Our initiative has been going through a bit of an identity crisis and I don’t mean this in regard to our name recently changing from Healrs Network to Healers Magazine. I’m referring to our attitude toward mainstream healthcare and therein psychiatry especially. In order to explore our stance we decided to make the theme of this issue Integrative Health: Complementary vs. Alternative Therapy.
It would seem that whether or not a particular form of healing is considered alternative depends on how it is used: alongside or in place of the conventional prognosis.
My ex-girlfriend suffered from urinary tract infections periodically when we were together. A student of Bon Buddhism and a New Age enthusiast, she would attempt to heal herself using meditation and crystal therapy. Her worldview was based in Tibetan medicine, something that Douglas deBecker writes about in his article: “Physiology and Indigenous Medicine.” In every instance the pain would eventually become unbearable and she’d succumb to the medical solution: antibiotics. Her attempts at healing herself were definitively alternative but became complementary once she started taking the pills. Anyway, most people suffering from physical maladies are not so radical.
In regard to psychology people are more likely to avoid science-based care. Personally, I tried to cure my mental disorder(s) through psychoanalysis but was unable to cope with my symptoms without the help of psychotropic medication. Psychiatry is often recommended in tandem with talk therapy; despite my knowledge of this I attempted to avoid the former altogether and didn’t give in until I became desperate. My article “Can Modern Psychoanalysis Cure Bipolar Disorder?” was based on a term paper I wrote in graduate school, when I was still an avid advocate of alternative healing. Likewise, “Taking On Big Pharma” by Natalia Maximets is an article we commissioned as a manifesto before rethinking our stance on psychiatry.
The definition of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is all about what it isn’t: standardized medicine. At first glance this classification of treatments doesn’t make much sense insofar as complementary and alternative solutions appear to be mutually exclusive.
Alternative therapies are those that are intended to be applied in place of modern medicine. A good example of this sort of modality is homeopathy which is discussed in Patty Regalia’s article: “Parents Concerned about Vaccines Have Another Choice.” Addiction is not an issue associated with medical science so 12-step programs—as described by Michelle Akin in “Confessions of a Not-So-Terrible Person”—are the non-alternative cure. Meanwhile harm reduction—the topic of Jessica Katzman’s article “Alcohol and Substance Abuse: Moving Away from the Moral and Disease Models“—aims to minimize drug/alcohol usage or promiscuity and defies the dominant opinion that addicts should practice abstinence.
Other forms of healing are complementary by design. Unlike the treatments above complementary healers do not suggest that patients/participants utilize their services exclusively. Sally Hutchison provides an example of this in “What Is Biofield Tuning?”, exploring a new form of sound healing that doesn’t claim to single-handedly cure problems related to one’s mind, body and/or spirit.
In her article “Allopathic Medicine vs. Alternative Healing,” written especially for this issue, Bonnie McLean explains how her interdisciplinary practice is integrative insofar as it is focuses on physical, emotional and spiritual health. Because she and the healers with whom she works take an all-of-the-above approach in regard to healing modalities the treatment they provide is simultaneously integrative and complementary. She also sheds light on why CAM might make sense after all: many people, like my ex and me, try to heal themselves alternatively first and only if they have to turn to scientific medicine which renders the formerly-alternative treatments complementary.
Thanks to our contributors our enterprise has evolved into one that believes that you should explore holistic alternatives before you turn to Western medicine. Meanwhile, in regard to behavioral issues like addiction the popular approach is harmless so alternatives don’t reduce risks—i.e., medical side effects—which means that these options aren’t a part of CAM which, in regard to common medicine, is a reaction formation.
What do you think?