“With the new generation of high tech diagnostic imaging, we can detect early signs of illness and intervene with treatments and lifestyle changes when they can be most effective. This is integrative medicine at its best.”

— Erminia M. Guarneri, MD / Founder and Director, Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine

“The simple act of listening, honoring [a patient's] life, and treating [a patient] with respect helps them to cope with whatever it is they are facing. It gives them strength, it gives them dignity, and it helps them to heal.”

— Robert Jaffe, MD

Components of an Integrative Medicine Clinic

Integrative medicine clinics find common ground in addressing the wholeness of each person—mind, body and spirit.



Just as hospitals and clinics specialize in different areas, no two integrative medicine clinics offer exactly the same programs and components.  However, they find common ground in addressing the wholeness of each personmind, body and spirit. In addition, they offer classes and make available resources on lifestyle change and self-care to reduce symptoms, promote health and wellbeing and prevent disease.

Aside from using the best strategies and therapies that conventional medicine has to offer, the major components that you can expect to find in any of the leading integrative medicine clinics are:


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Integrative Assessment and Consultation

Your experience with an integrative medicine clinic will begin with an initial comprehensive assessment and consultation with a healthcare professional to determine your health history and current healthcare needs. Following the assessment, the center staff will develop a personalized health plan with you, which may include medical or laboratory tests, referral to a specialist for further assessment or treatment, self-care and lifestyle modifications (for example, diet, exercise and stress management) as well as the use of other medical approaches.


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Mind-Body Medicine and Spirituality

Because integrative medicine embraces the wholeness of the individual—mind, body and spirit—many integrative medicine clinics provide mind-body medicine or stress management programs, often with a spiritual component such as meditation. Other mind-body practices may include guided imagery, hypnosis, and biofeedback.

Several integrative medicine centers offer mind-body programs to help patients prepare for and heal from surgery, such as the University of Maryland's Prepare for Surgery: Heal Faster workshop and the Holistic Pre- and Post-Surgery Care program at the Continuum Center for Health and Healing in New York City. In addition, integrative psychotherapy and group support are often available to help people cope with—and find meaning in the face of—illness, loss and the stresses of everyday life.


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Diet and Nutrition

Diet and nutritional support—whether for weight loss, general health and wellbeing or to address specific health issues—are a cornerstone of integrative medicine.  At the Continuum Center for Health and Healing in New York City, for example, the healthcare team uses a science-based approach called Functional Medicine, which focuses on changes in diet and physical activity, along with the consumption of specific nutrients, and the use of detoxification protocols and other strategies to restore health.

There are many ways to use nutrition to achieve better health.  The Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona Medical School advises people to eat a healthy, natural diet and often uses food as medicine.  The Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, California, provides an onsite natural pharmacy, the Arcane Pharmacy, which is staffed by professionals who can answer questions about vitamins, supplements and botanicals that can help people achieve optimum health.



ornish exercising


Integrative medicine centers will help you identify and achieve your fitness goals, through customized fitness programs and exercise classes. One example is the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine's Fitness Center, where patients can work with an exercise physiologist, use the running track or swim in the pool any time of the day.

Many integrative clinics also offer regularly scheduled classes in mind-body activities such as hatha yoga and tai chi.



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Manual Therapies, Massage and Bodywork

While ancient wisdom teaches us the value of the laying on of hands, a large body of scientific research demonstrates the importance of touch in coping with stress and illness. This is why manipulative therapies such as osteopathy and chiropractic are mainstays of integrative healthcare.

Many centers offer massage and bodywork.  By way of example, the Alliance Institute for Integrative Medicine in Cincinnati, offers an array of "Spa Services" that include:

  • Therapeutic massage to enhance the body's circulatory, lymphatic, muscular and nervous systems;
  • Chair massage to help relieve stress, muscle pain and tension from the upper body; Healing Stone Therapy, to release muscle tension and trigger points;
  • Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) to help stimulate the flow of lymphatic fluid throughout the body;
  • Craniosacral Therapy, to facilitate the flow of spinal fluid; reflexology, which focuses on acupressure points in the feet; and
  • Energy healing therapies using light touch to induce a deep state of rest and relaxation.

Another example is the UCSF's Osher Center, which offers a system of diagnosis and hands-on therapy, called Manual Medicine, integrating osteopathy, chiropractic, and physical therapy.


Sandi performing acupuncture

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Other Medical Systems

Many integrative medicine clinics use therapies from alternative and ancient medical systems such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)—including acupuncture, qi gong and herbal medicine—Ayurvedic medicine and homeopathy.  Research conducted at many integrative medicine centers has investigated the use of these therapies for serious health problems. For example, in a landmark study by Brian M. Berman, MD, and colleagues at the University of Maryland, acupuncture was found to be effective for the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee.



herbal medicine

Integrative Approaches for Specific Health Conditions

Many integrative medicine clinics provide services targeted at a specific health conditions such as cancer or diabetes. Combining the use of special diets, herbs, acupuncture, mind-body interventions, and massage therapy with conventional cancer care often aids the healing process.

At the Osher Center at UCSF, for example, a board-certified oncologist trained in both conventional and complementary medicine is available for integrative medicine consultations to develop individualized treatment plans for people living with or surviving cancer. And practitioners at the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine work with patients and their medical teams to design programs that combine nutritional counseling, herbal and homeopathic medicine, acupuncture, massage therapy, mind-body practices such as mindfulness meditation and yoga, movement therapy and psychotherapy with their conventional care.

Programs at integrative medicine clinics focus on other specific health needs as well, such as pain or arthritis.  The Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center's Integrative Pain Program offers approaches such as acupuncture, massage therapy, mind-body therapies, integrative psychotherapy, nutritional support, natural medicines, and homeopathic medicines for patients with neck and back pain, fibromyalgia, chronic headaches, nerve pain and other pain syndromes.

Since heart disease is a leading health concern in the United States, integrative medicine clinics often direct special programs at patients with, or at high risk for, heart disease. A striking example is Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine's Healing Heart program, a lifestyle change program to prevent and treat heart disease. The program provides cardiac consultation, individualized exercise and nutritional plans, psychosocial and spiritual support as well as vegetarian cooking classes.



Mimi with a patient

Integrative Healthcare Is a Partnership

Despite differences in focus, therapies offered, and specific programs, the common threads among integrative medicine clinics are the emphasis on a holistic approach to patient care and a partnership between patient and healthcare professional to create a custom-designed program to improve the health of each individual.