Alternative or Complementary Therapies


Alternative or Complementary Therapies


by Kevin Hilditch
August 25, 1999

*This article is written to address certain issues, positive and negative, about the field of complementary therapies and its relationship to Western medical practice.*


There are a wide variety of therapies available to the consumer: Massage therapy, Shiatsu, Reflexology, Rolfing, Therapeutic Touch, Craniosacral, Polarity, LomiLomi, Reiki, Accupuncture. And the list goes on and on and on.

Over the last few years, there has been a great interest in these types of therapies. The reasons for this are varied, but the consensus of most is that the public’s fascination is due to a lack of support from the Alopathic field of “Western” medicine. More simply put, either emotionally or physically, people are looking beyond the usual scope of medical practice for answers to their problems.

Unfortunately, for the most part, there is a lack of empirical or scientific evidence supporting most of the complementary therapies. Funding for mainstream medical research is almost always backed by, or on behalf of, pharmaceutical companies or certain government bodies. Holistic therapies pose a threat to these companies by their very nature; the focus is being taken away from medication and put onto other means of healing. The lack of scientific evidence is therefore self-explanatory.

The irony in all of this is that, in order to be accepted by the public, the unexplained mysteries of each therapy generally require some sort of scientific explanation. Also, because of therapy costs, insurance companies tend to back only those therapies that they feel pose as little risk as possible. To determine such degrees of risk requires research. Unless the individual has the funds to continue treatments on an ongoing basis, which is the usual prescription to recovery, he or she needs to rely upon insurance companies for support.

Due to these reasons, the therapist and his practice are limited to faith, and faith alone, for empirical support. People are looking for explanations beyond their physician, but still tend to require medical explanations to commit to something outside of the Alopathic realm to which they are accustomed.

The problems stem from the fact that the practices of most of the complementary therapies have little alopathic evidence to support their various claims. In addition, the knowledge and practical experience required to treat tends to be limited. Furthermore, without official recognition by the government in the form of a standard registration or certification process, there is no system in place to keep their practices in check.

Granted, the medical establishment has a long way to go before the human body and its various pathologies are fully understood. But, the mainstream knowledge already accumulated is necessary to complement and support the findings of the “alternative” therapies. Without it, claims can be made, and have been made, which may not be true.

Titles, unless already registered, can also be used to make the practitioner appear to be more professional. For example, a made up title such as Master Herbologist or M.H., offers the appearance of credibility. A better example would be someone who has attained a 4-year degree and acquired a title such as a Nutritionist as opposed to someone who has taken a weekend course and calls themselves a Nutritional Practitioner (NP); the layperson may not be able to distinguish between the two titles and be treated for a condition which the latter therapist would not be able to fully comprehend or effectively treat.

This leads me to a more specific issue. There has been some significant research done on the connection between the mind and the body in relation to various disorders and conditions – the most common and widely known being stress. In other words, human emotions and the physical response to them.

Complementary therapies tend to accept the emotional and its accumulating affect on certain conditions more so than the mainstream medical establishment. Some believe that a number of conditions may even be directly related to the emotional state of the individual, or due to certain traumatic events in the patients’ lives. The challenge to the therapist is to treat the emotional as well as the physical. In my own experience, clients have wanted to express specific emotional issues in their lives. This is sometimes easier to do with someone with an objective viewpoint, such as an “alternative healer”, rather than with a friend or family member, and can therefore be therapeutic for the client.

The danger is in treating the emotional to a degree that is beyond your scope of practice. Or, to believe that a problem rests purely in the emotional; i.e., the only reason there is no improvement is that the person is not willing to ” let go” , is “blocking” or does not have enough faith in the treatment. This, I believe, can be a way to explain something medical that the therapist does not fully understand. Therein lies the danger. The job of the therapist is not to diagnose but to treat according to a physician’s assessment; to complement their decisions.

In conclusion, it is important for a complementary therapist or practitioner to understand our limitations. We are taught only a limited amount of knowledge. What we learn may give new insight into a condition, and give credence to something that may not have been previously believed to be a treatable or workable method to recovery. ( Or not.) These insights may not be an accepted standard of mainstream medical knowledge, but may be just as valid a form of treatment. Yet, in order to be accepted by the general public, it is also necessary to complement homeopathic, naturopathic, and holistic research and therapy with alopathic research and practice.

The consumer should consider these things. Documentation attesting to the education, experience, and type of practice of the therapist should be made available to the patient. Also, one treatment or therapist may not hold all the answers to regaining good health. Each individual is different and may require different forms of treatment. Unfortunately, governments and insurance companies seem to set the standard for what is considered “valid” forms of treatment.

On the other hand, in order to practice in North America and to be accepted on a wide scale, these standards must be embraced. The truth of the matter is that alternative treatment must truly be complementary, and not an alternative to mainstream medicine at all, but each as a specialty and a complement to each other.

Kevin Hilditch is a Certified Shiatsu Practitioner and a big fan of Ray Deonandan’s hair.