Complementary Medicine

Q: Do you know what they call ‘alternative medicine’that's been proved to work? 
A: Medicine.  From “Storm” by Tim Minchin

 I usually love Australian comic and musician Tim Minchin’s work but it’s fair to say we don’t see eye to eye on healthcare. It would seem however, that his attitude resonates with those who are skeptical about natural therapies.

Recently, I read a discussion thread in an online forum where someone had sought a recommendation for an acupuncturist in Canberra. More than half of the replies were along the lines of “it’s just hocus pocus, a scam, they’re snake oil salesmen, don’t waste your money” variety but much less kindly worded. I searched other complementary medicine modalities including naturopathy and osteopathy and found they got the same treatment. I was shocked at both the vitriol and the cynicism that some have towards well-established complementary medicine modalities.

On reflection I realized that the vast majority of the remarks come from people who have never tried the treatments themselves but nevertheless feel entitled to offer scathing and derogatory assessments. It’s like saying I don’t like that restaurant without ever having eaten there which would be galling enough, however the attitude extends to ridiculing the clientele who love the restaurant for being gullible fools for dining there and accusing the owners of the restaurant of knowingly serving food that has no substance or value. I find comments like these ill informed and patronizing. 

Perhaps this attitude comes from people who feel threatened by the massive growth in natural therapies. To those of us comfortable with a model of healthcare that embraces the concept of the body being able to heal itself and the notion that we need to attend to the wellbeing of body, mind and spirit this expansion in holistic medicine is a very welcome one. For others who cling to a narrower medical model, that if the doctor doesn’t prescribe it must be worthless and ineffective, it creates an ‘us vs them’ mentality. Natural therapies are therefore the enemy and must be attacked. 

I personally have always liked the term ‘complementary medicine’ as it encapsulates the notion that natural therapies, by looking at wellbeing from a different perspective can enhance and improve the healthcare of a society. There are clearly some areas where conventional medicine excels, acute and emergency medicine is one obvious example. If you’re in a nasty car crash you want to be taken to a hospital or if your child has a fever you want your GP to check them over. In other areas of health, complementary medicine is, in my opinion, better placed to help. If I had chronic migraines I’d want to see a osteopath; chronic digestive or skin complaints I’d want to see a naturopath; an auto immune disease or chronic anxiety I’d want to see an acupuncturist.

Additionally there are many areas where you really want to access the best of both worlds. If I was diagnosed with cancer I’d want the best of conventional and natural medicine working together to give me the greatest chance of survival and recovery.

As healthcare evolves we are, by necessity, moving to a world where there is more integration and cross-fertilization of wellbeing models and ideas. It wasn’t long ago that GP’s routinely dismissed the notion that diet had anything to do with disease. Now as research proves inadequate nutrition to be a core driver of disease, there is a massive demand for GP’s and naturopaths who specialise in nutritional medicine. Integrative medicine is growing because it’s the kind of medicine best placed to meet and solve the complex health needs of current Australians. 

Perhaps another way you can read Tim Minchin’s quote is that most of the principles and practices of alternative medicine will eventually be adopted and integrated into mainstream medicine, but it might take another generation or two. Fortunately, as an independent and progressive thinker you don’t have to wait but for now you may need to navigate past the naysayers and the critics.  

Wes Smith

Wes Smith is Live Well's Director and has 20 years experience as a practitioner and wellness educator. He has a special interest in working with chronic immune issues, stress, anxiety and depression
Wes is passionate about inspiring and educating people to create and sustain their vitality and wellbeing so they can live life to the full.
Wes also enjoys teaching meditation and is the creator of an online resource for learning how to meditate. es has a B.App.Sc.(Acup), Diploma of Herbal Medicine, a Yoga Teaching Diploma and is an APHRA registered acupuncturist. Learn more about acupuncture, herbal medicine and meditation.