Considering the Alternatives: A Guide to Navigating Alternative Medicine
Ancient medicinal practices have long been a part of indigenous cultures, from sacred plants and stones, to prayer and sacrifice. Later these practices took many forms, from leeches to snake oil and from Laudanum to Cocaine.
Though these methods are long buried in history, over the years and through the advances of modern medicine their modern counterparts have been seemingly typecast into an unforgiving realm of uncertainty and skepticism.
It’s unfortunate that many of our natural remedies that have stood the test of time (and cultural conditioning) are now under the most scrutiny, or thought of as having little to no medicinal benefit.
The cool part is, though, not all of these alternative practices come in the form of herbs, oils and elixirs. Though many are backed by a history of belief, or by faith alone, many are also backed by science or alternative philosophy.
Here, we’ll articulate the nuances of these alternative therapies, their benefits and dispel some common associations between them.
What is Alternative Medicine?
Alternative medicine is often associated with a variety of practices, many of which have nothing to do with the other.
Some common associations include chiropractic care, acupuncture and mystical practices such as Reiki or Theta healing, the laying on of hands or “praying the pain away,” herbal remedies and the like. But these are all common mis-associations.
In fact, Alternative Medicine (AM) is simply an umbrella term which houses both Holistic and Homeopathic therapies, which is simply an incorrect way to categorize such practices as they are all intrinsically unique from each other.
According the the Oxford Dictionary, Alternative Medicine is defined as:
“Any of a range of medical therapies that are not regarded as orthodox by the medical profession, such as herbalism, homeopathy, and chiropractic care and acupuncture.”
Again, we can see here the attempt to group these therapies just in the definition alone, and in doing so this waters down the overall intent of these specific practices. Simply put, all of the therapies cited have nothing to do with the other, nor does their implementation or the benefits they offer, as they are all exclusively different from one another.
The only thing they do have in common is that they are not considered “orthodox.” But, be sure there was a time when they were.
Holistic Therapy or Holistic Healing is a practice that treats the entire person and all of the internal and external factors affecting them. This practice considers the whole instead of focusing on only one part, with maintaining a balance of both parts and whole. Holistic healing seeks to maintain or restore balance among (and within) the various dimensions of the individual.
*A holistic approach to healing is set apart from homeopathy or herbal remedy in it’s core philosophy, though homeopathy does also claim to incorporate a holistic approach. Just the same, Holistic therapy may incorporate therapies from the homeopathic discipline if considered beneficial.
The key takeaway here is that Holistic Therapy draws on the pertinent scientific fact that everything is energy, and that everything is connected. With this as a philosophical key point, the holistic approach integrates the body, emotions, mind, and spirit to produce deep, lasting healing and ultimately helps to create a better life.
Above all, there are 5 areas that Holistic Therapy focuses on. These include the physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual aspects of the individual. In order to be considered “well” by holistic standards, it is imperative for none of these areas to be neglected.
Therapies within the realm of Holistic Healing can incorporate treatments or recommendations regarding diet and exercise and also include various forms of counseling. This counseling can include such programs as psychotherapy, or even spiritual consultation, and a holistic regiment can even be as broad as incorporating chiropractic care and acupuncture if deemed of benefit.
Homeopathy is a system of medicine operating with the core philosophical belief that the body can heal itself.
According to WebMD:
“A basic belief behind homeopathy is “like cures like.” In other words, something that brings on symptoms in a healthy person can — in a very small dose — treat an illness with similar symptoms. This is meant to trigger the body’s natural defenses.”
Homeopathy typically treats a variety of ailments such as allergies, arthritis, migraines, cramping and nearly any adverse condition affecting the human body. Homeopaths are also known to treat various forms of fatigue and depression as well.
Though homeopathy does also embrace a holistic approach to treatment, the patient’s specific ailment is typically the main focus of such treatment. This often includes the use of herbs, minerals and elixirs or combinations of several elements in order to heal the patient. A few of these common herbs include:
Arnica: Used mainly for healing sprains and strains as well as bruising (without broken skin).
Chamomille: Most often known for treating sleep patterns, or used by parents on infant children with irregular sleep patterns.
Allium cepa (onion): Because it is known to cause tears and a runny nose, it has long been thought of as a perfect remedy for the common cold or symptoms of hay fever.
Though homeopathic therapy includes perhaps the most variety of healing techniques, homeopathy doesn’t generally include the use of psychotherapy or other more orthodox methods of counseling.
Battling the Cost
In the United States, Healthcare costs are continually rising. What an average individual pays for a visit to the emergency room typically can cost as much as a full month’s salary for the middle to low-class American worker.
Even a simple visit to the doctor can cost hundreds of dollars if lab or blood-work is involved.
With the rising cost of healthcare and insurance premiums, alternative medicine is on the rise, as are those who practice it. And, as these practices undergo more testing and gain more popularity, the more an individual is likely to move away from traditional medicine.
Above all, if the current healthcare trend continues, traditional, alternative therapies will cost pennies when compared to the enormous costs that orthodox healthcare incurs.
It goes without saying that you should always consult a licensed physician when faced with any physical ailment or illness. Though alternative therapy may be more attractive when looking at cost alone, and when considering the “natural” aspect of the therapy versus using prescription drugs, these therapies should not be put ahead of practical medical knowledge.
Consult your physician and ask them their opinion on alternative therapies in any scenario. You’ll be surprised on how many licensed physicians do readily recommend these options to their patients.
For more information on the benefits of alternative therapy, an article from the Everglades University in Florida gives a comprehensive overview of these multifaceted therapies.