Alternative Therapies

Alternative Therapies is one of several expressions used to refer to modes of treating (some people would say 're-balancing') physical, mental, emotional or spiritual dis-eases that are not universally offered or are not always funded by the conventional medical system in the particular time and location concerned e.g. your city in your country.

The word alternative is sometimes used to emphasize choice. Presenting a therapeutic option as an 'alternative' can increase the sense of the person seeking healing having the opportunity to react to his or her physical, mental and / or emotional condition in a variety of ways, such as using:

  • conventional (allopathic) medicine
  • other forms of treatment/s, perhaps including some that are not currently approved by conventional Western allopathic medicine,
  • a combination of allopathic and other treatments, or
  • no treatment at all

... according to the person's own preference based on his or her knowledge, values, willingness to tolerate particular types of situations, cultural and religious background and affiliations, or whatever else is important to that individual human being.

Use of the word alternative can therefore imply tolerance and a willingness not to judge either the type of treatment or approach, or individuals' decisions about which treatments to pursue or reject. For example, some allopathic medical practitioners might refer to 'alternative therapies' neutrally in order to respect their patients' consideration of other approaches without expressing their, possibly less than optimistic, expectations of some 'alternative' approaches. That makes sense given that having spent many years studying only allopathic medicine, allopathic practitioners can reasonably be expected to give advice within that sphere of knowledge, but cannot be expected to be similarly well-informed about other approaches to well-being, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) if a practitioner of conventional Western medicine who only has experience of that system within say Canada and the USA. Conversely, a Chinese patient of that practitioner might have experience of both systems and choose to make enquiries within both systems before deciding which approach to proceed with and where.

Expressing this in a slightly different way, while the word complementary (when applied to health-related matters such as types of treatments) can imply deference to conventional Western allopathic medicine especially when used in Europe and North America, the word alternative implies deference to the client or patient in the sense that the concept of having alternatives (options) suggests that the person seeking treatment has a wider range of possibilities and is more empowered to make his or her own choice from among the approaches available.

Other related terms include complementary therapies, holistic therapies, natural therapies, traditional medicine, and other similar expressions.

Examples of treatments that may be referred to using these terms include:

For more about the distinctions between these and similar terms see the terminology page.


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