Learn / The Role of Culture in Integrative Care

The Role of Culture in Integrative Care

Grace Ogren
 July 8th, 2024|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Dr. Malasri Chaudhery-Malgeri, Ph.D.

Key Points

  • Integrative care addresses each aspect of your health as a synchronous whole.
  • It's more responsive to your preferences and cultural background.
  • Recognizing and respecting culture in healthcare can lead to more effective care.

Your health is more than one limb or organ system functioning correctly. It encompasses your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being—a combined sum of all your parts and systems that work synchronously. But when one aspect gets out of sync, the effects can reverberate through them all. 

Your unique cultural background can affect each aspect of your health (mental, physical, spiritual, and more), which is why addressing it in your healthcare is so important. Integrative care incorporates evidence-based, alternative, and holistic treatments to integrate your unique life and culture into an effective care plan.

You can learn more about integrative care and cultural humility by listening to our recent podcast episode featuring Dr. Jasleen Chhatwal.

What Is Integrative Care?

Healthcare typically provides reactive treatment for specific issues, like manifestations of stress or localized pain. Doctors provide care once symptoms make your life difficult.

Integrative healthcare is more proactive, preventative, and collaborative1. It blends evidence-based, holistic, naturopathic, and alternative medicine to meet your unique needs. Your whole health is considered, going past symptoms to understand your history and how each aspect of your health functions and interacts. For example, if you came in with stress-related symptoms, your appointment would explore:

  • The potential causes
  • Why they cause you stress
  • How you can manage your symptoms, and
  • How to prevent them 

You may even realize that other parts of your health feel the effects and work on treatment for that. If needed, your provider will involve other professionals to ensure that each identified problem area gets the appropriate care.

Integrative care often requires more time to thoroughly explore your overall health and give your provider an in-depth understanding of you. Your provider will ask questions beyond your symptoms, likely delving into your upbringing, culture, spirituality, mental health history, and physical history. You’ll review any past health concerns and what treatments you’ve found beneficial. Your provider will also get a gauge on your preferred approaches, like alternative or evidence-based treatments, to create a custom care plan. You and your provider work as a team, with your contributions and thoughts taken as valuable knowledge. 

Integrative vs. Integrated Care

Integrative and integrated differ in more than just word endings—a few nuanced differences set these two apart. Integrated care treats your mental and physical health as a combined whole. Integrative care considers all aspects of your health and adapts treatment to your cultural background, health history, preferences, and more. 

Each offers benefits beyond traditional healthcare. However, integrative care can be more beneficial to someone with complex conditions, unique cultural considerations, or preferences for non-traditional approaches.

Why Doesn’t Everyone Do Integrative Healthcare?

Because it’s not typically covered by insurance. Integrative care practitioners often operate in private practices or integrative care clinics, which insurance companies don’t often view the same as traditional healthcare. For those reasons, integrative healthcare isn’t usually paid for by insurance; you’d pay out-of-pocket for the costs of:

  • The provider’s time and expertise
  • Lab tests or diagnostic testing
  • All treatments, alternative and/or evidence-based 

Culture: More Than Where You Live

Culture2 includes your “language, ideas, beliefs, customs, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, works of art, rituals, and ceremonies, among other elements.” It’s much more than your ethnicity or what part of the world you come from, though those elements certainly contribute.

Cultures can be subtle but impact us all the same. They can affect how you view the world, how you express yourself, and what you’re comfortable with. Culture can greatly affect the effectiveness of your healthcare, too. 

For example, if you grow up using herbal remedies and alternative treatments, you might feel more comfortable exploring similar options before traditional healthcare. With integrative care, your treatment would align with your preferences and what you feel works for you. If your doctor has contrasting suggestions, you’ll discuss them before implementing them into treatment. 

Religion And Faith

Your faith may impact your healthcare preferences and how you receive it. For example, someone of a Hindu, Jewish, or Buddhist faith may view their health, mental health, and healthcare differently. Beliefs about Karma, pain, and the merits of non-traditional healthcare can require an integrative approach. Feeling seen and understood by their doctor can help people of different religions get the personalized care they need.

Integrative doctors are more likely to understand different religions and religious requirements, including dietary restrictions, prohibited practices, and stigma-related challenges. This element alone can help those with religious requirements feel more comfortable seeking care.

Exploring Your Culture And Its Effects

In your first appointment with an integrative healthcare provider, they may ask you something like, “What’s your cultural background?”

At first, you might not think you have a culture. Many white Americans, for example, wouldn’t identify with an ethnic culture or a religion with set practices and restrictions. But those elements aren’t all that shape your culture. How you grew up, your family’s view on health, and events you experienced collectively can affect your views and preferences. To better understand your culture, your integrative healthcare provider may follow up with questions like:

  1. Did you feel comfortable talking about your health and mental health at home?
  2. Were your health needs met right away, or did monetary restrictions or neglect prevent that?
  3. How did your friends and community view health?
  4. Did you grow up with non-traditional remedies for pain and sickness? Like what?
  5. How would you rank your hierarchy of needs? Are they being met?
  6. Do you or your family incorporate cultural traditions or practices into your healthcare?

Answering these questions, among others, helps your doctor learn more about you and how to meet your needs. Comparatively, traditional healthcare questions may only cover what hurts, how long it’s been hurting, and if it’s worsening. While these elements are vital, they don’t often capture the whole picture like integrative medicine can. 

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Healthcare in Harmony

Your culture plays a part in your identity. Healthcare that values and understands your identity, or what you feel makes you you, complements healing. Effective treatment for complex or non-complex conditions runs hand-in-hand with the compassion and trust found at the cornerstone of integrative care. 

With integrative care, you’ll learn to resync each aspect of your health into a melody of well-being. Listen to our recent podcast episode with Dr. Jasleen Chhatwal to delve deeper into integrative care and its importance.

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