A person holds a vibrant globe up against a mountainous landscape.

Jul 5, 2018 6:21:00 AM | What Is Integrative Health and Why is it Important? (Updated April 2024)

A global approach to health and wellness - healing the whole person as a means of treating disease - is the best course when it comes to sustained patient care.

A global approach to health and wellness - healing the whole person as a means of supporting illness - is the best course when it comes to sustained wellness care.

In 1995, "Integrative” was named the next big goal in medicine, and medical practitioners across multiple disciplines teamed up to form a multipronged approach to holistic health and wellness for the entire person.

The mission was to provide better care and an alternative to the fragmented and costly standards practiced across previous decades. Here’s how the integrative health and wellness disciplines have continued into the present and how you can be a part of their ongoing development.

What is integrative health?

Definition of Integrative Health

In 2017, over 200 medical professionals collaborated to produce a new and clearer description of integrative health. According to The Institute for Integrated Health (IIH), the most recognized definition of “integrative health” is:

"… a state of well-being in body, mind, and spirit that reflects aspects of the individual, community, and population.”

This state of well-being is affected by three major factors:

  1. Any individual biological factors and behaviors, as well as social values and public policy
  2. The physical, social, and economic environment surrounding the individual
  3. An integrative healthcare system that encourages the active participation of the individual in the healthcare team in order to apply a broad spectrum of preventive and therapeutic approaches.

The goal of integrative healthcare is to take all of these factors into consideration when helping an individual achieve their sense of well-being. To that end, communication and an understanding of the client’s surroundings are essential for integrative health.

Principles of Integrative Health

Empowerment of the Individual

This method of health and wellness asks the individual to take a proactive role in their own well-being. This is only natural. We select the best outfits for spending a night out on the town. We decide when it’s time to update our home decor. Yet, when it comes to our health, we sometimes limit our personal input to making an appointment to address our symptoms instead of making lasting, meaningful lifestyle changes that address the root cause.

One of the fundamental principles of integrative health is to bring the individual’s input back to the forefront. With an integrative health approach, the individual can be an active participant in their own healing through strategies like fitness training, healthy eating, and more.

Support from the System

Of course, the individual won’t have to design or find these strategies on their own. They’ll be supported on their health journey by the various health and wellness disciplines. Well-trained aromatherapists, herbalists, and integrative fitness experts (among others!) can provide consultation and advice to help the individual find the strategies that work for them. They can explore holistic nutritionists, try massage therapy for optimal relaxation, or seek out the benefits of aromatherapy for everyday pain.

Benefits of Integrative Health

Integrative health looks at the whole person and concentrates on individual health via multiple sources, including medical doctors, naturopathic physicians, holistic massage therapists, and more. With a cumulative emphasis on healing, prevention is an inborn benefit. If the whole person is healthy, illness and injury are less likely.

Health has financial benefits as well. When considering the long-term expenses that are synonymous with preventable illness, prevention becomes a cost-effective choice.

Careers in Integrative Health

Integrative health is growing in hospitals and clinics all over the world. Today, it is possible to earn degrees and certifications in health and wellness disciplines and become part of the healing team.

As an integrative health and wellness professional interested in being part of the healing process, there is no shortage of certifications and degrees to help you make your mark.

Three of the main types of medicine under the integrative health umbrella are functional medicine, integrative medicine, and alternative medicine.

  • Functional medicine doctors focus on the complex web of the individual’s medical history, symptoms, and illnesses to gain comprehensive knowledge of the client’s condition and needs.
  • Integrative medicine practitioners focus on analyzing the individual’s lifestyle and combining conventional and alternative methods as needed to facilitate the body’s healing response.
  • Alternative medicine experts are practitioners of any strategy that isn’t a part of standard medical care. This includes strategies like a personalized diet and the use of botanicals.

Popular integrative health and wellness specialties include aromatherapy, herbal medicine, holistic nutrition, wellness coaching, integrative fitness training, holistic spa management, and natural products manufacturing, among others.

Pursue Your Integrative Health Career With ACHS!

Are you ready to join the integrative health and wellness team? ACHS can help you find a professional path that gives you the skills to bring holistic health to your community.

Learn more about our departments and the degrees we offer on our Academics page!


Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. The information included is representative of industry trends as provided in the references. Please refer to third-party sites for additional information. ACHS does not guarantee graduate employment or other placement. Note, that professional success is achieved by a number of factors beyond education and experience, including soft skills, work ethic, integrity, and other skills that may not be developed through education and training alone.


 1 Weeks J. (2017). Five Eras and 125 Milestones in The Rise of Integrative Health and Medicine … plus more. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 16(1), 26–28. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5312742/

2 Nova Institute Blog. (2017). A New Definition of Integrative Health. Nova Institute. novainstituteforhealth.org/a-new-definition-of-integrative-health/

3 Petersen, D. (2018, May 1). Tackle Your Pain Points with Aromatherapy. American College of Healthcare Sciences. https://info.achs.edu/blog/how-to-tackle-your-pain-points-with-aromatherapy

4 Institute for Functional Medicine. (2024). What is Functional Medicine? The Institute for Fuctional Medicine. https://www.ifm.org/functional-medicine/what-is-functional-medicine/

5 Cleveland Clinic. (2022, August 7). Integrative medicine: What is it, types, risks & benefits. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/21683-integrative-medicine 

6 National Cancer Institute. (2023, June 12). Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam#:~:text=Complementary%20and%20alternative%20medicine%20includes,part%20of%20standard%20medical%20care.

American College of Healthcare Sciences

Written By: American College of Healthcare Sciences

ACHS's mission is to lead the advancement of evidence-based, integrative health and wellness education through experiential online learning and sustainable practices. This includes sharing helpful, informative, holistic healthcare articles on the ACHS Health and Wellness Blog.