Understanding Traditional, Complementary, and Alternative Modes of Healing

by Barbara Cunnings-Versaevel (with insert by Angela Cilano)

Over the years since my diagnosis, I have become acquainted with many different ways of healing. They have been very instrumental in my healing process and continue to be to this day.

This is largely due to the fact that once you are finished with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation and whatever other treatment has been planned, you are on your own. It’s like dropping off the cliff. I recall this feeling distinctly when I no longer had regular appointments and was scheduled for checkups only.

In truth, the healing starts from this point forward. This is why it is important to understand all the other options that are open to you. There are many. You will find some useful, others not, but you do need to know what they are. Also, some you will use right after treatment and others on a continuing basis to maintain and ensure that you stay on the healing path.

Below is a summary of what is available for you to explore – and I do mean explore.

Many of these ways of healing will be foreign to you. Be assured that these modalities have been around for centuries and were at one time, the treatment of choice. They are not a magic bullet (pill/treatment), but a way of accessing your own body’s ability to heal by placing it in balance. They take time. Your body needs time to adjust. You need time to create a new way of living.

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Essential Guide to Alternative and 
Complementary Therapies 
(by Angela Cilano)

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (also referred to as CAM) has seen a gradual rise in popularity over the past few decades. It offers a different approach to conventional "Western" medicine, which many patients swear by.

These days there are numerous alternative and complimentary therapists to choose from to help you improve your quality of life and ease medical conditions.

The following guide will give you a clear overview of this method of treatment, so you can decide whether you’d like to give it a try.
Difference between CAM and Conventional Medicine

With standard allopathic medicine, which originated in the West, you go to a doctor with the relevant degree. They will diagnose your condition and treat it based on the conventional medical knowledge and experience they have learnt. Illnesses are treated scientifically and often pharmaceuticals are prescribed.

In contrast, CAM originated in the East and is largely grounded in Chinese medicine, although arguably it has been practised to a degree throughout the world since the dawn of mankind. Herbs and other natural substances are used to affect both the mind and body in order to restore the wellbeing that comes from treating patients as an interconnected whole.
Difference between Alternative and Complementary Therapies

While the two terms are often used interchangeably, there is in fact a difference.

Alternative medicine replaces the conventional medical approach altogether – for example, if you opt for yoga instead of going to a physical therapist, you’re choosing an alternative therapy.

Complimentary therapy works together with conventional medicine, such as if you have arthritis and you take calcium vitamins in addition to pharmaceuticals.

A final point to mention is Integrative medicine. This is a combination approach which blends complementary, alternative and conventional medicine into one treatment, thus effectively using the practises of both Western and Eastern therapies.
Main Types of CAM Therapies

It’s important to mention that while CAM is thought of as the ‘natural’ approach, this is not actually always the case. Sometimes herbs and other plant substances are combined with non-natural additives to make an alternative supplement.

In addition, many people think that CAM is not dangerous compared to pharmaceuticals – this is also not true, since there are many plants that can be toxic if not taken in the correct dosage.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s explore the main types of Complementary and Alternative therapies:

This category includes herbal supplements, botanicals, animal-derived products, vitamins, proteins, probiotics and other organics.
Energy Medicine

This entails veritable energy such as sound, electromagnetic forces and light or putative energy fields (also termed biofields) which are used to identify the state of your body’s energy field, called "Chi", and restore it to the correct balance. Alternative and Complimentary therapists believe that when your energy field is out of whack, it causes illness in the body. Examples of energy therapies are acupuncture, homeopathy, healing touch, reiki, Qi gong, and prayer.

This approach relies on understanding the structures and systems of the body to make adjustments which will then heal symptoms and medical problems. Examples include chiropractic, osteopathic, reflexology and therapeutic massage.
Mind-Body Medicine

Even the conventional medical community has long understood the interlinked relationship between body and mind. This type of therapy focuses on the interactions of the brain, behaviour and physical health. Approaches such as meditation, yoga, biofeedback and tai chi have gained increasing acceptance as being useful. In fact this type of approach is being scientifically studied and used more and more for pain control, cancer management and research into the immune system.

If you’re considering a CAM approach to improve your general wellbeing, there is a wealth of Alternative and Complementary therapists you can visit for a trial to see how it gels with you. There’s no doubt that yoga, meditation, vitamins, probiotics and the like make us feel better as well as more relaxed.

If however you have a serious medical condition, do make sure to talk it over with your doctor. Many Western practitioners don’t believe in CAM, while others are happy to integrate any method that helps their patients feel better. Nevertheless, unless the CAM therapy you’re interested in directly affects the medicine prescribed for your illness, there’s no harm in trying to improve your health in any way that works for you.

The most important thing when it comes to trying anything new however is to take the time to do your research so that you have a good understanding of what you’re getting into. Read the wealth of easily available health information online, talk to therapists to gain an understanding of the services they offer and find out from trusted friends what CAM therapies they’ve found beneficial.

About the Author

Angela Cilano
Angela Cilano is a health researcher and independent advisor on complementary therapists. (Bio)

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