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Health & Wellness Buzzwords Defined

by | Jan 11, 2023

In your search to find an effective treatment for your physical or mental health needs, have you run across some terms that you’re just not quite sure about? Is it holistic treatment that you’re looking for? Or is Complementary & Alternative Medicine (CAM), Ayurveda, or Naturopathic Medicine what you need? Perhaps you thought you understood the differences between many of these treatment methods, but when it comes to choosing a provider, you still may not feel as though you know what you’re looking for. 

Why Are These Terms So Commonly Confused?

It makes sense why people might be confused by buzzwords like holistic care, integrative care, functional medicine, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), Ayurvedic medicine, and naturopathic medicine. Many of these terms have overlapping or similar meanings, and they can be used interchangeably or in different ways by different practitioners. This can make it difficult to understand the specific approach that a practitioner is using and the care you’re receiving. Some practitioners may even use these terms as a way to market their services, but their methods may not be in line with the true meaning of the terms.

To give you some clarity, this article strips back the trendy use of these words and provides definitions and examples of some of the hottest, buzziest words surrounding treatment, therapy, mental health, and well-being.

Holistic Health Buzzwords, Defined

The terms below all refer to approaches to healthcare that take into account the whole person rather than just focusing on treating a specific illness or condition. All these approaches are considered to be holistic in nature; however, they have different origins, principles, and practices. They often share similar goals and values, but use different methods to achieve them. 

Holistic Care

This is an umbrella term for an approach to healthcare that focuses on treating the whole person – body, mind, and spirit – rather than just addressing a specific symptom or disease. It emphasizes the interconnectedness of all aspects of an individual’s life and seeks to identify and address the root cause of a problem. 

Integrative Care

This is an approach to healthcare that combines conventional medicine with complementary and alternative therapies (described below) in order to provide a comprehensive and holistic approach to treatment. This can include using acupuncture alongside chemotherapy for cancer treatment or using meditation to manage anxiety symptoms. Integrative treatment requires individually applying models and methods based on the context and client to enhance the effectiveness of treatment. 

Complementary & Alternative Medicine (CAM)

This term refers to a group of diverse medical and healthcare systems, practices, and products that are not considered to be part of conventional medicine. In complementary and alternative medicine, treatments fall into five categories: whole medical systems, mind-body techniques, biologically based practices, manipulative and body-based therapies, and energy therapies. Non-mainstream practices are “complementary” when combined with conventional medicine. Conversely, a non-mainstream approach can be viewed as an “alternative” to replace traditional medicine.

Examples of CAM include acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy, and massage therapy. CAM therapies can be used alongside conventional medical treatments, or they can be used as an alternative to conventional treatments.

Ayurvedic Medicine / Ayurveda

Ayurveda is a traditional medicine system from India that has been practiced for nearly 3,000 years. Ayurveda is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Thus, illness is seen as a result of an imbalance in your consciousness.  

Ayurveda is commonly used alongside conventional medical treatment or as an entire treatment. Ayurvedic practitioners use a combination of herbal remedies, diet, and lifestyle changes to treat illness and prevent disease. Often, it involves body cleansing and detoxifying, massage therapy, yoga, and meditation.

Functional Medicine

Functional medicine is a systems biology-based approach to healthcare that focuses on understanding the underlying causes of chronic disease by identifying and addressing the complex interactions between genetics, environment, and lifestyle. This approach is often used to treat chronic illnesses such as autoimmune disorders, digestive conditions, and hormonal imbalances. Practitioners will often use a combination of conventional and alternative therapies, such as dietary changes, supplements, and functional lab testing.

Naturopathic Medicine / Naturopathy

Naturopathic medicine is a holistic approach to health that emphasizes the use of natural therapies, such as herbal medicine, nutrition, and lifestyle counseling. Naturopathic practitioners believe in the body’s ability to heal itself and try to identify and treat the underlying causes of illness, rather than just treating symptoms. It considers the whole person and life factors before offering a diagnosis, such as family history, environment, and lifestyle. Naturopathic medicine includes a wide range of modalities, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, and hydrotherapy.

In summary, holistic care looks at the whole person and all aspects of their life, and integrative care marries alternative approaches with the more mainstream, traditional ones we’re already familiar with. It’s important to keep in mind that these approaches are not mutually exclusive, and a practitioner may use multiple approaches in a treatment plan. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional and do your own research to understand the specific approach and how it aligns with your needs and preferences before starting any new treatment or therapy.

Are All Health and Wellness Practitioners Medical Doctors?

Doctor of Nursing Practice (D-NP): The highest degree a nurse can earn is a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), usually obtained after completing a master’s degree. DNPs technically qualify as doctors because they have a doctorate; however, they are not considered doctors in the same sense as physicians, and medical doctors (MDs) would be in clinical settings.


Nurse Practitioner (NP):  Nurse Practitioners (NPs) can assess, diagnose, and treat various health conditions, just as medical doctors (MDs) can. However, in contrast to MDs, who attend medical school and residency and learn through a medical model, NPs use a nursing education model, which tends to provide a more holistic approach to patients.

Naturopaths: There are two types of naturopaths: licensed naturopathic doctors and traditional naturopaths. Both use natural substances to heal your body, but their approaches differ greatly. Licensed naturopathic doctors (ND/NMD) are required to attend medical school and are trained in diagnosing and prescribing medicines; however, traditional naturopaths don’t have clinical training or follow a standardized curriculum which keeps them from being licensed.


Chiropractors: Despite being doctors, chiropractors do not receive an MD, so they cannot prescribe medications for their patients but can diagnose and treat them. Additionally, to practice in the United States, they will need a Doctor of Chiropractors (DC) degree.


Acupuncturists & Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners: Generally, acupuncturists must be licensed (L.Ac.) in their state, which usually means they have a master’s or doctoral degree and have passed a state board exam. For example, acupuncturists in California and New Mexico are licensed as Doctors of Oriental Medicine (DOMs), which means they are physicians who may practice independently or collaborate with other healthcare providers as primary care providers.

Psychologists: Psychologists have earned a doctoral degree and can diagnose and provide psychological treatment; however, they can’t prescribe medication or perform medical procedures as they are not considered an MD. A Psychiatrist is a physician that specializes in mental health and can prescribe medications. 


Mental Health Therapists: A therapist typically has a master’s degree and is licensed as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), social worker (LMSW), or marriage and family therapist (LMFT). Although trained and can diagnose, treat, and provide individual and group counseling, they are not medical doctors and cannot prescribe medication.


Nutritionists: Almost all nutritionists are licensed, or certified professionals (LD or LDN), but not all states require them to be licensed. Nutritionists are not considered MDs despite being nutrition experts because there are no specific requirements, courses, exams, or accreditation processes to become one.


Health Coaches: A health coach cannot diagnose, treat, prescribe, interpret medical results, provide food plans, or recommend supplements. Despite this, health coaches can provide mentorship, education, and support for their clients in achieving their health and lifestyle goals. While many certifications are available for health coaches, they are not physicians or MDs.


Massage Therapists: There are many ailments massage therapists can help their clients with in addition to relieving pain and managing chronic conditions. Even though massage therapists can become certified and licensed, certification is optional in some states. Even though they can work independently or in facilities as part of physician teams, they are not qualified to diagnose, prescribe, or provide medical advice.


Yoga Instructors: While some instructors are not certified, some studios require their instructors to obtain an RYT200 certificate. To teach yoga safely, yoga instructors must complete a certain number of training hours. These requirements ensure yoga teachers do not injure their clients. Despite learning many helpful holistic tools, including anatomy and breathing techniques, how to attain proper posture, and how to continuously support your body throughout various exercises, they are not physicians or MDs.

What are the Benefits of Alternative Treatment?

Since the dawn of humanity, there have been numerous alternative medicines and treatments that were used and accepted for centuries, but only in the last few decades have they been viewed as “legitimate” in mainstream Western practices (for example, by medical insurance companies) and organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) as a whole. Alternative treatments have many benefits, whether used alone or in conjunction with traditional medicine and practice. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some of the most notable ones.

  1. Improved outcomes: Integrative medicine can be more effective than traditional medicine alone, by addressing the underlying causes of illness and promoting overall well-being. For example, using acupuncture along with pain medication may help to reduce pain more effectively than using medication alone.
  2. Greater patient satisfaction: Integrative medicine approaches often involve more patient-centered care, and may involve more patient education and engagement in the treatment process. Patients may also find alternative treatments more aligned with their beliefs, values, and spirituality. This can lead to greater patient satisfaction and a sense of empowerment.
  3. More holistic approach: Integrative medicine takes a more holistic approach to treatment, focusing on the whole person, including their physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. This can lead to more comprehensive and effective care.
  4. Reduced side effects: Alternative therapies often have fewer side effects than traditional medications, which can be especially beneficial for people with chronic or serious illnesses.
  5. Cost-effectiveness: Alternative therapies can be more cost-effective than traditional medical treatments. In some cases, alternative therapies may also reduce the need for more expensive medical procedures or medications.
  6. Customized treatment plans: Integrative medicine allows practitioners to create tailored treatment plans that take into account the unique needs and preferences of each patient. This approach can be more effective than one-size-fits-all treatments. It may also give some people a greater sense of control over their health if they can choose a treatment or recovery plan.

How to Find the Best Approach and Practitioner for Me

Finding the right holistic practitioner can take some time and research, but it is an important step in ensuring that you receive the most effective and appropriate care for your needs. 

Here are a few tips to help you find the right practitioner:

  • Do your research: Use this blog as a guide to understand the different types of holistic practitioners, and take your research one step further to find out which ones specialize in treating your specific condition. Look for practitioners who are licensed and certified in their field. Many holistic practitioners have websites where you can find information about their qualifications, experience, and services.
  • Ask for recommendations: Ask friends, family, or your primary care physician for recommendations. They may know of someone they trust and can vouch for the practitioner’s qualifications and effectiveness.
  • Check credentials: Once you have a list of potential practitioners, check their credentials and make sure they are licensed and certified in their field. Many practitioners’ credentials can be verified online.
  • Schedule a consultation: Most practitioners offer a free or low-cost consultation where you can discuss your health concerns and learn more about the practitioner’s approach and treatment options. It is an opportunity for you to ask questions and gauge whether the practitioner is the right fit for you.
  • Look for a practitioner who listens to you: It is important to find a practitioner who is willing to listen to your concerns, understand your condition, and respect your choices. A good practitioner should also be open to working with your primary care physician or other specialists to coordinate your care.

It’s important to keep in mind that just because a practitioner uses a certain buzzword, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their approach is the right fit for you. It’s important to do your own research and have an open and honest conversation with any practitioner you’re considering working with to understand their approach and how it aligns with your needs and preferences. Additionally, It can also be helpful to consult with a primary care physician or another healthcare professional before starting any new treatment or therapy to make sure it’s safe and appropriate for you.

Whole-Person Care at Holistic Wellness Practice

Holistic therapy as we employ it at Holistic Wellness Practice in Alpharetta, GA, focuses on helping people gain a deeper understanding of themselves on a spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional level. We view people in the context of their entire external system (relationships, culture, working environment, etc.) and their internal system (physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs). We use a variety of psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral therapies and mindfulness techniques to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and stress management.

If you’re looking for a holistic and integrative therapy practice that will work with you and your treatment team to meet your wellness goals, Holistic Wellness Practice may be right for you. Our services include mental health therapy and coaching that considers every part of you, Integrative Nutrition Health Coaching that offers personalized food and lifestyle support, and wellness activities to round out your practice. 

Connect with us today to learn more about our individualized and holistic approach to wellness.

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About Gleyce | View Profile

Gleyce Almeida-Farrell is a psychotherapist and the founder of Holistic Wellness Practice in Alpharetta, GA. She specializes in helping adults manage stress and overcome symptoms of anxiety and depression utilizing a holistic and integrative approach to mental wellness.

We offer in-person and virtual services – contact us today to learn more!

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