Holistic Medicine Glossary: Functional, Integrative, Naturopathic & More

Tara Viswanathan
Holistic Medicine Glossary: Functional, Integrative, Naturopathic & More

All the different terms can get confusing, we know! We searched for a clear explanation of the differences between all of these words...and couldn’t find one anywhere. So we created this 5 minute guide for you.

The Rupa Health Holistic Medicine Glossary.

The difference between Osteopathic, Naturopathic, Functional, Integrative, Alternative, Homeopathic, Holistic, and Natural Medicine. Ordered from the most narrow to most broad term.

Osteopathic Medicine (DO): A fully licensed physician with full medical practice rights.

A DO has nearly identical training to MDs and are a highly regulated profession in the US with full practice rights - including surgery and more.

Naturopathic Medicine (ND): A medical license.

Other than Osteopathic Medicine, Naturopathic Medicine is the only other term in this list that is an official medical degree that a person can obtain. A Naturopathic Doctor is a person with a specific degree and licensure, and it is a highly regulated term. However, they have significantly fewer practice rights than an MD and DO in the United States. They are regulated on a state by state basis, and not all states license NDs.

For more, check out What is a Naturopathic Doctor and When Should I See One?

Functional Medicine: An additional certification / training.

Functional Medicine is a certification any licensed healthcare practitioner can receive in addition to their existing training. Any licensed healthcare practitioner - from acupuncturist to health coach to MD - can obtain this certification. A functional medicine doctor is an MD / DO / ND who has received functional medicine training. A functional medicine practitioner is any other type of practitioner who has received functional medicine training. Most people who practice functional medicine are NOT traditional doctors. The term “functional medicine” is very loosely regulated and almost anyone can call themselves a functional medicine practitioner.

For more, check out What is Functional Medicine?

Integrative Medicine: A board certification for doctors and/or an approach to medicine.

Integrative Medicine can be either:

  1. A fellowship and board certification obtained by a MD / DO from an accredited medical school
  2. A style of practicing medicine that is “healing-oriented”, “takes account of the whole person, including all aspects of lifestyle”, and incorporates alternative modalities

Alternative Medicine: Any healthcare modality that is outside Western medicine.

Alternative Medicine is any form of “medicine” that is outside traditional (allopathic) Western medicine. It spans a wide array and includes both licensed practitioners (acupuncturists, chiropractors, etc) and un-credentialed modalities (reiki, energy healing, etc).

Homeopathic Medicine: A specific approach to healing.

Homeopathy is a medical system based on the belief that the body can cure itself. There are no official “homeopathic doctors” in the United States, however Naturopathic Doctors have training in this.

“Homeopaths” are non-regulated (unlicensed) practitioners who practice this kind of medicine.

Holistic Medicine: An approach to health and healing.

Holistic medicine is more of a mindset and an approach to treating a patient rather than an actual type of medicine, so holistic practitioners can come in all forms from MDs to acupuncturists. There is no licensing or credentialing to become a “holistic doctor”. It’s a style not a title.

For more, check out What is Holistic Medicine?

Natural Medicine: A general term that doesn’t mean much.

A term that doesn’t have any legitimate bounds on its definition. There is no such thing as a “natural medicine doctor”. Generally is just people referring to a more holistic style of care.

I’m in! I want to try some type of holistic care. How do I figure out who to see?

That’s what we’re here for! We’ve identified the best practitioners by specialty and can help you find the right person for you based on your price point, location, health concerns, and more.

References & Further Reading

What is Osteopathic Medicine, American Osteopathic Association

What is Integrative Medicine, Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Arizona

What is Functional Medicine, The Institute for Functional Medicine

Homeopathy, NIH, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health


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Tara Viswanathan
CEO & Co-Founder, Rupa Health.
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