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Karen Stewart and Kris Zurek R.N.M.H., ITEC, SNHS, Members of Microscopy Practitioners Association, Holistic Health Therapists

Holistic Health Centre,
Cloonloo, Boyle,
Co. Sligo.

Tel: 071 966 3311
Mobile: 087 972 8044

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Make Friends With Complementary Medicine

Compiled and Posted By Kris Zurek; 01/03/2013

There are various terms which are used to label Natural Medicine or natural Therapies i.e. Complementary Medicine, Alternative Medicine, Holistic Medicine and so forth. All of these terms are based on one and the same underlying fundamental principle, that all of us can heal using natural means. Everybody has a healing potential, which only has to be activated and empowered. Therapist’s role is to facilitate this process, so that the patient can be liberated from the limiting mindset of being a victim and start taking full responsibility for his/hers life and well-being. Of course a complementary practitioner can help using different natural and gentle modalities, but ultimately the patient is the one that will need to do the work to heal, to change the mindset, attitude and lifestyle.



The healing power of nature first, and technology second.

Probably the most important difference between so called conventional and alternative health model is that alternative systems are founded on a deep belief in the healing power of nature (vis medicatrix naturrae). Alternative medical providers accept that within us is a natural ability to heal, an inherent recuperative power that is the key to all healing. The alternative practitioner believes his or her job is to support and stimulate this natural healing ability inherent in each patient.

Modern, conventional medicine has historically tried to reduce the healing process to a series of physiological, physical, and chemical reactions that can be measured and documented by modern science. While there truth in this perspective, science has proven it to be an incomplete picture of the healing process. Conventional medicine has placed more value on the techniques and the technology rather than on the inherent healing power of nature we possess as human beings.

Conventional medicine has historically tried to replace the body’s natural healing response by quickly removing symptoms. For example, instead of stimulating and strengthening the immune system to fight an ear infection in a toddler, a medical doctor will usually prescribe an antibiotic. The child often receives immediate relief, but at what price? The antibiotic wreaks havoc on their developing digestive system by destroying valuable “friendly” bacteria needed for good digestion. Also, the child’s immune system is not any stronger to ward off the next ear infection, thus creating a dependency on antibiotics. The price of immediate relief is the threat of future long-term health problems for the toddler.

The alternative medical practitioner, on the other hand, would suggest a less drastic treatment that stimulates the body’s natural healing power. Relief might come through warmed drops of mullein garlic ear oil and/or eardrops of Silver Hydrosol. Immune stimulation might come through a use of herbal tincture or hydrosol. In truth, a full healing response could take ten days, but the long-term benefits to the child are a stronger immune system and an uncompromised digestive system.



Patient centered rather than physician centered

Modern medicine has historically been perceived as more “physician centered,” in which the doctor’s opinions and beliefs are considered more important than the patient’s. High quality alternative medicine, on the other hand, is first and foremost “patient centered,” in which the feelings, beliefs, and the opinions of the patient are essential elements in the treatment decision-making process. High quality alternative medicine is founded on a deep appreciation of the wonder and mystery of being a unique human being. According to the Burton Goldberg Group’s Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide,

The return to health . . . is a road which each person must walk according to his or her unique individuality. It is also a road that needs to address one’s entire being, taking into account one’s mental, emotional, and physical aspects, as well as the structural, biochemical, and energetic components that shape each of us.”8

Conventional medicine has come to see the patient as his or her diagnosis rather than as an individual. Further, the role of the patient is a more passive one, being subjected to the authority and expertise of the doctor. Also, in the modern medical model, historically it is assumed that the doctor’s skills and best judgment are the final authority. The idea of a shared decision-making process regarding treatment between the doctor and the client/patient is contrary to the traditional role that doctors have historically played in our medical system.

The origins and repercussions of this doctor/ patient model is explained by author Norman Cousins:

For the past fifty years, the practice of medicine has been dominated by the need to identify diseases and germs. Through the discoveries made by the microscope and the advent of antibiotics, medicine became very specific and technical. This tended to make doctors mechanistic. It tended to obscure recognition of the human soul and its role in contributing to both illness and recovery. Modern medicine tended to place undue emphasis on the prescription pad over bedside manner. This emphasis on medicine and medical machinery created a critical psychological separation between patient and physician. There is no bigger problem in medicine today because when a patient has an illness, nothing is more important than the doctor’s reassurance.9

It was the ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, who said, “It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.” Like Hippocrates, most alternative practitioners view their clients as human beings rather than a diagnosis. This is one of the reasons that alternative medicine has become so popular.


Watch this documentary trailer: Escape Fire



‘First Do No Harm’ Principle

Many alternative medical systems are rooted in the “least dramatic means” principle. The essence of this principle is, “Always use the least drastic harmful therapies first.” This means that alternative medical providers, in general, choose techniques and therapies which are the least invasive or harmful to get the desired result.

In today’s press, many stories have been published charging that quite often medical doctors do, in fact, harm their patients in the process of treating them. The charges range from unnecessary cesarean sections during childbirth to heart bypass surgeries which could have been avoided through diet and exercise changes. One reason for unnecessary invasive treatments is that the majority of medical doctors are not familiar with effective, less invasive alternative treatments. Historically, doctors have not been taught these procedures in medical school and many don’t take alternative therapies seriously — despite the growing body of research around the world that demonstrates their efficacy.

In addition, conventional medicine has come to place greater value on the removing symptoms as quickly as possible — even if additional physical problems are created in the process. Many times a conventional treatment will bring an immediate “cure” by removing the symptoms of an illness while never addressing the true cause so that real “healing” can occur. One might say that it pulls weeds out by their tops while rarely getting to their roots.

Use of natural and whole substances

Many alternative treatments use natural substances such as herbs, botanicals, homeopathics, nutritional supplements, and whole foods. There is a general belief among naturopathic doctors, nutritionists and holistic therapists, that the use of whole or natural products to treat maladies adds more to the healing process than their synthesized counterparts. While many synthesized pharmaceuticals may be more potent and fast-acting, they also often come with unpleasant side effects. According to John R. Lee, M.D., coauthor of What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause,

Most over-the-counter and almost all prescribed drug treatments merely mask symptoms. . . . Drugs almost never deal with the reasons why these problems exist, while they frequently create new health problems as side effects of their activities.”12

On the other hand, natural substances are believed to produce fewer side effects, though they may take longer to work. The American public appears to be aware of this. In 1993, consumers spent approximately $1.5 billion on herbal remedies.13 As a result, more and more drugstores and shopping store chains now stock a full line of herbal supplements for their patrons.



Although alternative medicine is based on one philosophy, it is many things to many people, there is no one answer that would define the term simply and clearly to satisfy everyone. This reason alone is why it can be so difficult for some people to get a clear sense of what alternative medicine is — and what it is not. The truth is that one simple definition can’t possibly describe all that is now considered “alternative medicine.” Given this, what follows are several “answers” to the question, all considered to be “right” according to various experts.

Complementary Therapies

Alternative medicine is made up of a rich array of techniques, modalities, and natural medical systems that are, for the most part, still unfamiliar to the majority of the public. They are, therefore, as a whole, an “alternative” to what most people are using when they need health care.

Much of what is labeled alternative medicine comes to us from other cultures or from ancient healing traditions. We can trace natural methods to ancient times, when different cultures has successfully used Chinese or Ayurvedic medicine or other systems. i.e. Massage(the healing power of touch) has been practiced across most of cultures in the past. Reflexology was known in ancient Egypt. Spinal manipulation was used by the Ancient Greeks long before it was incorporated into chiropractic and osteopathic medicine in the 19th Century. Acupuncture comes specifically from ancient China and has been documented as being in use as early as 2700 B.C.3

Also the use of herbs and plants as medicine is an ancient practice found all over the world. Now we refer to them as vitamin, mineral and enzyme supplements, solutions, powders, tinctures, essences.


Contrary to popular belief, many alternative medical techniques are used everyday by people from all walks of life. Prevention magazine’s New Choices in Natural Healing explains, “While the term alternative medicine may conjure up some pretty exotic images, many of these therapies are more familiar than you think. If you’ve ever massaged your temples to ease a headache, applied an ice pack to a sprained ankle, or listened to your car radio to de-stress during a traffic jam, you’ve already practiced some simple natural healing techniques.”4 So whether you were aware of it or not, it is likely you have already used alternative medical techniques in your own life.


image courtesy of Duke Integrative Medicine

My friends and family are skeptical about the merits of alternative medicine. How do I help them feel confident in my decision to use alternative medicine?

To many people, alternative medicine is still suspect. Some of this is warranted. Not all of what is labeled alternative medicine can be assumed to be good medicine. So the concern and skepticism of your friends and family is only natural. The problem is that most people who are skeptical of alternative medicine base their caution on outdated information, facts that are only partially true, or complete misconceptions. Of course, there are those who would never even consider that alternative medicine has merit, regardless of what the facts are. (“Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up!”)

Let’s look at the roots of the bias against alternative medicine: A great deal of this distrust can be traced directly to the beliefs and opinions of the conventional medical community. Since conventional medicine enjoyed an unquestioned confidence from the public for almost five decades, the public accepted the critical views about any treatments not part of conventional biomedicine. As a result, in time conventional medicine’s beliefs became the public’s beliefs.

According to the “Chantilly Report” to the NIH on alternative medicine, one conclusion the public reached regarding conventional medicine is that it is the “one true medical profession.” This originated through the “long-standing belief held by many conventional medical practitioners that they should be the only one representative voice for the whole of medicine.”14

Another result is the public now places an unrealistically high level of confidence in conventional medicine’s high-tech diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. Many presume that if procedures are “high-tech,” they must be very effective. However, evidence points to the opposite conclusion: High-tech is not always effective.

A case in point: A young woman checked into a major New York hospital to treat a tumor on her chest. The hospital had a new experimental group and was researching the effects of microwave hypothermia on cancer. The woman was one of the first participants in their research group. Unfortunately, the researchers didn’t have adequate thermal control and miscalculated the amount of hypothermia they gave this young woman. Within moments they had burned a hole right through her sternum. She also had burns from her chin down her entire neck and halfway down her trunk. After she recovered, she exclaimed that with such high technology in a major hospital in a large city, she had been very optimistic that she would be cured. She realized, however, that she should have been less optimistic, asked more questions, and been more cautious.

In contrast, many alternative treatments are not “high-tech” and are actually seen as “low-tech.” Consequently they are perceived to be ineffective when they actually are effective. For example, our neighbor’s one-and-a-half-year-old son Alex had a very high fever a few weeks ago. His parents took him to a pediatrician (M.D.) for a diagnosis. When they asked about using herbs to treat his infection, his doctor’s response was, “Herbs are for salads. He needs something more sophisticated to help him recover. Drugs.” This doctor was convinced of this fact despite the tremendous body of scientific research that indicates that herbs could, in fact, help the boy recover. Based on the recommendations they received from a naturopathic physician about other infections that Alex had in the past, his parents decided to use herbs before trying drugs. Within twenty-four hours of administering the recommended herbs to Alex, his fever disappeared and he was markedly better.

The public has grown to prefer the “safety of the status quo,” which, in the United States, is conventional doctors and their medicines. Because doctors routinely prescribe drugs such as antibiotics and sedatives, the public generally believes that they are the most effective treatments. However, several major magazines and national news programs have reported the hazardous side effects of these drugs. As a result, an increasing number of patients now voice their concerns about these drugs and ask about alternatives.

The most fervent critics of alternative medicine charge that alternative medical practitioners are “quacks.” The NIH’s “Chantilly Report” defends the alternative medical practitioner saying, “The term ‘quack’ generally means one who pretends to have medical knowledge but does not; that is, it implies the element of fraud. . . . [However] most alternative healers do possess some other sort of knowledge [than M.D.’s] that they and their clients believe is relevant to health.”15

Another charge is that alternative medical practitioners prey on the gullible and uneducated. The “Chantilly Report” also refutes this, stating that, “Recent studies of cancer patients indicate that well-educated persons with higher incomes are more likely to use alternative treatments, primarily because they want to take charge of their health.”16

When using alternative medicine, you will probably encounter skeptics with these or other misconceptions. When this happens, the best strategy is to present an “unbeliever” with real facts backed by respected sources. Generally this is a much more effective approach than sharing personal stories about miraculous cures. Irrefutable facts have a way of calming skeptics’ doubts – and sometimes – of changing their minds. Here are some facts that will alleviate the concerns and doubts of the people in your life:


Worldwide, only ten to thirty percent of people use conventional medicine, 70 to 90 percent use alternative medicine.17
Approximately $22 million of U.S. government money has already been spent on alternative medical research since 1992 at the National Institutes of Health and Public Health Services.18
The American Medical Association (AMA), in Resolution #514, “is encouraging its members to become better in-formed regarding alternative (complementary) medicine and to participate in appropriate studies of it.”19
Renowned hospitals, such as Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, have created alternative medical clinics in their facilities.
Almost one-third of American medical schools – among them Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, and Georgetown Universities – now offer coursework in alternative methods. (See reference section for a complete list.)20
Many alternative approaches have been scientifically proven to be less invasive, less dangerous, more effective, and more economical than conventional medicine.
Mutual of Omaha says it saves about $6.50 for every dollar it spends covering nonstandard (read: alternative) treatments.21
Seventy-four percent of the American population desire a more natural approach to health care.22
Of the one out of three Americans who have used alternative _medicine, 84 percent said they would use it again.23
Traditional Chinese medicine has been chosen by the World Health Organization for worldwide propagation to meet the health care needs of the twenty-first century.24
The U.S. Government sponsors the use of acupuncture in drug rehabilitation programs.25
There are five homeopathic hospitals in Great Britain run by the British National Service.26
One out of three drugs prescribed in Germany is an herb.27
One out of every ten Americans is under the care of a chiropractor.28
In 1993, Americans spent an estimated $1.5 billion on herbal remedies – ten times more than was spent on over-the-counter sleeping pills from grocery stores and drugstores.29
In 1991 Americans made more visits to unconventional health care providers (425 million) than to conventional doctors (388 million).30
One out of three Americans were using unconventional medicine in that same year.31
Americans spent almost $13.7 billion on unconventional care in that twelve-month period.32
Seventy-five percent of that money was out of pocket.33
Twelve percent of Fortune 500 companies offer alternative medicine as part of their health care compensation packages. That number is expected to increase to eighteen percent by the end of 1996.34


Holistic, Herbal, Energy or Mind, Body, Spirit healing has existed since the beginning of time amid religious beliefs and practices, along with the mystery, superstition, fear, and misunderstanding. Holistic Healing is now becoming recognized regardless of what anyone chooses to believe or think.



Some quotations excerpted from Five Steps to Selecting the Best Alternative Medicine, Michael Alan Morton PhD, Mary Morton; New World Library, 1997)

1. NIH. Alternative Medicine: Expanding Medical Horizons (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993), 183.
2. “Mapping Medicines Movements,” Vegetarian Times, October 1994, 78; William Collinge. The American Holistic Health Association Complete Guide to Alternative Medicine (Warner Books, 1996), 42–43.
3. Mark Kastner and Hugh Burroughs. Alternative Healing: The Com- plete A to Z Guide to Over 160 Alternative Therapies (Halcyon Pub- lishing, 1993), 3.
4. Bill Gottlieb. New Choices in Natural Healing (Rodale Press, Inc., 1995), 4.
5. Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the NIH, Volume III, Number 1, 3.
6. American Demographics, July 1993, 16.
7. Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the NIH, Volume III, Number 1, 1.
8. Burton Goldberg. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide (Future Medicine Publishing, 1993), 15.
9. Norman Cousins. Personal interview, January 1990.
10. James F. Fries, M.D. and Donald M. Vickery, M.D. Take Care of Yourself (Addison-Wesley Co., 1989), 116.
11. Adriane Fugh-Berman, M.D. “The Case for ‘Natural’ Medicine,” The Nation, September 6/13, 1993, 242.v
12. Burton Goldberg. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide (Future Medicine Publishing, 1993), 5.
13. Bill Gottlieb. New Choices in Natural Healing (Rodale Press, Inc., 1995), 3.
14. NIH. Alternative Medicine: Expanding Medical Horizons (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993), liv.
15. Ibid, xiv.
16. Ibid, xiv.
17. Ibid, xv.
18. Ibid, 2.
19. AMA Resolution #514, “Alternative (Complementary) Medicine,” Reference Committee E, 10–11.
20. Fact Sheet #1, “Alternative Medical Courses Taught at U.S. Medical Schools,” The Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Center for Alternative/Complementary Medicine. 21. “Unconventional Claims,” Vegetarian Times, October 1995, 27.
22. Deirdre O’Conner, N.D. The Naturopathic Model of Primary Care Natural Medicine. Presentation at “Integrating Managed Care & Alternative Medicine,” San Francisco, CA, December 1,1995.
23. David Eisenberg, M.D. “Unconventional Medicine in the United States,” New England Journal of Medicine, January 28, 1993, 246. 24. Burton Goldberg. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide (Future Medicine Publishing, 1993), 450. 25. William Collinge. The American Holistic Health Association Complete Guide to Alternative Medicine (Warner Books, 1996), 40.
26. Martha Ullman at the National Center for Homeopathy.
Personal communication, July, 1996.
27. Donald J. Brown, N.D. The Use of Herbal Medicine in a Clinical Setting. Presentation at “Integrating Managed Care & Alternative Medicine,” San Francisco, CA, December 1995.
28. B. Hayes. U.S. “Survey of Insurers.” Government study, HEW as reported by The American Chiropractic Association, Arlington, VA, November 1995.
29. Bill Gottlieb. New Choices in Natural Healing (Rodale Press, Inc, 1995), 3.
30. David Eisenberg, M.D. “Unconventional Medicine in the United States,” New England Journal of Medicine, January 28, 1993, 246.
31. Ibid.
32. Ibid.
33. Ibid.
34. John Weeks. “Charting the Mainstream: A Review of Trends in the Dominant Medical System,” Townsend Letter, PortTownsend, Washington, February/March 1996, 38–39.
35. Len Wisneski, M.D. Personal interview, September 1989.
36. Joe Jacobs, M.D. Personal interview, November 1995.
37. NIH. Alternative Medicine: Expanding Medical Horizons (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993), xiii.
38. Andrew L. Shapiro. We’re Number One (Vintage Books, 1992), 4,16, 22, 25, 27, 28.
39. Bill Gottlieb. New Choices in Natural Healing (Rodale Press, Inc, 1995), 7.
40. Hassan S. Rafaat, M.D. Integrating Alternative Medicine into the Mainstream: the Answer to an Ailing Health Care System. Presentation at “Integrating Managed Care & Alternative Medicine,” San Francisco, CA, December 1995.
41. Washington State, House Bill 1046, 1995.