What Do Holistic Doctors Do? A Behind-The-Scenes Look At How They Differ From Conventional MDs


As a functional medicine practitioner, I often get asked what makes what I do different from conventional medicine and other practitioners who practice holistic medicine.

While holistic medicine and functional medicine overlap in a lot of areas including treatment therapies, there are quite a few factors that make what I do in functional medicine different from every other holistic doctor out there. So let’s cut the confusion once-and-for-all and take a look at what a holistic doctor does, what makes them unique when it comes to healthcare, and how functional medicine fits into this puzzle.


Make Your Life a Cleanse


Get these FREE exclusive guides + access to subscriber-only giveaways, healthy recipes, and discount codes (including 70% off code for video courses sold on our website!)

What is holistic medicine?

Holistic medicine considers all aspects of a person’s wellbeing - physical, mental, and emotional - when treating a person’s health. Since healing isn’t limited to just the physical aspects, holistic medicine brings in various forms of health care to treat a patient from conventional treatments and medicine to alternative wellness therapies.

While conventional medicine focuses on treating symptoms through medications and surgery, holistic medicine aims to find and treat the root cause behind a person’s health problems in order to alleviate symptoms.

What is a holistic doctor?

Any health professionals that practice holistic medicine can be considered a holistic doctor even though not all holistic doctors are actually licensed medical doctors (MD).

Some examples of a holistic doctor include:

  • Integrative doctor: Licensed medical doctors who practice holistic medicine alongside conventional medicine
  • Naturopathic doctor: Someone who is licensed as a doctor of naturopathic medicine (ND) after attending a naturopathic medical college and uses natural therapies primarily in treatment plans. 
  • Osteopath: Someone who is licensed as a doctor of osteopathic medicine after completing medical school and is considered a medical doctor. However, unlike MDs, an osteopath utilizes musculoskeletal manipulation alongside conventional treatments.

What is the difference between holistic medicine and functional medicine?

Because holistic medicine encompasses any form of healthcare that involves a natural, whole-body approach, functional medicine falls under that umbrella. However, functional medicine is a lot more specific in its practice.

Functional medicine operates under the premise that chronic illness is an outcome of imbalances in the key underlying physiological systems in your body. When inflammation, blood sugar imbalance, insulin resistance, oxidative stress, hormonal problems, and systemic upset occur - the body spirals out of balance.This in conjunction with and triggered by poor diet, lack of essential nutrients, emotional stress, environmental toxins, lack of exercise, and other lifestyle issues set the stage for chronic disease to develop.​

Functional medicine provides a method for re-balancing the body’s underlying physiological systems and addressing lifestyle issues that contribute to illness. When this is done your biology’s inherent healing forces are unleashed and chronic illness is resolved naturally and quickly, often without the need for costly pharmaceutical medications or invasive surgeries. In this way, functional medicine offers a unique approach to understanding the terrain of chronic illness and provides us a whole new way to address the epidemic of chronic disease we face in the 21st century.

Unlike some forms of holistic medicine, Functional medicine always utilizes the most advanced diagnostic testing available to determine the best lifestyle changes, targeted food medicines, and herbal support for a person’s specific health case based on the latest research from peer-reviewed medical journals.

Types of holistic treatment

Holistic doctors focus on a combination of complementary and alternative (collectively referred to as CAM) therapies in order to treat the whole body. These are generally considered to be outside of the mainstream model of healthcare. Complementary therapies are used alongside conventional medicine whereas alternative therapies are used instead of conventional medicine treatments. Some of these therapies include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy / essential oils
  • Breathwork
  • Chiropractic
  • Cryotherapy
  • Dietary changes
  • Dietary supplements
  • Exercise
  • Herbal remedies
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • Reflexology
  • Reiki
  • Saunas

Benefits of the holistic medicine approach

The great thing about holistic medicine is that you are not limited to a single approach and can utilize holistic medicine therapies alongside conventional medicine or as a stand-alone treatment. Because of this unique approach, a patient can expect to gain a variety of benefits from choosing to go the holistic medicine route.

     1. Patient-centered

Since holistic medicine takes a whole body approach, holistic doctors treat the patient, not the disease, with treatments that are highly individualized based on the patient's needs.

     2. Safe

Holistic specific CAM treatments typically have mild or no side effects and aim to resolve chronic symptoms.

     3. Integrative

In most cases, holistic medicine combines the best of both modern and traditional medicine. while emphasizing the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle.

     4. Preventative

Since holistic medicine emphasizes the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle while addressing the root cause of disease, it is inherently preventative by taking an active rather than passive approach to someone’s health. Instead of being reactionary after symptoms are present, holistic medicine looks at resolving dysfunction before further health problems arise.

Take control of your whole health

Holistic medicine shows us there is a different way to take care of our bodies. We don’t have to wait until we become too sick to function and treat our symptoms with medications and surgeries that only act as a bandaid to what is really going on beneath the surface.

You can take back control of your health by seeking out holistic doctors - whether that’s alongside or in place of your current doctor - who can help you make dietary and lifestyle adjustments that are sustainable for long-term wellbeing.

Functional medicine experts like myself are making it our mission to ensure this kind of healthcare is accessible and affordable for everyone. And developments like webcam consultations are helping us make “healthy” not just possible, but viral.

If this sounds like the next step in your health journey, as one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe.

Photo: unsplash.com

Start Your Health Journey Today


Shop This Article

Purchase personally curated supplements
and Dr. Will Cole’s books!

Shop Dr. Will Cole

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.

Our articles may include products that have been independently chosen and recommended by Dr. Will Cole and our editors. If you purchase something mentioned in this article, we may earn a small commission.



Evidence-based reviewed article

Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.