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Integrative Medicine - What Is It?
by Steven Rotter, MD

So what is Integrative Medicine? In its essence it is a form of healthcare which seeks to restore rather than merely medicate, that believes in the healing power of nature, that attempts to find meaning in illness, and which seeks to develop human and humane interaction in the doctor-patient relationship. "Medicating" is indeed a function of integrative medicine, though the use of medicine, natural or pharmaceutical, is employed not as an end, but rather as a tool of support to relieve suffering while the systems are coming into balance. Additionally, this approach is effective not only for prevention, but for both acute and chronic illness.

Traditional allopathic medicine has very little to offer those suffering from long-term, debilitating diseases. Integrative approaches sustain belief in the healing power within the human body known variously as vital essence, ch'i or prana, which Western medicine denies.

Over five years ago the landmark Eisenberg study revealed that 33% of the American population uses some form of unconventional healthcare. More recently, a similar study showed that 50% of our populace uses some form of alternative care. Clearly, more and more people are seeking information on herbs, homeopathy, vitamins, healthy eating, and so much more. Unfortunately, way too many Americans do not feel comfortable discussing their alternative/ integrative therapies with their traditional physicians. As an integrative MD, I encourage the exploration of various types of healing by my patients and am available to discuss treatment plans with any healthcare provider. I encourage the formation of "treatment teams" for people, and strive to act as the "bridge person" narrowing the gap in cooperative and constructive ways.

My own transformative process began with an introduction to hatha yoga late in my training years. For some time before, there was a little, though persistent, voice in my head which said "try yoga, try yoga" and finally after an invitation from a friend, I signed up for a series of classes, then bought a book and practiced nearly daily for some months. I was amazed to discover that my life-long bowed legs were now straight and that indeed my entire frame had shifted positively. My intrigue was intense, and I devoured the teachings of such alternatively minded physicians as Deepak Chopra, MD, Bernie Siegel, MD, Larry Dossey, MD and Andrew Weil, MD. The journey into the once called "Alternative", then "Complementary," frequently "Holistic" and more recently "Integrative Medicine" was underway and is, I suspect, never-ending.

My function and obligation as an integrative physician is to help educate, support, facilitate, and offer guidance. In my practice I tell people this at the first visit. I share that although I have certain years of education and training, that I have worked with thousands of patients, I will never know you better than you know yourself. I will never pretend to do so either. I require your input and feedback, your insights and values. Once the exam is completed and the history shared, together we formulate a treatment plan designed to address your needs. In directing you towards the state of being which you desire, I am there to compassionately hear of your struggles and to provide insights and perspectives which may be obscured to you. The essence of our work is to teach you how to better care for yourself.

The plan we design may include dietary changes or an exercise program. It may involve relaxation training, or some form of emotional therapy, or a yoga pose or two, or perhaps a pharmaceutical medicine. It will often involve the use of supplemental vitamins, herbs, minerals, hormones, amino acids, essential fatty acids, etc. Whatever is decided, is done so mutually.

This integrative model may be visualized as a continuum that extends from illness or disease at one end to optimal health at the other. Throughout our lives, we travel this continuum, finding ourselves, unexpectedly perhaps, in places of struggle, pain or discontent. This does not mean we are bad, wrong, or have done anything to be ashamed of regarding our condition. We have simply manifested through a cluster of symptoms, what we call disease or illness. Alerted to the significance of symptoms in the midst of our too often frenetic lives, we are given an opportunity to deepen our knowledge of ourselves, discovering how and why we may have created unwittingly the imbalance in the first place. Again, there is no shame in this. It is a part of our human condition.

The three forces of nature; creation, maintenance and are influencing us to varying degrees at different times throughout our lives. None of these forces is better or worse than the others. All are a part of our nature, our essence. A state of "perfect health" is not attainable. We get ill. We get off balance. We will integrate if it is our intention to do so. We will heal. Sometimes we will be cured of certain illnesses. We will get imbalanced again. Hopefully, as we move along this continuum, we develop an awareness which allows us to recognize the imbalances at greater subtleties. Identified early, symptoms can be corrected more easily with appropriate intervention. We develop a greater appreciation for the health that we have created and have been blessed with, a gratitude for the life we have. Sometimes it seems there is no way out of our situations/conditions. Although we all may feel this way from time to time, when we do, it is a definite sign that we are in need of help. Sometimes we may achieve an insight, an inspiration, and the proverbial "Aha!" is experienced. It has been said that "wisdom is truth which has been experienced." From illness as well as from health, we find ourselves in experiences which provide us with opportunities and challenges. The intention of our approach to these various life situations, from an integrative medical perspective, will have a direct impact on our outcomes, our meaning of life and our purposes. You owe it to yourself to find someone who will try to help you and you deserve it.

Next issue, Dr. Rotter will discuss where integrative medicine is going both in our area and around the world.

Steven Rotter, MD practices integrative medicine and teaches yoga at The Center For Natural Medicine @ 1330 SE 39th Ave. (503-232-1100) and privately @ 811 NW 20th Ave. (503-827-7000). He is a member of the Willamette Valley Holistic Medical Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility and The Institute of Noetic Sciences.