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. Holistic medicine integrates conventional and complementary therapies to promote optimal health and 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.

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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, radiation, 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, hospital 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 that attribute to disease, more of the population needs 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 uses 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’s innate healing response is reinforced through nutrition, exercise, occupation, and mind-body medicine. The body has its own wisdom.

Principle 2: Do No Harm

Ethical principles are foundational when applying CAM in conjunction with traditional medicine.

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 lifestyle changes 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 lifestyles and everyday schedules.

Principles 6: Treat the Whole Person

The clinician treats the whole person by considering 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 by 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. Treating the whole body is a holistic approach that addresses the physical ailment of the body and also offers peace of mind to prevent stress. Stress triggers the 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 Rise From the Dread by Janine Vance.

Warm Regards,


Read more from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health here.

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