Complementary Therapies is one of several expressions used to refer to modes of treating or some people would say 're-balancing' physical, mental, emotional or spiritual dis-eases that are not universally offered or are not funded by the conventional medical provisions in the particular time and location concerned.
The word 'complementary' may be used to convey and emphasise the idea that the therapy offered is not in conflict with orthodox medicine, and is therefore appropriate for use in conjunction with whatever treatment the person is already receiving from his or her orthodox practitioner(s).
Therapists who emphasize that their treatments are "complementary - not alternative", may be presenting their treatment in this way as part of an overall approach of deferring to conventional medicine whenever possible, e.g. checking with their clients' GPs (conventional medical practitioners) that the medic has no objection to his or her patient receiving the 'complementary' treatment. One possible reason for doing this is that making such checks can help to protect the therapist from blame or liability in the event that the patient's condition deteriorates after receiving the treatment concerned, or allegations are made that the therapist caused or exacerbated a problem.
The word 'complementary' is also used by those who seek favour from conventional medical institutions, perhaps for patient referrals, use of premises, their idea of 'status' for the treatment method, or some other reason. For example, the term 'complementary' may be used by those presenting their treatment or process as a mild, harmless, pleasant 'help and support' to go with some conventional medical treatment but which is not expected to have a substantial effect - that is, without challenging the idea that the conventional medical treatment is the 'real' source of any 'cure' or management of the condition.
Therefore use of the expression complementary therapies has different connotations from use of the expression alternative therapies, even if these different words are used to refer to the same approach or type of treatment.
Examples of treatments that may be referred to using some of these terms include:
For more about the distinctions between these and similar terms see the terminology page.