Reductionism and Holism in Health, and why you should care
One of the emails I get most often is about injuries, suggestions for finding a medical profession in a specific area, and how to get better. Let’s take a look at two main models in healing: reductionism and holism. You can probably guess where this going, but reductionism believes that a structure is a sum of its parts, which can work independently. We see this in western medicine all the time, when we have specialists in incredibly specific and detailed areas working independently. Holism once again looks at a symptom as part of a bigger issue, aka. finding and treating the cause, not just the symptoms.
Here's why you should care:
When we stick with the reductionist model, we look at a small piece of the whole body to find an answer, which may not be there. The advantages of this is that we know more about the infinite detail of the body than ever before, perhaps on a cellular level. The disadvantage is that it can be myopic and not connected to the rest of the body in application. With holism, there is a belief in interconnectedness within the body systems, and that your nutrition, sleep, movement patterns and choices affect everything. The challenge with this is that one may seek a whole body health approach when one should also see a specialist. Sometimes, we take a plethora of antibiotics to treat an infection, only to create a new issue in the body based on the infection, which can then allow the initial infection to come back. (Ask me how I know!) But, if we address the cause of the initial infection with its treatment, we may be able to make longer lasting changes.
Basically, the idea is that the body is more than a sum of its parts, but the individual parts are important. Although western (reductionist) medicine often feels that it is at odds with holism, the two views are actually complimentary. You want to have both approaches in dealing with an injury.
1. Reductionist: Identify the problem, treat the localized problem.
2. Holism: Treat the whole body for imbalances based on the local problem, but not necessarily address the local issue.
3. Reductionism + Holism: Treat the localized symptom. Find the cause, treat the cause. Prevent future reinjury or illness.
While there is more complicated philosophical discourse that goes on in these two perspectives, this is just a general overview of them. One can see how treating the cause would be beneficial but would not necessary change the problem or pain, and if one solely treated the problem, the problem or issue could conceivably come back.