Holistic medicine, what you need to know

Eduardo Estrada and Manny pose for a picture while hiking. (Photo courtesy by: Eduardo Estrada)


October 2016. Eduardo “Eddie” Estrada gently sips a beer and while closing his eyes. He takes a French fry and looks at his hand as he begins to remember.

It’s September 2012. Estrada returns to the United States after a serving his country as a Hospital Man Third Class in Afghanistan. This is where it all began; the nightmares, the stress, the anger.

“It started gradually,” said Estrada, “ When I got out of the military, I thought I was fine and didn’t have any transition problems but I came from a place that was very strict and everyone respected you.”

Estrada deals with a mental illness, as do other 57 million Americans, a disease that affects the individual and the people surrounding them. Most patients are prescribed medications, but new strategies like yoga, meditation, dance and art classes can hold less toxic effects on the body.

But what happens when Americans decide to use holistic methods to cope with their disease?

What Happens in the Brain?

When the brain, the soft-tissue organ whose main functions include nervous and intellectual activity, is damaged in certain regions or has some type of chemical imbalance, it creates a problem for the individual. These problems range from minimal  complications to severe complications.

“There are different levels of severity for mental disorders,” said Dr. Kaitlyn Zavaleta, an adjunct professor at the University of Arizona.

Mental problems arise, not only when the brain is damaged, but when the mind is damaged as well. This, at times, is the result from a traumatic event.

“Each mental illness affects the brain differently,” said Zavaleta. “ For example with depression, there are different patterns activated in the brain causing it to be different for every person.”  

Holistic treatments, however, are not always sponsored by government funds, not covered by insurance companies or the community are not well informed about them even though they are of great value.   

Holistic researcher

Holistic treatments involved taking care of the mind, body and soul while looking at all the aspects to help the well being not just from the medical standpoint, said Renee Gregg, Doctor and Assistant Professor, Doctor of Nursing Practice, and Certified Family Nurse Practitioner.

Gregg believes holistic treatments are of great value to society, especially patients suffering from mental health problems.

“Everyone thinks they need medication to fix and treat whatever is wrong with them,” Gregg said. “ It’s a newer concept for all of us to think that medicine could not be the only concept and it will take time for us to adapt.”


Eduardo Estrada posing with his dog Manny. (Photo by: Mar Ruiz/ Arizona Sonora News Service)

Gregg explained that sometimes when a patient has high blood pressure, it could be caused be stress or not having a good diet. There are multiple techniques that help patients like yoga, but patients have to learn how to  handle their lifestyles and structures, she said.

“We see many promising results and the nurse practitioners are saying they’re finding much more comfort in speaking and a much higher response of patients when they talk to them than they were before,” Gregg said.

According to Gregg, the first thing that practitioners look at is prevention and then once the patient passes prevention, they look at  yoga, meditation or other holistic treatments that could be used to improve the quality of life and the quality of overall care.

The Natural Medicine Journal says that the annual expenses for alternative car is around $34 billion, most of it coming from the patient’s own money. The first visit to a Naturopathic doctor could range from $150-$300.    

“As far as insurance companies, they are not covering the full coverage,”said Gregg. “They are covering some wellness programs but as far as yoga classes and meditation and massages they are generally not being covered.”

Medical providers are being cautioned and limited in opiate medication that patients can get.

“We are seeing more insurance coverage of therapies for depression that go along more of the holistic methods, even if it’s therapy music or a therapy dance, especially in teens and kids,” Gregg said.

Insurance company’s perspective

Therapy itself may be covered by the insurance companies as long as the patient has a referral from their medical provider. When a patient has a referral, the case manager can work with the insurance company to get the alternative treatment covered.  

Judith Revell, Public Executive for the Citizens Commission on Human Rights International, a nonprofit mental health watchdog, says their company suggests, but never advises, that patients see a doctor before even trying to suggest other alternative treatments. Revell says that their company knows it’s important to know first what medical problem or mental problem someone has before giving them a treatment .    

Manny’s therapy vest worn only during his working time. (Photo by: Mar Ruiz/ Arizona Sonora News Service)

“Because some psychiatrist are funded by the pharmaceutical industry, we are here to help them in anything they need so they can get the best treatment,” Revell said.


As he took a sip from his beer, Estrada said he never used medication to help him with his problem….not even once because he thought it didn’t work.

“I chose this route with my dog because I did not want to do medication because most of my friends who did medications were having problems with their sleep, anger, depression and had all the side effects,” Estrada said.

Before deciding to actually go to therapy and getting a service dog, Estrada considered himself “healthy” despite his problems. His problem began gradually once he was back from Afghanistan.

“I’ve always thought I was a very strong man and some of the stuff I got to see over there were really strong but I thought I was good for it.”

The nightmares, the endless fights with his wife, the sense of being lonely….everything went away once he rescued and trained his dog.  

“I thought I was rescuing him but he was helping me out all the time.”

Mar Ruiz is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at marery@email.arizona.edu.


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