May 18, 2016

We demystify complementary therapies and explain how they can supplement traditional treatments.


Integrative medicine treats the whole person, not just a specific illness or disease. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health defines integrative medicine as “bringing traditional and complementary approaches together in a coordinated way.”

“Integrative medicine is a practice that combines all available and appropriate therapies to address a patient’s concerns,” explains Katy Hansen, ANP-BC, at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Vanderbilt.

Often when a patient visits a traditional doctor, he or she will receive tests specific to his or her symptoms. Mainstream solutions may include a surgery or a medication. However, in the case of many illnesses or problems (like chronic pain, for example), those solutions may not be the only steps a patient can take to improve his or her well-being. Osher’s practitioners work in tandem with a patient’s primary care doctor to facilitate wellness.

“You’re going to survive, but are you going to thrive?” Hansen says. “Integrative medicine starts with a patient feeling a certain way and wanting to shift his or her experience.”


What therapies does integrative medicine include?

Therapies at the Osher Center include acupuncture, group therapy, massage therapy, mind-body counseling, mindfulness-based stress reduction, movement classes (such as yoga, tai chi and qi gong), nutrition counseling and integrative health consultations.


Does integrative medicine work?

All of the therapies offered at the Osher Center are evidence-based, Hansen says. That means that studies have shown their effectiveness. In addition, behavior can heavily influence wellness. “Integrative medicine is uniquely poised to help patients make the necessary lifestyle changes for conditions not easily treated in a traditional doctor’s office,” Hansen says.


Will my insurance cover integrative medicine?

“A common misconception is that integrative medicine is just for rich people,” Hansen says. “But a lot of what we do here is covered by insurance.” Programs that are not covered, such as yoga classes, are priced affordably.


How does integrative medicine complement traditional care?

Hansen provides a great example: “We’re working on lifestyle and behavior,” she says, “but a patient still needs to see his or her GI doctor to receive Crohn’s medication.” Traditional medicine works really well for acute care, but integrative medicine steps in to improve quality of life.