What is Integrative Health?

What is Integrative Health?


Integrative Health means the integration of conventional, complementary and alternative health care options to address wellness, health promotion and the healing process.

Integrative health focuses on the individual's wholeness encompassing body, mind and spirit as well as all aspects of lifestyle.  It emphasizes the therapeutic relationship and makes use of all appropriate therapies - conventional, complementary and alternative.

Integrative Health Philosophy

Integrative health practitioners and proponents believe:

  • an individual's health and well-being is viewed in terms of wholeness of body, mind and spirit.
  • an individual has an innate capacity for healing; the goal is to maximize this capacity optimizing personal wellness through prevention and use of safe and effective healing resources.
  • the healing process is highly individual; choices and decisions are strengthened through knowledge and empowerment.
  • that a partnership exists between the individual and practitioner in the healing process.
  • an individual is responsible for his/her health and well-being and is at the centre of all care provision.
  • in embracing the best evidence supporting conventional, complementary and alternative medicine.

holding a flower

What are complementary and alternative therapies?

Complementary and alternative therapies are therapies that are not taught by western medicine. They are not generally available in hospitals. They are also known as complementary or alternative medicine, CAM, integrative medicine or health, holistic or wholistic health care or non-traditional treatments. A simple way to understand each approach is:

  • Complementary describes treatments that are used with conventional medical treatment. An example of a complementary therapy is massage.
  • Alternative therapies are described as those used instead of conventional medical treatment. An example of an alternative therapy is homeopathy.
  • Integrative health is a blend of the best practices from conventional, complementary and alternative therapies.

Complementary and alternative (CAM) therapies look at a person's health from a holistic view of mind, body and spirit. Western medicine often focuses only on the body and seeks to cure physical problems. Complementary and alternative therapists believe that true health is more than just the lack of disease. They believe that the mind, body and spirit must be in balance for healing to happen. Complementary and alternative therapies work to restore balance in the mind, body and spirit.

NCCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine) is a US government body that funds research into complementary and alternative therapies. They developed a system to classify the therapies into five main groups:

  1. Alternative Medical Systems are complete systems of medicine that use different theories than western medicine. Some examples are homeopathy or naturopathy.
  2. Mind-Body medicine uses the mind to change how the body functions to manage symptoms such as pain. Meditation and hypnosis are examples of mind-body medicine.
  3. Biologically Based Therapies use herbs, foods and vitamins to prevent disease and promote health.
  4. Manipulative and Body-Based Methods are therapies based on moving or working one or more parts of the body. Massage and chiropractic are examples of body-based therapies.
  5. Energy Therapies are based on the belief that all matter is made of energy and that everything has an energy field surrounding it. Complementary and alternative therapists refer to this energy field as an aura. Energy therapies are based in the belief that blockages to the aura cause disease. Once those blockages are cleared healing can occur. NCCAM names 2 types of energy therapies: Biofield therapies and Bioelectromagnetic-based therapies.

See NCCAM's website for more information.


The term "alternative" is used to describe any medicinal interventions that are not taught widely at medical schools nor generally available in hospitals. They are used in place of conventional medicine (Eisenberg et al 1993; McDowell,1994).

Complementary Health Care (Medicine)
This term is used to characterize the intervention in which the therapy is prescribed or used in combination with conventional medicines or treatments (Cleaveland and Biester,1995).

Integrative Health Care (Medicine)
Integrative health care integrates complementary and conventional treatments addressing the body, mind and spirit, as well as the environment and relationships with others. It focuses on wellness, health promotion, and the healing process (Source-Healing Connections Society of Calgary).

Integrative Health Institute at Mount Royal  |  Phone: 403.440.8808