Complementary Medicine

Complementary MedicineWhat is Complementary Medicine?

Complementary and conventional medicine adopt very different approaches toward the definition and treatment of disease. Conventional medicine is diagnosis-led: doctors use symptoms and medical tests to assess the problem, and prescribe treatment accordingly. Complementary practitioners aim to deal with the patient as a whole: for them, illness signifies a disruption of physical and mental well-being. Treatment attempts to stimulate the body's natural self-healing and self-regulating abilities.

The Rise in Popularity

Today, interest in complementary medicine appears to be worldwide. Popularity in the West has grown steadily since the 1970's, accelerating in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Nearly half the Australian population is said to use at least one non-medially prescribed remedy, with over on fifth having visited a complementary practitioner.

What Complementary Medicine Can Offer

A 1995 survey in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology revealed that many people turn to complementary therapies because they believe them to be more effective for their condition than conventional medicine. The emphasis on treating the whole person and allowing patients to play an active part in maintaining health is also attractive. The attention paid by health professionals and the media to health promotion and preventive medicine - a healthy diet, regular exercise, stress-management techniques and self-monitoring for symptoms of illness - encourages us to take responsibility for our well-being and to be involved in discussions about treatment. The amount of time and consultation this requires may note, with the best will in the world, be within the scope of the average hard-pressed doctor.

Complementary medicine, with its focus on partnership, holism and self-healing, can therefore seem like the more natural approach, in every sense.

Who Uses Complementary Medicine?

International surveys have shown that people in developed countries using complementary therapies tend to be better educated and enjoy higher incomes than average.

UK research has shown that users fall into two categories: those with a specific problem, and those who sympathise with complementary medicine's "approach to life". On the whole, men are most likely to consult a practitioners of therapies such as osteopathy, remedial therapies, not because they are concerned about any toxic side-effects but, more pragmatically, because conventional medicine did not help their specific problem. Women, however, tend to be more interested in easing stress and maintaining well-being, and are drawn to gentler therapies, such as reflexology, and aromatherapy. Often those who turn to therapies for a specific problem experience other positive benefits, thus encouraging an interest in the approach to life offered by complementary medicine.

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