Conventional Medicine and Traditional Medicine

Conventional Medicine and Traditional Medicine

The symptoms suffered in a healing crisis are the same symptoms suffered in disease. Disease states can be dangerous.

What’s a practitioner to do?

Healing crisis is a fixture of traditional, natural medicine.

In order to understand healing crisis in the context of today’s health care, let’s compare the paradigm of science-based conventional medicine with that of pre-scientific traditional medicine (sometimes referred to as alternative medicine).

Conventional medicine: it’s all about pathology

For all the talk of prevention, conventional medicine remains overwhelmingly reactive rather than preventive; far more healthcare resources and effort are used to address disease and trauma than to support health and well-being. That is not going to change any time soon.

Why not?

Conventional medicine has no model for health and well-being. All it has is the oft-quoted statement by the World Health Organization (WHO) that health is more than the absence of disease.

The scientific paradigm is based on the ability to measure objectively and replicate results. But how can conventional medicine measure “more than the absence of disease?”

Conventional medicine has few mechanisms to address the subtle components of health and well-being. It cannot notice something is going awry until the measurements are skewed to the threshold of pathology, at which point conventional medicine shifts abruptly into reactive mode.

By the time conventional medicine identifies an approaching train wreck in the human body, it’s rarely possible to prevent the wreck. Instead, the focus is on minimizing damage and prolonging life.

Traditional medicine: it’s all about function

Traditional, indigenous medical systems such as Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, Tibetan medicine, Native American medicine, and African medicine were used centuries before modern science was a twinkle in Descartes’s eye. Each system developed its own methodology and made use of what was locally available.

The primary goal of traditional medicine is to support balanced function throughout the human system so that the system’s self-healing mechanisms can maintain health. Disease treatment is secondary. Traditional practitioners gather information about their patients subjectively, without using technology.

Whereas conventional medicine gathers objective data and matches it to an appropriate standardized treatment, traditional medicine looks at each individual as a unique situation, customizing treatment accordingly.

Many traditional medical observations are obvious even to an untrained eye, such as the coloration of the tongue. Others — pulse-taking, for example — take a bit of training.

Putting together the various observations is what takes skill and experience. Nonetheless, observing skilled traditional practitioners over many decades, I have seen various practitioners relying on very subjective means make the same observations and similar assessments. As in conventional medicine, traditional practitioners may look at the same information and outline different treatment plans.

Traditional medical practitioners are taught to respect the body and observe with an attitude of watchful waiting, there to assist the body rather than override it. (In conventional health care, the training of midwives come closest to this perspective.) Traditional practitioners are taught to identify what the body is trying to do, and to work with that process as much as possible, gently redirecting rather than overriding the body.

Conventional vs. traditional cure

Conventional medicine is focused on measurable pathology. Traditional medicine is focused on balanced functioning. This difference in focus brings them to different perspectives on cure.

Conventional cure is tied to a specific diagnosis which is tied to specific pathology; the absence of that pathology is seen as cure. The larger picture is largely ignored. A patient can be cured of a disease and still be very sick. In the worst case scenario, the patient dies from attempts to effect cure.

The traditional understanding of cure is more comprehensive. Traditional medicine has models and mechanisms to address those aspects of health that WHO refers to as “more than the absence of disease.”

Traditional medicine detects subtle imbalances in function that are the precursors of physical pathology. Variations in function are tracked not only as the body moves toward disease, but also as it moves away from disease and toward stable health.

Now we have some context in which to understand healing crisis, and we will continue to discuss what healing crisis means in the next article in this series.

Integrative medicine

Meanwhile, there is increasing collaboration among conventional and traditional health care professionals. Sometimes this collaboration happens in integrative medicine clinics, other times the patient chooses to see practitioners from both camps, without the practitioners communicating with one another. Patients often don’t inform their doctors of what else they are doing.

If you have collaborated in an integrative health care situation as a professional, or have chosen to address your health using both conventional and traditional approaches, leave a comment to share you story, especially what worked well, what didn’t, and how you would do it differently next time.

Pamela Miles shares 50 years of experience with holistic health and spiritual practice.


  1. Kathy Holton says:

    Two years ago I found myself in a lot of pain in my joints and muscles. I was told it was rheumatoid arthritis and that I would get used to the pain. My MD doctors had me on cholesterol lowering and osteoporosis medicine. I fired those two MD’s after one suggested having a biopsy done on my now (Not functioning very well Liver) I suggested stopping all the medicine and seeing if that would bring my Liver functions back to normal. Well it did, and the joint pain started to go away. So what did the MD want but to put me back on the Medicines.

    I found a Osteopathic Dr and she approached my problems from a totally different perspective. (Mostly because I would not agree to any prescriptions) This is when I started Reiki and between Reiki and diet, today I am pain free and feel great. Oh my new OD found I was allergic to Wheat, milk, peanuts, almonds, egg whites, strawberries and lettuce. If I’m good on my diet there is no need to take medicine. I also take many supplements on the advice of a Naturopathic Dr. My OD does not know about my ND but she honors my wishes as far as no medicine and my taking supplements.

    It is amazing to me that the allopathic medical doctors of today do not recognize the potential of eastern medicine or natural herbal healing. I am frightened of getting really sick or hurt to where I don’t have a choice but to be in the hands of a mainstream dr and hospital.

    • Pamela Miles says:

      Kathy, thank you for giving such an inspiring example of what can happen when we take responsibility for our health care.

      Let’s see what we can do to transform health care so that it isn’t so frightening.

    • cheri says:

      I completely agree I am terrified to go to a hospital if I get really sick….any ideas? My parents are 70 and I keep praying that I will find out what my options are!

      • Pamela Miles says:

        Cheri, my first recommendation is to practice daily Reiki self-treatment. Then, with the increased clarity and confidence that you are feeling, look for a doctor in your area who is either actively involved in integrative medicine, or who is open-minded, respectful, and with whom you feel a good rapport. Your primary care physician is an important health care gatekeeper, and it is wise to be proactive and make the investment to develop a relationship with one while you are healthy.

  2. Susan says:

    Five years ago I was diagnosed by my ENT specialist with cholosteatoma, a degenerative condition of the middle ear in which the ear drum collapses inwards & eventually stops the small bones of the inner ear from functioning, resulting in deafness. This condition affects both of my ears, the right one being more affected than the left. My doctor told me that I would require surgery within 18 months to 2 years & there was no guarantee that it would be successful. I faced the prospect of becoming totally deaf. I was devastated by this diagnosis, but when I got over the initial shock, I had a thought. If cancer patients could use meditation & visualisation to affect tumour growth, why couldn’t I do the same for my ears? Being an experienced meditator helped, but I believe anyone can do it. My next appointment was 6 months away, so every day I sat in meditation & visualised my eardrums moving outwards. I played out the scene where the doctor looked in my ears & said “What have you been doing?” I felt it with every cell in my body. I had 2 craniosacral therapy treatments & I gave myself Reiki every day, focusing especially on my ears. The day of my checkup finally came &, as you can imagine, everything was riding on it. My whole belief system was being put to the test. The doctor looked in my ears. He said nothing. He went back to his desk & looked at my notes. He came back & looked in my ears again & he said – “What have you been doing?” The exact words I had visualised him saying! I hesitated for a moment but decided to go ahead & tell him. He even asked me how to spell Reiki & wrote it in my notes. I had a checkup just a few weeks ago & my ears are stable. I continue to work on myself using visualisation & Reiki but I feel better knowing that I have a skilled doctor to ensure my ears are ok. The fact that he was so open to what I was doing really helped.

    • Pamela Miles says:

      Thank you, Susan. You are truly an enlightened patient.

      It’s so important that we keep looking for what we can do for ourselves, where we can make a skillful effort that will make a difference, and then be consistent in our efforts. Your story is an inspiring example of the value of not giving up on ourselves.

    • Suneil says:

      Similar to Susan’s experience with an ENT specialist, my sister also faced a condition in the ear – there was some crystallization in her ear, because of which she suffered from intense ear pain intermittently. The doctor tried to take it out surgically, with the result that she ended up with one ear bleeding, and she got extremely scared about medical procedures. She is also a Reiki teacher, and we keep in touch with our own Reiki teacher, who keeps organizing Reiki Intensives – she decided to enroll for the upcoming Reiki Intensive. At the end of three days involving thirty treatments (self-treatments and group shares), nothing happened – till the time she lay down to sleep, and a small pebble-like formation dropped out of her ear. She took it to the doctor, who confirmed that it was the crystallized formation in her ear.

      • Pamela Miles says:

        Beautiful story, Suneil, and it illustrates how we cannot judge what is actually happening from what we might experience during Reiki practice.

        What is a Reiki intensive?

      • Suneil says:

        Pamela, “Reiki Intensive” is the term we use at our Reiki center to describe a workshop where, for three days, we focus on practicing Reiki on ourselves and on others to the exclusion of almost everything else – the only breaks are comfort breaks and discussion times, and times where we are led through other meditative exercises. Beginning 8 AM, the workshop continues through to almost 10 PM in cyclical day / afternoon / night patterns that define traditional retreats. Although it sounds daunting, I have personally found Reiki Intensive retreats to be one of the most refreshing and healing experiences among all the religious/meditative programs that I have attended. In fact, my teacher is organizing one at my apartment beginning this Saturday, 8 AM: all Reiki blessings would be greatly appreciated 🙂

  3. Pamela, I have been developing my skills in Reiki over the years. I am a believer that Reiki really works based on the experiences that I’ve had with it. It took me a while to talk about Reiki because I had to see it for myself. I’ve had some amazing experiences with using Reiki. It’s so amazing to me how a technique that’s so powerful is still so very unknown and new to many and almost kept a secret. My hope is to help bridge that gap in order to promote more healing naturally. I trust that Reiki will help me do just that. So far, so great!

    • Pamela Miles says:

      Good to hear from you, Denise.

      I think awareness of Reiki practice has actually spread quite fast since Mrs. Takata died in 1980. Reiki is now said to be practiced in every country in the world, with Germany, the Netherlands and the US supposedly where it is most popular (hard to document, since there is no registration process).

      Reiki practice spread around the world because it was picked up by the New Age movement. But New Agers are not known for being critical thinkers, and so whilst something might spread quickly through that community, it doesn’t impact the larger community so easily.

      To bridge the very real culture gaps, we need to become skillful communicators. Reki practice can help us do that by helping us manage our emotions, improving our intellectual focus, and opening our understanding, but we need to make effort and look critically at our own beliefs about the practice and how we communicate it.

  4. Alan says:

    Many people are turning to Reiki for their health problems. it is a way to solve may issues. My reiki master helped me with my Lung cancer,and I am sure I would not be here now were it not for him. this is the reason I got to see the light and learned the Reiki way.

  5. garance says:

    Good mornaing, my name is Garance and i’m taking part in HMCE programm and my topic is the traditional médicine in argentina. Can you give me more informations about the safety, efficacy, quality, availability, preservation, and further development of traditional médicine in argentina?

    Thank you.Garance

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