Alternative medicine, also described as complementary medicine, may seem trendy or hip to many of us, but it is, in fact, rooted in ancient beliefs and healing practices. These “early” systems of care looked at the body and mind as a connected system.
When “modern” medicine became popular in eighteenth century America, however, a line was clearly drawn, separating the body (attended to by doctors) from the mind (attended to by clergy). As a result, while systems such as acupuncture from China, Ayurvedic medicine from India, and even Native American folk medicine relieved the suffering of millions of people over thousands of years, Westerners have only recently begun to embrace the wisdom handed down to us by our remote ancestors.
Jim, an engineer who commuted nearly an hour by car every day from his home in suburban Boston to his job in the city, embodies the “disconnect” between standard medical care and the possibilities beyond it. Jim was happy with his job, happy with his family, but he dreaded his daily commute. Each morning, as the time to leave for work approached, Jim experienced severe stomachaches. Before he left to go home in the evening, the same thing happened.
Jim saw his primary care doctor as well as a stomach specialist, but nothing seemed to help. One friend recommended acupuncture, another suggested homeopathy, Jim’s officemate said he should try biofeedback and see a chiropractor. Everyone told him he should learn how to “just relax.” Ultimately, Jim was more confused than ever, and as a solution eluded him, he lapsed into a mild depression.
Unfortunately, this story is familiar to many people. When standard medical procedures and medications do not succeed in reducing or eliminating symptoms, where can you turn? Once it becomes clear that there are many treatment “alternatives,” how do you evaluate your options and make a choice that is right for you? And what exactly is “alternative medicine” anyway?
What Is Alternative Medicine, and How Does It Differ from Complementary Medicine?
In a nutshell, alternative medicine can be described as a range of treatment approaches and healthcare practices that are not generally taught in medical schools or available in hospitals and are also not generally covered by insurance plans. Some of these practices are familiar to most people (for example, acupuncture, chiropractics, and the use of herbal supplements), while others are less widely known (for example, Ayurvedic medicine, naturopathy, and qi gong).