Trying Alternative Medicine? 6 Things You Need to Know

Around 38% of Americans use some form of complementary or alternative medicine.  Whether it is acupuncture or chiropractic, meditation or aromatherapy, many people are seeing the benefit to a more holistic approach to heath care.  As the debate continues around health care reform and alternative medicine’s role in it, it is important to understand the benefits and considerations when contemplating going the alternative route.

1.  There is no one size fits all therapy

Just as there is no magic pill that works for everyone, there isn’t a therapy either that all people will benefit from.   Due to our dynamic nature, genetics, beliefs and lifestyle choices there will be some modalities that resonate with you more than others.  There will also be some alternative therapies that are better suited for your condition.  Some therapies are not intended for use as a treatment of an illness, but rather they support the innate healing mechanisms by bringing balance to the mind, body and spirit. Realize that your expectation of results or skepticism will also play a role in your outcomes.  Ask yourself, what is that I am looking to receive from this approach?  Then do some research to determine if the proposed therapy is a good match for you and your needs. 

2.  It takes a commitment

We have become accustomed in Western medicine to expect fast results.  Alternative medicine in most cases takes some time and commitment.  Holistic healing does not happen overnight and it requires a conscious effort on your part. As a practitioner, I can’t tell you how many times I have had clients that come in and want to know exactly how many sessions it will take for them to see results.  Many of the issues they are dealing with are years in the making.  Expecting to see lasting results after a few sessions, while possible, is not that likely.  The more committed you are to making the supporting lifestyle changes, the bigger and more lasting the results.  This isn’t a drawback, but rather a source of empowerment. What is more valuable than taking care of yourself and evolving as an individual?  It is all part and parcel to leading a more fulfilling, purposeful and healthy life.

3.   They have different healing philosophies

Many people believe that Western medicine is an exact science, but in many cases it is an art.  There is a lot of trial and error involved in finding the right treatment and in some instances, even the right diagnosis.  So be aware there is room for interpretation in everything.  Many alternative medicines have a different healing philosophy; meaning that why people get sick and how they get well could be coming from a unique understanding of healing.  In many cases this will create a different pathophysiology, which is the cause and progression of an illness. This may require you to look at your challenge in a new way.  This could be a good thing.  For example in Homeopathy, which at one time was a prominent part of mainstream medicine, it operates under the assumption that ‘like cures like’, which is in stark contrast to the Germ Theory where the goal is to identify the pathogen and remove the threat.

Because alternative medicine may have different foundations for healing, they will also use different language. If you go to see a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and you tell them you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, there is no IBS in that model.  Instead they may talk to you about Qi and the elements.  So it is a good idea to be open to others interpretations of how the body heals and try not to get too caught up in creating parallels between what they tell you and how Western medicine explains it.

4.  Different tools in the tool bag

In working with Cancer patients, many of them have expressed their frustration in the doctors not talking to them about nutrition or mind/body techniques, but that is not what they are trained to do.  There isn’t anything wrong with that, they just have different tools in their tool bag. They can’t specialize in everything. That is why having a wide healing network is important. Just as in alternative medicine, each practitioner will have a set of tools that they use built around their healing philosophy.  So seek out the specific skill set you are looking for from a qualified practitioner.  If you are looking for nutritional help, seek out a holistic nutritionist not a massage therapist. 

5.  There is research, but you have to look for it

Often you will hear that you can’t trust alternative medicine because the research isn’t’ there.  While it is true that there is less research, there is still research being done.  Much of it is not in the United States, to know why; all we have to do is follow the money.  The funding is just not there for many complementary and alternative medicines. Conventional medicine breeds built in researchers.  Some doctors spend their whole life doing research; it is part of their paradigm.  This isn’t the case in complementary and alternative medicine. That being said, many of the whole alternative medical models do have far more research than some of the complementary modalities.   So if you are interested you can find it, you might just have to dig a little deeper.

6.  Questions to ask a prospective practitioner

There are good practitioners and bad practitioners in every profession.  Sometimes it is more a case of resonance than incompetence.  So this is wise advice regardless of where your health care comes from.  Since most alternative medicine is paid out of pocket, it is a good idea to get referrals and do a little bit of research.  Find someone you resonate with.  Check out their office and see if they will do a short meet and greet before you become their client/patient.  It is important to trust them and feel comfortable in their space.

Here is a list of questions to ask your practitioner. (1) What types of therapies do you practice? (2) What is your training and qualifications? (3) How long have you been practicing? (4) Do you have experience in working with clients/patients with my condition? (5) How much do you charge? Do you take insurance (6) Will you work with my doctor?

In most cases, using a blend of complementary/alternative therapies in conjunction with conventional medicine is the best route to take.  Always make sure you let your doctor know what else you are doing.  They may not like it, but there can be some serious contraindications, so be transparent.  And don't forget to check in with yourself in moments of solitude.  Ask your heart what you need and blend that awareness with prudence and research. 

Angela Levesque is writer, healer and health educator.  She is the author of Healing Environment: The Conscious Creation of Health.  Angela also hosts On Health & Healing on   Angela works with clients doing intuitive lifestyle coaching, and teaches several classes on self-care, meditation & weight loss. Visit for more information. Find her on and



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Comment by Angela Levesque on February 11, 2014 at 11:44am

Thank-you Kathy.  Will someone let me know when it goes live, so I can do promotion on my end?  In health, Angela

Comment by Kathy Custren on February 10, 2014 at 7:51pm

Thank you, Angela - will be recommending this for the website. ~ Blessings!

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