Have you ever wondered if alternative therapies really work?
It is estimated that more than 30% of U.S. adults use health care that is outside of mainstream Western medicine. I think it is a good number but probably not high enough considering the benefits that complementary and alternative medicine can provide.
I think alternative medicine is not used more often because when it comes to the use of conventional versus alternative therapies we have gone to extremes, and extremes are not balanced options.
Some people have never tried and will never try alternative therapies, branding them all “inefficient” and “a con,” while other people swear by them so much that they won’t contemplate conventional medicine, citing the big pharmaceutical agenda and all drug treatments as dangerous for the body.
The reason I believe that so many people distrust alternative practices is because of some dishonest practitioners that are associated with them; some individuals and corporations have taken financial advantage of sick and vulnerable people looking for alternative hope outside of conventional medicine.
That has given the entire alternative medicine community a bad reputation.
The eagerness of some alternative practitioners to bash conventional medicine has not helped either.
The word alternative is misleading.
In the Western side of the world it seems to imply something unscientific and superstitious, but in many other cultures, particularly in the Far East, this alternative medicine is their conventional medicine.
Conventional medicine has evolved and has better refined the use of drugs and surgical technology. It can be life saving in many situations.
People survive brain tumors, life-threatening allergic reactions, and serious injuries because of the advances in medicine and the types of surgery available (and to correct a popular belief in some circles, medication does not hamper our spiritual advancement. Our soul grows when we practice compassion and kindness, deal with our life lessons, and take responsibility for our lives, regardless of the amount of surgeries we need to have or the amount of conventional medicine that we have to take.)
Limitations of conventional medicine
Conventional medicine is wonderful in many cases, but it has some limitations:
• It manages and treats symptoms instead of treating the underlying causes of sickness.
• Mind-body connection and proper nutrition are often ignored.
• Each part of the body and organs are treated independently, as opposed to using a whole-body approach.
• When the physical body is very sick, it struggles with the number of medicines it can tolerate and the medications’ side effects.
Even for smaller ailments, the treatment usually starts with a pill, like providing a course of antibiotics for common childhood diseases – a mild ear infection, cough, or strep throat – that could be healed with gentler approaches like using essential oils and/or homeopathy (we will discuss these and other types of alternative treatments later in this post).
• One of the biggest issues is that traditional surgeries and medicines will fix the problem to some extent, as in the case of heart bypass surgery, but it won’t be healing.
True healing will happen when we address either our high stress levels, the emotional reason that caused the heart issue, and/or make some needed lifestyle changes (if, for example, we are not getting adequate nutrition, or we smoke too much).
That is, in order to truly heal, we also need to deal with our mental and ethereal bodies as well as the physical.
Alternative medicine, in contrast, considers the mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies as well as the physical environment, nutrition, and lifestyle to diagnose and assist healing.
It is nothing more than treating the whole person rather than just the symptoms of disease.
Tests don’t need to prove that something is wrong in order for something to not function properly; if the person doesn’t feel well, then he is not well.
However, alternative therapies also have some limitations.
Limitations of alternative therapies
• There is lack of formal training and regulation in some fields.
Depending on the type of type of treatment, some people claim to be alternative medicine experts without formal training. We should always do some research to ensure we are being treated by a legitimate practitioner.
• Some herbs, vitamins, and dietary supplements are “prescribed” as healthy and natural but might cause severe contra-indications with prescription drugs.
Supplements are not regulated. There is no guarantee they contain what the package says.
Dr. Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and an expert on the dietary supplement industry, found his patients started developing mysterious symptoms.
One woman went in with palpitations, sweating, and anxiety, but also feeling very tired. Another was rushed to the emergency room with kidney failure, and one man lost his job after his urine tested positive for amphetamines.
Cohen realized his patients were all taking weight loss pills known as rainbow diet pills. He then sent the capsules off to a private lab for testing. The tests revealed amphetamines, thyroid hormones, diuretics, benzo-diazepines (tranquilizers), and antidepressants.
• One of the biggest limitations of alternative therapies comes with trauma and severe illnesses that undermine the mind/body’s capacity to heal.
• Most alternative therapies are not equipped to handle emergencies, such as a broken bone, a burst appendix, or most accidents. In these cases, conventional medicine is the fastest and probably the best and most efficient route to healing.
I consider alternative therapies a great complement to conventional medicine, not necessarily good as sole therapy.
It depends on what we are trying to cure or achieve.
Types of complementary and alternative therapies
The doctor of the future will give no medicine but
will interest his patients in the care of the human frame,
in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease.
There are more than 100 systems of alternative medicines in practice all over the world.
The First World Congress of Alternative Medicines was held in Italy in 1973, convened by the Medical Faculty of the University of Rome.
Within the USA, there are 50 institutions that use some form of alternative therapy, although they use the word integrative in their name; for example, Harvard, Stanford, Duke, and the Mayo Clinic.
Most of them offer treatments like acupuncture, massage, and nutrition counseling, along with conventional drugs and surgery.
There are many types of complementary and alternative therapies but it is beyond the scope of this post to explain every single one.
I have listed the most popular ones in the following four groups:
1. Traditional alternative medicine: Traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, naturopathy, and homeopathy.
2. Manipulative (physical) therapies: osteopathy and chiropractic.
3. Mind therapies: meditation and hypnotherapy.
4. Energy medicine: spiritual healers and Reiki, and other types of alternative therapies such as essential oils (including aroma-therapy), and reflexology.
1. Traditional alternative medicine
These therapies have been practiced for centuries worldwide and are the more mainstream forms of accepted therapies.
These include traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, naturopathy, and homeopathy.
1.1. Traditional Chinese Medicine
TCM draws on the belief that qi (“vital energy” or “chi”) is essential for overall health. TCM practitioners see disease as the result of disruptions in the circulation of qi.
The primary goal of TCM is to create wholeness and harmony within a person, allowing the mind/body/spirit to heal itself.
They assess three major items in a person:
1. The patient’s external factors or environment (seasons, weather).
2. The patient’s emotional state, and how they can help them manage stress in a healthy way.
3. The patient’s lifestyle (exercise, diet).
In TCM, emotions and physical health are intimately connected.
They view our emotions as impacting our vital organs.
Anger affects the liver. Worry and over-thinking affect the spleen and digestion. Sadness and grief harm the lungs. Fear damages the kidney. Shock disorients the qi of the heart, spleen, and kidney.
Every emotion that is not properly digested and dealt with is stored within the heart, muscles, and fibers within our body, which in turn causes various ailments to appear in our lives.
To restore the qi, TCM practitioners are trained to use a variety of ancient and modern therapeutic methods, including acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage, nutrition, and lifestyle counseling.
From my own experience, I tried acupuncture to treat exhaustion.
A painful C-section recovery following the birth of my daughter, and going back to work four months later proved to be very taxing for me.
Everybody said it was normal to feel tired when you have a small baby, but a year and a half after delivery I was still ridiculously tired and depressed.
My blood work was normal and I was sleeping well, so my doctor wasn’t sure what was causing the tiredness or how to treat it.
I was talking about my tiredness one day with a relative who suggested I try acupuncture, as she was finding it very helpful with her condition. I then remembered that a friend of mine told me how she healed from chronic wrist pain by going to an acupuncturist.
So, I decided to try it, and I’m glad I did. Although I didn’t feel cured after the first session, I did feel slightly better. I went back for about another five or six sessions over the next two months and I totally picked up physically.
On another occasion, I also healed 100% from a chronic cough that would not go away, just with one acupuncture session and cupping done on my back by the acupuncturist straight after the session. I have gone back to the acupuncturist to treat other issues and it has always done wonders for my health.
Ayurvedic medicine is a system of healing that originated in ancient India. In Sanskrit, ayur means “life” or “living,” and veda means “knowledge,” so Ayurveda has been defined as the “knowledge of living” or the “science of longevity.”
According to Ayurvedic theory, everything in the universe is connected; therefore, anything that affects our physical, spiritual, or emotional well-being can cause us to be out of balance with the universe.
Good health is achieved when our mind, body, and spirit are in harmony with the universe.
Deepak Chopra, MD, a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, says that the two main guiding principles of Ayurveda are that (a) the mind and the body are connected, and (b) nothing has more power to heal and transform the body than the mind.
Chopra explains that meditation is just one of the most powerful tools the ancient Ayurvedic physicians prescribed for balancing the mind and body.
Ayurveda also offers many other practices for expanding self-awareness and cultivating your innate state of balance, such as nutrition, counseling, massage, natural medications, and herbal remedies.
Naturopathic doctors (NDs) are physicians trained in the art and science of natural health care at accredited medical colleges.
ND’s prescribe natural treatments such as herbal medicine, acupuncture and other oriental remedies, hydrotherapy, and nutrition and diet.
The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) states that Naturopathic doctors treat all medical conditions and can provide both individual and family health care.
Among the most common ailments they treat are allergies, chronic pain, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, obesity, respiratory conditions, heart disease, fertility problems, menopause, adrenal fatigue, cancer, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
NDs can perform minor surgeries, such as removing cysts or stitching up superficial wounds. However, they do not practice major surgery.
NDs are trained to utilize prescription drugs, although the emphasis of naturopathic medicine is the use of natural healing agents.
Hydrotherapy is the application of water for therapeutic purposes; the use of water, ice, steam, and hot and cold temperatures to maintain and restore health. Treatments include full body immersion, steam baths, saunas, and the application of hot and/or cold compresses.
Herbal therapy is an ancient form of healing still widely used in much of the world. Herbalism uses natural plants or plant-based substances to treat a range of illnesses and to enhance the functioning of the body’s systems.
Though herbalism is not a licensed professional modality in the United States, herbs are prescribed by a range of practitioners. There is a body of knowledge about the herbal treatments used by various Native Americans, and much of the information has been tested and incorporated into our present herbal therapies.
Some ND’s are also trained in homeopathy.
From the National Center for Homeopathy:
Homeopathy is a safe, gentle, and natural system of healing that works with your body to relieve symptoms, restore itself, and improve your overall health. It is extremely safe to use, even with very small children and pets, has none of the side effects of many traditional medications, is very affordable, is made from natural substances, and is FDA regulated. It is used to treat acute illnesses, like colds, ear infections, migraines, and sore throats, as well as chronic conditions, like asthma, depression, autism, and arthritis.
Homeopathy is prescribed according to three basic principles:
1. Like cures like.
2. The more a remedy is diluted, the greater the potency.
3. Illness is specific to the individual.
Homeopathy is based on the belief that symptoms are signs of the body’s effort to get rid of disease, and treatment is based on the whole person, rather than on the symptoms.
2. Physical therapies
Physical therapies are based on the premise that an illness or injury in one part of the body affects all parts, and that manual manipulation will create and speed recovery.
Touch has been used in medicine since the early days of medical care.
The most commonly used types of physical therapies are osteopathy, chiropractic, and massage.
Osteopathic medicine is a system of medicine based on the theory that disturbances in the musculoskeletal system affect other body parts, causing many disorders that can be corrected by various manipulative techniques in conjunction with conventional medical, surgical, pharmacological, and other therapeutic procedures.
Osteopathic physicians provide comprehensive medical care, including preventive medicine, diagnosis, surgery, prescription medications, and hospital referrals.
Osteopathic Doctors (DOs) are complete physicians. That means they are fully trained and licensed to prescribe medication and to perform surgery. In diagnosis and treatment, they pay particular attention to the joints, bones, muscles, and nerves, and are specially trained in osteopathic manipulative treatment – using their hands to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness.
According to the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) DOs are fully trained medical doctors (MDs) who receive additional extensive training in the body’s structure and function.
2.2 Doctors of Chiropractic (DC)
The chiropractor views the spine as the backbone of human health; misalignments of the vertebrae caused by poor posture or trauma can cause pressure on the spinal nerve roots, leading to diminished function and illness.
Through manipulation or adjustment of the spine, treatment seeks to analyze and correct these misalignments. Adjustments involve the manipulation of the spine and joints to re-establish and maintain normal nervous system functioning.
Some chiropractors employ additional therapies, such as massage, nutrition, and applied kinesiology.
The American Chiropractic Association states that All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands officially recognize chiropractic as a health care profession. Many other countries also recognize and regulate chiropractic, including Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, Australia, Japan, and Switzerland.
3. Mind therapies
Some healing modalities use the mind as a tool to understand the causes of disease and to treat stress and phobias. These include meditation and hypnotherapy.
Meditation has been associated with a decrease in stress, depression, anxiety, pain, and insomnia, along with an increase in quality of life.
When we meditate, we enter a state of expanded awareness and inner quiet that refreshes the mind and restores balance. When we are calm and peaceful our soul comes through our emotions to give us guidance.
Meditation also helps us to raise our vibration, which is essential to receiving our desires.
Since the mind and body are inseparable, the body is naturally balanced through the practice of meditation.
Hypnotherapy is the use of a state of focused attention, achieved through guided relaxation, to access the subconscious mind. Hypnosis is used for memory recall, medical treatment, skill enhancement, or personal growth.
Medically, Psychology Today writes that it can be used to treat anxiety, phobias, substance abuse including tobacco, sexual dysfunction, undesirable spontaneous behaviors, and bad habits. It can also be used to help improve sleep, learning disorders, communication, and relationship issues.
Hypnotherapy is a means of bypassing the conscious mind and accessing the subconscious, where suppressed memories, repressed emotions, and forgotten events are recorded.
Hypnosis may facilitate behavioral, emotional, or attitudinal change such as weight loss or smoking cessation. It is also used to treat phobias and stress.
Sometimes we have deep-rooted fears coming from previous lives, such as an irrational fear of heights, losing a loved one, or being unsuccessful. For example, death by drowning may lead to fear of being immersed in water, and a child who remembers a life that ended in shooting may show a phobia of guns and loud noises.
You will know if hypnotherapy feels right for you or not. You might want to try it if you have tried other therapies to treat phobias, stress, or other issues, without success.
4. Energy medicine and other types of alternative therapies
Energy work is beginning to be acknowledged by mainstream medicine although healing and working with energy and the Light Body is nothing new. Shamanic practitioners all over the world used Light Body healing techniques a long time ago.
Energy medicine is based on the premise that everything is energy and that changes in the life force of the body affect human health and can promote healing.
Healers work by balancing the auric field.
Reiki is an ancient Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing.
It’s administered by “laying on hands” and can easily be learned by anyone.
Reiki is commonly used to treat emotional and mental distress as well as chronic and acute physical problems. It can also assist the recipient in achieving spiritual focus and clarity.
The following is an explanation of how Reiki works from The International Center for Reiki Training:
Reiki heals by flowing through the affected parts of the energy field and charging them with positive energy. It raises the vibratory level of the energy field in and around the physical body where the negative thoughts and feelings are attached. This causes the negative energy to break apart and fall away. In so doing, Reiki clears, straightens and heals the energy pathways, thus allowing the life force to flow in a healthy and natural way.
I have received Reiki sessions and I have learned to use it for my family and myself.
It is wonderful!
I have read blogs and articles that report Reiki (and energy healing in general) to be a fraud, but from my perspective, the reasons they might view Reiki as a fraud are threefold:
1. A closed mind to any therapy outside of conventional medicine. (Ironically, many people who totally dismiss and trash Reiki have never had a session.)
2. Not every therapy works for everybody, so it could be that the people receiving Reiki didn’t experience healing or the relief they were expecting.
3. The problem is the alleged practitioner and/or teacher, not Reiki. Some practitioners are better and more experienced than others, although that happens with all practitioners in both conventional and alternative medicine.
One of the best ways to find a qualified Reiki Master is to go to the International Center for Reiki Training, go to its membership listing, pick the state you live in, and then find a practitioner near you. Call them or go to see the practitioner you selected.
Many professional experienced Reiki practitioners are not listed with the International Center for Reiki Training (ICRT). This is because there are other ways to obtain the Reiki qualification and students don’t have to go through ICRT. However, ICRT is the only Reiki organization I’m aware of that keeps a public online listing of all its practitioners.
A lot of Reiki practitioners also use essential oils, crystals, and other alternative therapies to aid healing.
4.2 Essential oils
Essential oils are the botanical extracts of plant leaves, the life force of plants.
Essential oils are wonderful to treat many ailments, a full explanation of what essential oils are, their pros and cons, where to shop for them and how to use them is too long to explain in this post.
You can find that information in this post (Tool #10): 13 indispensable self-healing tools to heal body and soul.
There is also a vast amount of free content on the Internet regarding essential oils.
Reflexology is based on the idea that there are reflex points on the feet that correspond to every organ, gland, and part of the body. For example, the head is reflected in our big toe.
With fingers and thumbs, the practitioner applies pressure to these points to treat a wide range of stress-related illnesses. The alternating pressure has a stimulating effect on the body. Reflexology improves nerve and blood supply.
Some people use essential oils and rub them on their feet to aid healing, based on reflexology. I do that often with many types of essential oils.
Reflexology helps the body to restore its balance naturally, and when done by a professional reflexologist it is one of my favorite alternative treatments. (Many spas offer reflexology treatments but the therapist just provides a foot massage. That is not reflexology. If you wish to try it you might want to check first the credentials of the reflexologist, or visit The International Institute of Reflexology website for professional practitioners near you.)
Why some therapies don’t work
No one method works for everybody, even if the initial diagnoses seem similar. Each healing modality has a specific frequency, and each person is unique and carries a specific frequency too.
Understanding how we contracted the disease ultimately affects the treatment required.
There are various reasons some healing modalities work for some people and not for others:
1. Natural preferences
You are going to be naturally drawn to particular healing modalities and not at all to others. For example, you might feel very comfortable seeing an acupuncturist, but not an energy healer.
If you are afraid of a particular form of treatment, such as chemotherapy or a past-life regression technique, the resulting tension will interfere with your ability to heal.
But if you are impressed with the statistical results of such a treatment, you know friends and family members who have seen positive results with it, and you are open to it, then you will significantly improve the chances of it working for you.
Healing will occur to the degree that the familiarity with the treatment makes your body feel secure and helps it to relax.
2. Using the wrong therapy
Some therapies reach up to heal only a specific level of the aura.
For example, chiropractic therapy reaches up through the physical body and first levels of the aura, as do herbs, drugs, and surgery.
Energy healing, Reiki, meditating, sound, and crystals all reach the upper levels of the auric field and have a better chance of healing emotional/spiritual problems.
3. The life lesson you came to master
The life lesson you came to master sometimes manifests as hereditary conditions.
This is the reason why some illnesses that “run in the family” are present in some members but not in others.
Sometimes no single therapy works because people need to get to the bottom of certain issues before they are ready to release them.
They are determined to hit bottom, and there is nothing anybody can say or do that will stop their determination to go there.
Hitting bottom is something they wish to do, consciously or unconsciously, because they know they will eventually re-emerge stronger than ever.
There are many types of alternative practitioners. Always check their credentials and patient reviews. There is excellent alternative education available for every viable modality.
Most importantly, pay attention to how you feel about the treatment itself.
To conclude, I believe there is a time and a place for both conventional and alternative medicine, and we should seek to combine both for optimal results.
This Hindu proverb summarizes this post perfectly (which can also apply to religion and to many other facets of life):
There are hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading to the same place, so it doesn’t matter which path you take. The only person wasting time is the one who runs around the mountain, telling everyone that his or her path is wrong.
The opponents of homeopathy and other alternative treatments claim that the only reason why these therapies work is because of the placebo effect.
A placebo is a substance, such as a pill or a shot, that doesn’t contain any active medicine.
The placebo effect (or placebo response) occurs when this neutral treatment improves a person’s condition simply because the person has the expectation that it will be helpful.
It is true to some extent, the stronger our belief that a treatment method will work, the better the results.
Our mindset is crucial for healing to occur, but so are other genetic and spiritual factors. I’m not convinced that all alternative therapies work because of the placebo effect.
There is a place for alternative therapies, and I use them often, but conventional medicine can be life-saving in many situations too.
I believe we would be at optimal health if we used both, conventional and alternative therapies.
You might find useful to read the following related posts:
Have you used an alternative therapy that has proven to be really useful for you? Please feel free to share your experience below, or let me know if you have any questions