What is the Functional Approach?

A Functional Approach addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented evidence-based approach and engaging both client and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. It is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st-century by shifting the traditional disease-centred focus of medical practice to a more client-centred approach. This Functional Approach addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms. Functional practitioners spend time with their clients, listening to their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease. In this way, the Functional Approach supports the unique expression of health and vitality for each individual.

Key points of functional medicine:
  • A partnership between client and practitioner in the healing process
  • Appropriate use of alternative methods to facilitate the body’s innate healing response, and referrals to conventional medical specialists where it is thought necessary
  • Consideration of all factors that influence health, wellness and disease, including mind, spirit and community as well as body
  • A philosophy that neither rejects conventional medicine nor accepts alternative therapies uncritically
  • Recognition that good medicine should be based on good science, be inquiry driven, and be open to new paradigms
  • Use of natural, effective, less-invasive interventions whenever possible
  • Use of the broader concepts of promotion of health and the prevention of illness as well as supporting chronic health conditions
  • Training of practitioners to be models of health and healing, committed to the process of self-exploration and self-development
  • Even though a functional approach utilises complementary therapies, the stringent requirement that these health recommendations have a solid scientific basis exists, making it “once removed” from complementary or alternative systems
  • In addition to addressing the individual’s immediate health problem(s) as well as the deeper causes of the disease or illness, integrative medicine strategies also foster the development of healthy behaviours and skills for effective self-care that patients can use throughout their lives.

In the past two decades, integrative medicine has emerged as a promising model of care, increasingly finding a home in academic medical centers, hospitals, and healthcare systems.
A growing body of evidence suggests that integrative medicine can successfully address—and to some extent, alleviate—many troubling aspects of our current healthcare crisis by helping to provide effective, safe, and cost-effective treatments as well as preventing future disease and fostering overall wellness. Moreover, integrative medicine holds special promise for reducing the burden of chronic illness on individuals and their families, and on the healthcare system.

Glob Adv Health Med. 2012 Jul; 1(3): 18–94.
Published online 2012 Jul 1. doi: 10.7453/gahmj.2012.1.3.006
Integrative Medicine in America—How Integrative Medicine Is Being Practiced in Clinical Centers Across the United States