotherapy, with complementary therapies, like acupuncture, yoga, healthy nutrition, massage, mind-body psychotherapy, which have demonstrated evidence-based safety and efficacy.
  • This type of medicine places a high priority on your relationship with your provider, with the goal of achieving well-coordinated teamwork between you, your integrative medicine provider, and other providers and specialists you may need.

What Are the Benefits of Integrative Medicine?

The techniques and interventions used by integrative medication providers – along with the collaborative treatment relationship they foster – support your body’s natural ability to heal. These techniques help you reduce stress, empower you to make healthful lifestyle changes related to diet, exercise, stress reduction, and spiritual well-being, and support your efforts to build physical, emotional, and spiritual balance in your life. Providers favor natural, less costly, and less invasive therapies over more traditional medicine but are ready and able to use conventional treatments when natural approaches aren’t effective. For example, an integrative medicine provider would offer a person living with MS health and wellness strategies to complement the benefits of their disease-modifying therapy.

What Are the Limitations of Integrative Medicine?

While integrative medicine is holistic in its approach to medical care, it does not address all your medical needs. For example, it is not a substitute for emergency care, when needed, preventive care provided by your primary care physician, or surgical or other specialty interventions needed to treat diseases or injuries. In the case of MS, it is not a substitute for conventional MS treatments. In an optimal scenario, your integrative health provider is a member of your healthcare team, with all team members sharing information and working collaboratively to optimize your health and wellness.

What Is the Difference Between Integrative Medicine and Functional Medicine?

While these two approaches are similar in their goal of providing more holistic care, functional medicine seeks to identify and treat the root cause of a person’s condition. Its foundational belief is that one condition, for example, depression, can have many causes, and one causal factor can lead to many conditions. Examples of root causes are your gut, the environment, and your genetics. Integrative Medicine providers may use functional medicine as a tool to help contribute to a broader understanding of your condition.

How to Find an Integrative Medicine Provider

Board certification in integrative medicine indicates that a physician is committed to a medical practice that reaffirms the relationships between the practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person (body, mind, and spirit), is informed by scientific evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing. Certification is also available for nurses, advanced practice providers, and physicians- who wish to provide a more holistic type of care.

The Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine offers directories to help you find an integrative health practitioner or a certified integrative health or wellness coach near you.