Thoughts from the front lines

Healing from Nature


east-vs-westIn Margaret Atwood’s novel The Year of the Flood, Toby’s character begins practicing holistic healing once she arrives among the Gardeners. Holistic healing (sometimes called functional medicine) is defined as “a form of healing that considers the whole person—body, mind, spirit, and emotions—in the quest for optimal health and wellness” (WebMD). For Toby, this meant starting off making herbal lotions and creams, but Pilar soon took Toby under her wing and began teaching her the ways of natural healing. Toby immersed herself in Pilar’s ways, learning about mushrooms, plants and flowers that could be used to heal someone. There is mention of maggot therapy, which the Gardener’s use to heal wounds. The maggots would “eat the decaying flesh, they killed necrotic bacteria, and were thus a great help in preventing gangrene” (Atwood 107-8). This method of healing is very different than those of modern day medicine. It’s very natural and doesn’t harm the body. So who wouldn’t want that?

Our society chooses conventional medicine over the natural approach based off of science. This means using surgery and drugs to try and cure the ailments of patients. However, because of this, we have become “vertically ill” which means that people walk around with mental and physical illnesses that they don’t understand or that aren’t recognizable to them or anyone else (Henry). Doctors prescribe pills constantly for every little thing, which only hides the symptoms and doesn’t get to the root of the issue. Holistic medicine tries to address the issue and fix the cause of the problem. Let’s say a patient suffers from depression. Instead of immediately prescribing antidepressants, a holistic practitioner might use a variety of treatments or informative tactics such as psychotherapy, educating the patient on diet and lifestyle changes, naturopathy and/or spiritual counselling (WebMD). These practitioners believe that since the mind, body and spirit are all connected, that less severe illnesses are caused by imbalances with the body as a whole, which can have a negative effect on one’s health.


Mark Hyman, a functional practitioner, talks about why this alternate form of healing is so important. I encourage you to watch the video, it’s quite interesting!

That’s not to say conventional medicine isn’t helpful though! It definitely is, in the sense that it should be reserved for life threatening diseases and illnesses. But just seeing how effective and natural the holistic approach in the novel was, makes me hope it takes off in the future and makes conventional medicine the less approached form of healing. Do you think holistic medicine is more beneficial than conventional medicine? Do believe the natural way of healing actually works?

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2010. Print.

Doherty, Rhiannon. “My Newfound Passion – Functional Medicine”. Beyond the Brain. 17
Oct. 2014.

“Eastern (Holistic) Medicine vs Western Medicine”. 13 Sept. 2015.

Henry, Derek. “The Difference between Holistic Medicine and Conventional
Medicine”. Healing the Body. 16 June 2014.

TEDMED. “Mark Hyman at TEDMED 2010”. YouTube. 7 Dec.

“What Is Holistic Medicine?”. WebMD.


5 thoughts on “Healing from Nature

  1. I think that it is quite interesting to see holistic medicine used in The Year of the Flood, and is often undervalued as a form of health treatment for people. “Conventional methods” and natural methods should go hand-in-hand because they treat different areas of the human body. Neither of them are more beneficial than the other. Natural medicine can be helpful in the sense of improving quality of life spiritually and emotionally. Modern medicine is helpful in a sense of prolonging longevity by improving the physical body itself. Mental health is a grey area because it depends on the person’s lifestyle and type of mental illness. From personal experience as a former student nurse, we provide education, support and lifestyle modifications that patients can implement into their own activities of daily living to help prevent illnesses and reduce progression of illnesses. For example, a patient who is newly diagnosed with hypertension don’t usually get prescribed drugs immediately. Doctors have to evaluate their lifestyle, family history, pre-existing conditions and overall state of their functions before prescribing treatment that is individualized. Usually, lifestyle medications are the first line treatment and if that doesn’t work then drugs are used. Natural methods only works if the patient themselves participate in their own care 100%. So I think that holistic medicine and modern medicine are both equally beneficial to the improvement of humans’ health.


  2. Great blog post! As a psychology student, I do agree that people put too much of their faith into conventional medicine and that we are a pill-popping society. We seem to directly turn to medication when we have a problem instead of trying to find other solutions. I will only speak about mental health because that’s what I know most about, but there are treatment, such as behavioural therapy, that are proving to be as effective, if not more effective in some cases, than antidepressants. I am not in anyway saying that antidepressants are not effective, I am just saying that there are other alternatives that work just as well without any side effects for mild and moderate levels of depression. Severe depression is another story and combination of both medication and psychotherapy is often the most effective.. Another problem that we have is that we believe that one standardized treatment will work for every one which is completely false. I think we shouldn’t discard one method or the other, and that holistic and conventional treatments should go hand-in-hand and should be adapted to every case.


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  5. This is such an interesting post. I’ve always wondered why conventional modern medicine has never chosen to embrace holistic healing. It seems to me that medicine has its roots in holistic healing. I also think that the mind is too complex to fix with a pill. It plays such an important role in healing in general that it’s always worth trying to treat it using different methods. It would be great if modern medicine would focus of keeping people healthy rather than just trying to cure people after damage is done.


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