Alternative medicine goes mainstream. That was the Associated Press headline last week, which detailed the growing trend of more Americans seeking help from things like herbal supplements, acupuncture, meditation, massage, yoga and other ancient Eastern techniques.
I’m a yoga teacher and soon-to-be-licensed massage therapist. I like to meditate and occasionally talk to trees if they’re in my path. I’m also a journalist and understand how to research, ask questions, be a cynic and look for holes in any story, no matter how good it sounds.
The report detailed, in some cases, lack of credible evidence that some of the alternative therapies work. It pointed out the lack of licensure in several states (not Florida) for some alternative health-care providers, and the sometimes-questionable quality of supplements.
So what of all this hoopla? What DO we know?
We know positive attitudes contribute to feelings of well-being and can change a person’s perception of pain and quality of life.
We know a certain percentage of people in any double-blind study will be “cured” from a sugar pill. If we think it’s supposed to work, it just may work. I wish my doctor would try it more often, personally.
We also know stress contributes to a wide range of medical problems and some alternative therapies, like massage, meditation and yoga, directly work toward managing stress in more healthful ways.
If we’ve been to some hospitals, clinics or doctors lately, we may also know what a steer feels like. My mother’s recent visit to the physician was one of those “cow-herding” experiences. It was wait, wait, wait; then “next”; then 10 minutes with a doctor who dismissed most of what was said, then a prescription in hand.
So what are Americans gaining from all these popular alternative treatments if they’re so unproven? One thing researchers may consider is how many people are sick of being a steer and crave being cared for, touched, heard and validated.
A yoga teacher may spend well over an hour with students weekly, not only sharing how to cope with stress, but talking afterward in an empathetic way about their bodies.
A massage therapist spends an hour touching, hearing clients’ experiences about what hurts and why.
Most acupuncturists gather enough background information to write your memoirs for you. A health store employee typically stands at the ready to optimistically talk about nutrition, exercise and various products for as long as you’re willing.
I’m not touting any therapy over another, but support integrative medicine that combines both Eastern and Western philosophies. I’m fortunate to have a great family physician who thinks the same way.
One thing I do know is that traditional medicine can take a hint about what people really want and need: A caring, patient health-care professional, who takes their time, listens and comes with positive attitude.
That’s what people get from alternative medicine – and they love it, proven or not.
Guidance from an elder brother
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