by René David Alkalay

After discovering that I am a board certified naturopathic doctor, I am often asked “what is that?” and soon after this, when explaining that my field of health care is alternative, complementary, integrative, and mind-body medicine, the inevitable question, “what does that mean.?

Of course, in today’s society, there has been a substantial rise in awareness on the part of the public about this very topic. Nevertheless, there is still a good deal of ignorance about the terms and some clarification may be of benefit to those seeking another way of recovering their health.

To better understand this field, it may be useful to compare it to the medical model that is the current standard in health care. This model is referred to as allopathic medicine and it is the definitive system of mainstream medicine. So in defining alternative medicine, we might say that it is any medicine that is not the mainstream medicine. This would, on its face value, appear to be a reasonable definition. Yet, it is insufficient in its actual application. It is conceivable, for example, that a drug manufacturer may create a family of drugs that are not fully accepted, yet are in use, either experimentally, or as alternatives to some of the major drugs for similar conditions. So, what then is the reality of alternative medicine?

Basically, it represents first, the historical use of substances that have been in use for millennia; second, the use of substances that are not accepted by mainstream medicine that have their origins in more recent times (Homeopathy falls into this category); and, third, certain practices that may have a long history of use, but that have only recently been incorporated into western civilization. Meditation, breath-work, certain forms of exercise that are energy based, such as Yoga, Tai Chi and Chi Gung, and various forms of massage, such as acupressure and Shiatsu fall into the latter category.

So, this is alternative medicine, namely the use of a system that is in place of our current mainstream system of medicine. What then is complementary medicine? The word gives insight into the field of practice. Complementary, or in complement with, tells us that we will be using an allopathic, mainstream model, and we will add additional elements such as some of the ones I have mentioned. Another name in common usage today that speaks about this is “integrative” medicine.

Today, in fact, the use of complementary or integrative medicine is common practice in many hospitals. The most used tools from alternative medicine in an integrative approach are meditation, guided imagery – see the work of Belleruth Naperstack – bedside yoga, and massage. The reason for this development in health care is the clear positive results that have been observed when this approach is applied.

These practices are so regularly used in many hospital settings that it may well be that they will no longer be considered alternative or complementary, but actually a part of the treatment protocols. Personally, I feel this is a very good development in our health care system.

In our next article, we will explore further this
development and continue to define the field so that it will be clearly understood.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Alkalay is the director of the Genesis Society and the Genesis The Tree of Life Wellness Center in Forest Hills, NY. He is a board certified naturopathic doctor in private practice in Forest Hills, NY, and is the author of several books and numerous articles on wellness.