Why is alternative medicine so popular?

The rise of complementary therapy and alternative medicine

The debate about complementary therapy and alternative medicine’s effectiveness is ongoing and will continue for many more years. What can’t be denied is its popularity. Year on year, society’s attitude has changed toward complementary health and belief in the benefits of alternative medicine grows stronger. But why is this? What is it that makes people turn to alternative treatment methods? In this article, we’ll look at the rise of complementary therapy and alternative medicine and examine our reasons for choosing it over conventional treatments.

Let’s first examine some facts. In a British report carried out in 1990, 34% of the population had tried some form of complementary medicine, this increased to 42% by 1997. In 2000, there were 50,000 complementary and alternative medicine practitioners in the UK. A report in 2001 found that one in ten people had used complementary therapy in the previous 12 months. Nearly 50% of GPs offered some form of complementary therapy in 2001, up from 39% in 1995 – with that growth, the figure is now likely to be around 60%. Those are the figures; let’s examine some of the reasons.

Why are people using alternative medicine?

What reasons are there as to why over the last 25 years or so people are turning to complementary healthcare? Well, in part, we can put it down to society becoming better educated and well-informed about their choices. We can thank the growth of the internet for that, but better information sources have brought alternative medicine into the social psyche. Knowledge of alternative methods creates a population that is more sophisticated and able to seek out ways to improve their health and well being outside of conventional healthcare. This creates a population who demand more say into how their treatment is administered and in what form. But doctors too, and in particular GPs, are also increasing their medical knowledge in complementary health which is then passed on to their patients.

So, those who support alternative medicine and complementary therapy, and actively use it to overcome illness or prevent illness in the first place, now have strong beliefs to its effectiveness. Those beliefs are passed on in conversation to friends, family and colleagues who go on to try alternative methods themselves and draw their own conclusions. The popularity grows, the benefits are understood (and recognised in scientific research) and so scepticism turns to validation. Indeed, in the UK the Department of Health now recognises there are numerous complementary therapies available, and that list is growing.

What are some of the benefits that alternative medicine and complementary therapy provides over conventional healthcare? Firstly, let’s not dismiss conventional methods, they are proven to work in most situations and excellent in response to acute situations and emergencies – you’d call an ambulance after a car crash before you’d call your Acupuncturist! Conventional medicine can also work alongside non-conventional methods – that’s why we refer to complementary therapy as ‘complementary’. However, conventional medicine can’t always manage chronic conditions effectively, nor does it address the psychological, emotional and spiritual needs of the individual. Conventional medicine isn’t ideal for prevention of disease and illness either. This is where alternative medicine stands tall and excels. What we actually refer to as ‘alternative’ is really seen by large numbers of the world’s population as central to everyday healthcare.

Alternative medicine and complementary therapy is for everyone

Don’t think that alternative treatment is exclusive. The numbers using it are testament to that. People who choose alternative medicine and complementary therapy come from all walks of life and income isn’t necessarily a barrier. Many insurance companies recognise the benefits of complementary healthcare because it is seen as fast and effective. For instance, utilising massage therapy and hydrotherapy for back pain can lead to a quicker recovery which in turn means less therapy and therefore makes financial sense.

Although the NHS and the government are committed to a responsive healthcare system that meets the needs of the population, and complementary therapy sits within that remit, budgetary restrictions can hold back the treatments available. Private therapy is readily available and costs are driven down as popularity and availability increases. Consider booking a session with an alternative and complementary therapy practitioner, many millions have already done so.

Article submitted by
Daniel Alexander, GoToSee Journalist

Date published
17/10/08


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