The rise of the wellness industry brought with it an excessive amount of healthcare apps that people quickly adopted without any questions. Some were good, and some, ahem, less so. Today, many will consult a doctor through the Babylon app, while others praise the wonders of digital therapy. Along with this wave of health tech arose the more niche market of holistic health care, characterised by the treatment of the whole person, rather than just treating the symptoms of a specific disease. But what exactly is holistic healing, and more importantly, should we rely on it to ‘cure’ our mental, emotional, and spiritual issues?
Among the holistic healthcare services is Healing Clouds, a platform for online holistic healthcare offering online therapy through live video sessions that aim to promote the benefits of holistic healthcare and bring awareness of it to the world. While some of the services the platform offers can surely be done through live chat and video sessions with a certified practitioner, such as communicating with a dietitian or a couples therapist, others pose problems. How exactly can video calls treat arthritis, diabetes, or even my PMS?
Screen Shot spoke to Asim Amin, founder and CEO of Healing Clouds, about where the idea for the platform came from, and the importance of conventional medicine in conjunction with holistic approaches. Amin’s mother suffered from osteoarthritis in her knees, which confined her to a wheelchair and impacted her mental health as well. After finding a “silver lining in Pranic Healing and Counseling,” she was back on her feet. “With the advent of healthcare globally, it is important that people take care of their health in a holistic manner where they address their mental and emotional health in addition to their physical health,” explained Amin. Because of the stigma associated with mental and emotional health issues, Amin decided to create Healing Clouds.
Platforms like Healing Clouds offer help to people that actually need it, which should be appreciated. The problem lies in the way these platforms may sometimes present that help. Instead of clearly stating that holistic health care should be used by patients as extra support, people looking at the website could easily assume that it promises to be the sole ‘cure’ to any kind of disease—from depression and cancer to “spiritual issues” and “limiting beliefs.” Putting a greater emphasis on the different dimensions of a patient’s life (psychological, social, or even spiritual) doesn’t sound wrong in any kind of way. However, it is wrong and unhealthy to depend only on spiritual guidance, and so is promoting it as this sort of miracle cure.
Amin explained that with Healing Clouds, there are some boundaries set, “Online sessions for therapy and healing are never intended to replace medical attention, rather, they are complementary to conventional medicine and they help you address your overall health and heal from within, whilst you’re on medication (if any).” While this shows that Healing Clouds, specifically, is careful about what kind of message it might promote, other similar services in the wellness industry are not that conscientious.
Having a holistic approach to some things in life, meaning thinking about the bigger picture, can be more than useful. But when did the definition of holistic become interlinked with spirituality? Mixing actual medical advice with a supercharged version of card reading is an approach that can prove itself dangerous, if used for the treatment of high-risk diseases. Some might not see mental health problems as ‘high-risk’, but with the mental health crisis that we’re undergoing, it is a growing matter that should be taken more seriously. More students are getting strongly affected by this crisis, and while a holistic or spiritual approach to ‘curing’ mental health issues is not presented to young adults as the only way to tackle it, it is starting to be more promoted than ever, through slick-looking apps and websites.
Most people diagnosed with a mental health condition can experience relief from their symptoms and live a normal life by actively participating in a treatment plan. This can include medication, psychotherapy, and peer support groups. A holistic approach to this treatment would be to also look at the patient’s diet, sleep, and surroundings. However, what is sold through this new trend of holistic healthcare is a cure in the form of spirituality. Relying totally on it could put people’s mental health, and therefore lives, in danger. In other words, receiving daily affirmations through my email account might lift my mood for a short time, but it won’t cure my depression.
A big part of the wellness industry has shifted from its primary aim—to heal, help, and keep people healthy—to another one; one that seems to contaminate every industry and aspect of our society: to make easy money by using people’s vulnerability. So please, rub as many crystals as you wish, enjoy yoga classes through video sessions with your instructor if you feel like it, but don’t forget, holistic healthcare is not the miraculous cure to all your problems.
You’ve heard of social media influencers, but have you ever heard of a social media influencer among the gastroenterology community? Probably not, and yet it is certainly a thing. Dr Austin Chiang is a gastroenterologist who studied at Harvard, but he also is the first Chief Medical Social Media Officer at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, in Philadelphia. In other words, part of his job is to get doctors and other health professionals on social media to drown out health misinformation by posting large quantities of posts that are fact checked and, well, not fake. The idea of doctors having a presence on social media sounds unconventional at first, so it makes sense that people might wonder why exactly Dr Chiang’s job was created.
Just like fake news, fake health news come mainly from social media accounts sharing information that is not based on any medical research. And just like much of the speculative and factually inaccurate content shared on social networks, many people ultimately believe it. This is where Dr Chiang’s accounts come as a remedy. His main platform is Instagram but you can also find him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. On Instagram, Dr Chiang has more than 22,000 followers—making him the most followed medical influencer outside the world of plastic surgery and nutritional well-being—and his content represents his two favourite things: medicine and social media.
Every few days Dr Chiang posts a picture of himself with captions about the latest research or advice to patients trying to navigate between real information and rumours. And where do those rumours come from? According to Dr Chiang, from public figures like the 1.9 million Instagram followers and #1 NY Times Bestselling Author Anthony William, also known as the Medical Medium, famous for his book Celery Juice: The Most Powerful Medicine Of Our Time Healing Millions Worldwide.
When looking at William’s online presence, especially his Instagram account, many questions come to mind, mainly how someone with no medical background has harnessed so much credibility by the public. William’s entire Instagram feed looks like a bad infomercial for a blender or an eczema miracle cream and the consistent use of #healing makes for a cocktail of unease and suspicion. Call me crazy, but I’d like to think that if you proclaim yourself as a ‘medical medium’ without any diploma to show for yourself, you are most likely a crook that sees himself as a spiritual saviour.
Anti-vaccination content is another example of fake health news spreading through social media, with communities and groups preaching to anyone willing to believe that vaccination causes autism—a theory that has never been medically proven. Some people go as far as giving a ‘cure’ for autism in the form of an industrial-strength bleach.
Bearing witness to this kind of content online, Dr Chiang’s CEO Steve Klasko came up with the idea of creating a well-needed medical presence on social media with the help of Dr Chiang’s Instagram and hashtags like #verifyhealthcare and #dontgoviral. The solution to this frightening misinformation is providing young people with the right information, and allowing them to access it easily, which means publishing it on social media, where it is known that under 35s spend a large chunk of their time and where they get their news and information.
At the moment, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s goal is to have approximately 3,000 doctors participating on social media, which sounds like a good start. Help from the government (or social media companies like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter) in regulating false information could also soon be a necessity. Until then, don’t believe everything you read on the internet and please stay away from Medical Medium.