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From the Townsend Letter
July 2009

Toward an Integrated History of the Integrative Practice Movement
by John Weeks

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This article is one of 12 to 15 published each month by former Townsend Letter "Charting the Mainstream" columnist John Weeks at Free summaries of articles are e-mailed twice a month to those who subscribe on the site.

… and of these one and all, I weave the song of myself.
Walt Whitman

Last summer I participated in a series of meetings and discussions in which leaders of distinct integrative practice organizations explored the potential for shared policy action.
The venue was the annual convention of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), with which the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA) participated. Integrative policy advocate Bill Benda, MD, moderated a panel and a follow-up luncheon session between leaders of these two organizations and five others representing practitioners, academic health care, and natural products.1

Benda, who was to moderate a similar dialogue at theIntegrative Healthcare Symposiumin New York City in February, began by collecting mission statements from each organization. Each articulated interest in transforming the current medical system. The discussions were fruitful. As a starting place, shared mission as a cornerstone of an enduring alliance appears to exist.

On my return to Seattle, I shared this action with a long-time colleague and advocate for health system integration, Dominican Sister and health system leader Diana Bader. Bader, who has promoted integrative care in numerous Catholic health-care systems, suggested that we could benefit from an additional cornerstone for collaborative policy action. Wouldn't it be good to have better awareness of the diverse contributions that have brought us to this point?

Most of us have witnessed how one profession or organization within its separate silo will tend to express a self-centered view of historical importance. Gathering in our own tribes, we are all winners. We are the heroes of our own stories. Each profession or organization builds up its own role while downplaying the contributions of others, if only by ignorance or neglect.

Yet how rich are sources, streams, and underground wells from which this integrative practice movement is rising. How broad are the rivers we can form if the "us" from whence we have come forms as a shared movement. The depth of our common origins in time, culture, and consumer interest are suggested by the following grouping of professional and organizational action during a decade from the late1970s through the late 1980s.

  • The bio-psychosocial model of primary care was defined in 1977, inserting whole-person and whole-system thinking into the dominant, reductive medical monologue.

  • In 1978 and 1979, the American Holistic Medical Association and American Holistic Nurses Association were established, respectively, to support the move to holistic practice among members of these mainstream disciplines.

  • In 1978, the nearly dead 100-year-old naturopathic medical profession took significant steps into rebirth when both Bastyr University (then John Bastyr College of Naturopathic Medicine) and Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (then the Ontario College of Naturopathic Medicine) were founded, bringing to three the number of such educational institutions in all of North America.

  • In 1978, a patient, Angelica Thieriot, upset with the increasingly technological and dehumanized experience of medical care in US hospitals, formed the Planetree organization, which created and advanced the idea of patient-centered care.

  • In 1979, the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) took the gutsy path of filing an antitrust suit against the American Medical Association's (AMA) determined effort to suppress any nonconventional disciplines.2 The ACA's victory a decade later in this grassroots legal campaign forced the AMA to discontinue its direct suppression of other fields. (The decision's impact was felt again this year when an organization of nurses waved it in front of the AMA to ward off a prospective AMA action.)

  • In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD; Dean Ornish, MD; Herbert Benson, MD; Eileen Stuart, RN, PhD; and others began publishing studies that became the evidence pillars of the integrative medical movement which was to emerge a decade later in US medical schools. They showed that the mind is, indeed, connected to the body and that mindfulness and meditation intervention, alone or coupled with other natural health interventions (nutrition, group support, exercise), can positively impact medical outcomes.

  • In 1982, the American Herbal Products Association was established, to promote the interests of an industry infused with new consumer interest in medicinal herbs.

  • The American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians were each established in the early 1980s.

  • In 1983, New Hope Communications was incorporated. The publishing and exposition business give a modern face and support to the organic food and supplement industry, which was beginning to thrive amidst growing consumer interest in healthy food and natural living.

  • In 1985, major employers in the US, concerned about the escalating cost of employee benefits plans, established the Wellness Council of America to identify and advance a new proactive orientation toward health creation among major medical purchasers.

  • In 1985, the Organic Trade Association was established to support development of the organic food industry.

  • In 1987, members of the naturopathic medical profession who had established schools and standards of education and then an independent accrediting agency, the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education, secured the recognition of this agency by the US Department of Education.

  • In 1987, members of the AOM [acupuncture and Oriental medicine] profession who had established a growing number of schools and standards of education and then an independent accrediting agency, Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, secured the recognition of this agency by the US Department of Education.

  • In 1988, the American Botanical Council was created to provide quality information on herbs for consumers, practitioners, and researchers.

  • By the late 1980s, licensing and insurance coverage efforts were under way or already successful in scores of states by members of the AOM, naturopathic medicine, chiropractic, massage therapy, and direct-entry midwifery professions and their activist patient and clients. Together there significantly expanded access to licensed natural health-care practitioners by consumers across the United States.

All of this robust activity between the late 1970s through the 1980s has flourished, commingled, and energized a broad cultural movement to shape medicine differently. This grassroots action was captured by David Eisenberg and others in his landmark consumer survey, carried out in 1990, which showed that, despite rabid disapproval from conventional medicine, over a third of US citizens were using some form of nonconventional care, and over $13 billion was being spent out of pocket on these services.3These data on consumer practices stimulated the entrance of the National Institutes of Health, major medical schools and hospitals and health systems, and other major stakeholders into this expanding arena.

Contrary to what we may tell each other in gatherings of our individual tribes, no single practice or profession or organization or individual led or leads this movement. If anything, the movement is and was patient-centered and patient-driven. Individual leaders may act as exponents of a profession or an industry. Yet most are consumers of the new health care. They are motivated by personal experience of something healthier than medicine as the conventional system was delivering it. This shared experience is another cornerstone of our mutual history.

The multiple forces in the emergence of integrative practice call to mind the words of poet Walt Whitman in his "Song of Myself." I adjust them for our situation: "… these tend inward to each profession or organization, and what each of us accomplish tends outward to others/ and such as it is to be of these, more or less we are/ and of these one and all, we weave the song of ourselves."4

If we begin to see our own histories as profoundly intermingled and our advances dependent on those of others, perhaps we can more easily act in connected ways to engage the challenges and opportunities in front of us.


  1. Involved were leaders of the AANP, AHMA, AHNA (holistic nurses), American College for the Advancement of Medicine (ACAM), the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine (CAHCIM), and the Natural Products Association (NPA). I was involved as executive director of ACCAHC [Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care].
  2. Wilk vs. the AMA.
  3. Eisenberg DM, Kessler RC, Foster C. Unconventional medicine in the United States – prevalence, costs, and patterns of use. NEJM. January 28, 1993;328:246–252.
  4. Whitman W. Song of Myself, pt. 15. "And these tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them/And such as it is to be of these more or less I am/And of these one and all I weave the song of myself."

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