What are Complementary and Alternative Medicine?

The Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine defines Holistic Medicine as “the art and science of healing that addresses the care of the whole person – body, mind, and spirit.  The practice of holistic medicine integrates conventional and complementary therapies to promote optimal health and to prevent and treat disease by mitigating causes.”

What are Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAM)?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, complementary and alternative medicine are non-mainstream practices, each with its own usage.  Complementary Medicine is used together with Conventional Medicine and Alternative Medicine is used in place of Conventional Medicine.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Conventional Medicine “as the usual methods of healing or treating disease taught in Western medical schools.” Conventional treatments may include using drugs, medications, radiations or surgery.

Integrative Medicine involves bringing both conventional and complementary approaches together in a coordinated way to aid in recovery.  The remedy combines traditional with complementary and alternative approaches to treat the whole person.

Common complementary approaches for maintaining health include natural methods like conscious breathing, meditation, massage, guided imagery, progressive relaxation techniques, Reiki, Hippotherapy, Hypnotherapy, Chiropractic care, and gentle exercises such as Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong.

Today’s doctors integrate Complementary and Alternative Medicine CAM with mainstream conventional medical care. Due to the high cost of conventional medicine, hospitals stays, surgeries and rehabilitation, the less one-to-one time with a physician, combined with the scientific evidence for CAM and recognition of lifestyle factors which attribute to disease, more of the population are in need of finding affordable alternatives and methods to prevent disease. The solution has been found in Complementary and Alternative Medicine. In the United States, over 38% of the population use CAM annually, whereas approximately 80% of the world’s population use CAM.

Below are the six principles of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (Novey, 2000):

Principle 1: Innate Healing

The body has an innate healing response reinforced through nutrition, exercise, occupation and mind-body medicine. The body has its own wisdom.

Principle 2: Do No Harm

When applying CAM in conjunction with traditional medicine, ethical principles play a foundational role.

Principle 3: Treat the Cause

The clinician should attempt to identify and treat the causes of illnesses since symptoms are usually expressions of the body’s attempt to heal itself. Causes may be related to physical, mental-emotional and spiritual factors.

Principle 4: Prevention

Prevention, the ultimate goal of CAM is accomplished by a change of lifestyle in diet, stress, exercise and managing one’s health. The emphasis is on building health.

Principles 5: Be a Teacher

The clinician applying CAM is a teacher and encourages the clients to incorporate healthy practices into one’s lifestyle and everyday schedule.

Principles 6: Treat the Whole Person

The clinician treats the whole person by taking into consideration the interaction of the physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental and social factors in a person’s life.

Complementary and Alternative medicine principles work on the prevention of diseases through reducing stress.  Whereas, stress triggers illness, meditation relaxes the mind and calms the body, producing a healing foundation and influence.

The benefit of a holistic approach and alternative therapies is that the combination recognizes that all are interconnected. This acknowledgment aids in recovery. To treat the whole person, a holistic approach addresses the physical ailment of the body and also offers peace of mind to prevent stress which triggers illness.

To decrease life’s stress, enjoy our meditations and guided visualizations and, for more on the topic, be sure to pick up the book Going Back to Zen by Janine Vance.

Novey, D.N. (2000). Clinician’s Complete Reference to Complementary and Alternative Medicine. St. Louis: Mosby