The world of complementary medicine offers safe and effective solutions to many health disorders, from backaches to headaches. You may be interested in alternative care approaches, but have a number of questions you’d like answered before choosing a treatment. “Will I feel the acupuncture needles?” “What is a homeopathic remedy?” Your Guide to Alternative Medicine provides the facts necessary to choose an effective complementary care therapy.
This comprehensive reference clearly explains numerous approaches in an easy-to-use format. For every complementary care option discussed, there is a description and brief history; a list of conditions that respond; information on cost and duration of treatment; credentials and educational background of practitioners; and more. To find those therapies most appropriate for a specific condition, a unique troubleshooting chart lists common disorders along with the complementary approaches best suited to treat them. Here is a reference that can help you make informed decisions about all your important healthcare needs.
Margaret J. Nowak is a graduate of the New Hampshire Institute for Therapeutic Arts.
Sharon G. Hartunian received a bachelor of science in psychology from Tufts University and a master of science in social work from Simmons College.
Larry P. Credit received his doctorate in Oriental medicine from SAMRA University, and is a graduate of the New England School of Acupuncture.
James Reston, correspondent to The New York Times, was visiting China in the hot summer of 1971. An attack of acute appendicitis forced him into the Anti-Imperialist Hospital in Peking. Reston detailed the significant experience that followed in a groundbreaking front-page article which appeared in The New York Times. He described an “intensely human and vibrant” atmosphere in which his medical emergency was deftly treated with a mixture of conventional medical practices and ancient Chinese healing arts. A local anesthetic was used to numb Reston’s mid-section, and surgery was performed. He remained conscious throughout the procedure, which was completed with “no complications, nausea or vomiting.” For post-surgical pain and discomfort, Reston received acupuncture and herbal medicine. These alternative medicine treatments resulted in “a noticeable relaxation of the pressure and distension [of the stomach] . . . and no recurrence of the problem thereafter.” With the appearance of this story, our nation was awakened to alternative medicine through a media voice that announced the healing potential of medical treatments that combine the “very old with the very new.”
In the same spirit of optimism and respect for the pairing of conventional and holistic/wholistic medicine, we have endeavored to introduce you to a number of alternative medicine approaches, so that you, too, can benefit from healthcare that encompasses current science and technology and the wisdom of the ages. We recognize that in order to encourage consumers of healthcare to try alternative medicine approaches, we must describe the treatments in a clear, direct manner, and then lay out the practical steps toward finding a trained practitioner.
This handbook is the key to understanding alternative medicine options. Our goal is to give you the basic facts and practical guidance necessary to choose an appropriate therapy and to successfully initiate treatment. In an easy-to-read, quick-referencing format, this text covers the following topics for each alternative medicine approach:
• What Is It?: a brief description and history of the approach.
• Conditions That Respond Best: what conditions are usually treated by this approach.
• How Does It Work?: the philosophy and procedures followed during therapy.
• What to Expect: what you will encounter when being treated.
• Cost/Duration: average cost and time ranges for treatment sessions.
• Credentials/Education: what you should consider regarding the background and training of practitioners.
• How to Find a Practitioner: the best ways to contact a practitioner.
• Professional Organizations: groups that are involved in disseminating information about the approach, licensing or certifying practitioners, and providing training and/or referrals.
• Recommended Reading: suggested resources for further information and study.
Alternative medicine, commonly referred to as holistic or wholistic healthcare, covers treatment options that generally are not a part of conventional medical practice. These approaches are viewed as complements to conventional Western medicine. In partnership with conventional medicine, the treatments can bolster your potential for health and recovery. It is clear that when it comes to emergency procedures and appropriate surgical interventions, conventional medicine excels. However, a combination of standard treatments and alternative medicine approaches can be very effective.
The belief that the mind influences the body and that the body, in turn, has an impact on the mind is a key element in the philosophy of alternative medicine. As a result, alternative medicine focuses on the health needs of the whole person. Practitioners strive to be aware of their clients’ health from a number of perspectives; physical, emotional, nutritional, and spiritual factors are considered. The emphasis of treatment is on the body’s ability to heal itself with the help of natural, non-invasive therapies that are effective and without harmful side effects.
Alternative medicine supports client education and encourages positive lifestyle changes. Practitioners serve dual roles as treatment specialists and teachers. They work in partnership with their clients, motivating them toward better health and helping to strengthen the internal healing potential of each individual.
Sometimes, terms used to describe alternative medicine can be confusing because of their holistic context. For example, balance, in holistic terms, refers to the equality between the body and the mind—both have equal influence on your health and both must operate optimally in order to minimize dysfunction. Likewise, the term harmony refers to the facile interaction of the systems of the body and mind. Restoring balance and harmony are often goals of alternative medicine. To assist you in better understanding alternative medicine approaches, we have provided the definitions of essential terms in the glossary.
While alternative medicine approaches are helpful for individuals experiencing chronic pain and seriously debilitating disorders, they also benefit those who are interested in maintaining health and preventing future problems. You do not need an illness or an injury to be treated. Just as a well-oiled machine functions smoothly, the magnificent human body operates at its best when cared for on a regular basis with health-enhancing regimens.
The overall goal of alternative medicine is to put your well-being into your own hands, so that you become an active participant in your recovery and/or health maintenance. We have researched approaches thoroughly and have interviewed numerous practitioners in our quest to bring you a concise, accessible handbook. Our hope is that you will consider this book a trusted guide to the healing realm of alternative medicine.
Please note that throughout this book, we refer to practitioners according to their education, certificates, and degrees. For example, a chiropractor is also a doctor, and is therefore termed as such in various places. As we work to popularize alternative care approaches, we also endeavor to erase the various stereotypes and prejudices that have formed around them. Practitioners of alternative medicine accomplish much study in, and exhibit tremendous commitment to, their chosen practices. We hope that the public will become increasingly comfortable using titles that properly refer to professionals who have trained so diligently in their specialties.
GUIDELINES FOR CHOOSING A THERAPY
In order to be a successful navigator of your own healthcare, it is important to know your treatment goals and personal inclinations, as well as the professional background, experience, and manner of the practitioner. The following guidelines offer helpful advice on how to go about deciding on an alternative medicine program.
Considering Various Treatments
When researching alternative medicine options, keep in mind the following pointers:
• Remain open. Welcome the opportunity to try something different. Accept the norm as but one solution to the puzzle, and expand your options to the unfamiliar.
• Determine your goals. What do you want to receive from alternative medicine? Whether you consider yourself healthy and wish to maintain this health, or you have an acute condition that you would rather live without, setting goals will act as a guide in choosing an approach.
• Explore. Investigate the various approaches and find the ones that best suit your goals. Build confidence by making new choices through knowledge. The more you know, the more control you have.
• Determine your comfort level. After exploring your options and finding appropriate treatments, shorten the list by assessing how comfortable you are with each approach. For example, while acupuncture, massage, and Therapeutic Touch are all treatments that can focus on eliminating headaches, each has its own method. Select the approach that is the best match for you. Remember to remain open. Often, comfort level increases as treatments progress and trust is established.
Choosing a Practitioner
When selecting a treatment specialist, consider the following suggestions so that you will find a practitioner who matches your expectations and needs:
• Take your time. Gather the names of practitioners by using the various sources available to you: for a referral in your area, contact the professional organizations listed at the end of each approach section in this book; get a recommendation from someone whose opinion you respect; look in your local yellow pages under the suggested categories in our How to Find a Practitioner sections. Call the practitioners and ask questions about their schooling, how long they have been practicing, and what their current licensing or certification is. Inquire about their fees, their general procedures with a new client, and their experience in treating your specific condition. Do not let yourself be pressured into setting up an appointment; have them send you a brochure. Explain that you are in the process of gathering information and are not ready to make a commitment.
• Review the information. Because you have done your research, you will be able to quickly assess if the practitioner has the proper qualifications. When making a final decision, carefully review all of the information that you have gathered, and keep the total package in mind. How were the practitioners’ phone manners? Did they sound professional? Were they willing to talk about their educational backgrounds and treatment procedures? Are you comfortable with their qualifications? Did they have standard fees or were they hesitant to discuss money? Because it is important to feel at ease with a practitioner, it may be wise to have an initial consultation with him or her before making a final decision. Trust your judgment concerning your confidence in the skills and personal manner of each practitioner so that, upon final selection, an optimal healing relationship can be established.
• Use the first appointment as an evaluation. Approach the appointment with your goals clearly established. Review these goals with the practitioner and organize a treatment plan. The program should be well-focused, allowing you to budget your time and expenses while guiding you in attaining your goals. Discuss possible side effects and/or adverse reactions. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Remember that you are in charge.
Evaluating Your Experience
After a consultation and/or treatment session, fill out the following assessment form. The results will provide a concise, focused critique of the treatment specialist.