Chronic Pain, Treatment Approaches

Don’t Fall into the “Alternative Health” Trap

After having spent years– and more money than I would like to admit– trying out alternative medicine, I have some very strong feelings on the subject.

First of all, “alternative medicine” covers a wide range of treatments.  Some of those treatments are probably hoaxes, and some of them really have helped people.  I wouldn’t to try dispute another person’s success.

However, I think the biggest problem with alternative medicine is that for some people, it begins to turn into somewhat of an almost-religious belief system, where traditional medicine is “evil” and alternative medicine is automatically “good.”

The “alternative health” mindest

I personally fell into this trap for a while, when I was young and naïve, filled with bitterness toward the doctors who’d told me the pain was all in my head. It was just too easy, at that point, for me to believe every word I read of the books and articles I came across that talked about the shortcomings of traditional/Western medicine.

By the world of alternative health seemed like a wonderful solution. What about the mind-body-spirit connection? What about the soul? I had discovered this whole new amazing world to explore.

From here, I went down the rabbit-hole. Every approach that was “alternative” and talked about energy, or the mind-body connection, intrigued me. And of course, if it intrigued me, I was willing to spend money on it.

Now I would caution others to beware of this mindset, and be very careful before agreeing to spend large amounts of money (for example, signing up to pay for a package of treatments ahead of time) without any real evidence that this particular person can help you.

In retrospect, I don’t really regret trying out different treatments. What I do regret is pre-paying for multiple sessions because I felt optimistic after the first treatment.

Be cautious of salesmanship

One important distinction I’ve noticed between alternative medicine providers and traditional medical doctors is that most doctors are not trying very hard to “sell” you on their services.

Despite the flak that doctors seem to get in the media and in health care policy debates (they are sometimes accused of ordering unnecessary tests and procedures to increase profit) I really don’t think that salesmanship factors very much into what traditional medical doctors do day in and day out. (At least, not with many of the doctors I’ve met—if anything, their bedside manner was lacking).

Traditional medical doctors don’t need to “sell” you their treatments the way an alternative medicine practitioner does—their treatments are backed up by scientific consensus.

In addition, they are simply too busy. There is a shortage of medical doctors in the United States right now, particularly amongst primary care physicians. Your primary care doctor doesn’t really need to “sell” him or herself to you.  If you don’t come back, someone else will.

I’m not saying you should immediately trust every doctor you meet—of course not. I’m just saying that all of the doctors I’ve met have seemed more likely to order too few tests and not give you their full attention than they are to order unnecessary tests.

It’s a different story for alternative medicine practitioners.  Their treatments are not backed by the same kind of scientific consensus as traditional medicine, and they are also all competing against each other to draw in clients who are inclined to try out alternative medicine. They have to convince you that their treatment is going to help you, rather than someone else’s.

I’m not saying all alternative health practitioners are deceptive—I think that 99% of the time, they honestly think they can help you.  But you need to keep in mind the reasons why they need to convince you that their treatment will be effective (as well as their own psychological need to retain the belief what they are doing is effective).

Don’t pay for multiple treatments just because you have a good rapport with the practitioner, or because he or she has a charismatic personality.  Pay for one or two treatments and really think it over before you sign up for any kind of extended payment plan.

Do some research. Talk to your doctor.  Go online and see who else in your area is offering similar treatments—and how much they charge.  Many practitioners offer free or highly-discounted initial consultations (I think the free consultation is a good indicator that someone is honest).  Read some reviews on Yelp.  I think it is worth getting a second opinion before you make any kind of extended financial commitment.

2 thoughts on “Don’t Fall into the “Alternative Health” Trap”

  1. I think you are right about the charismatic types too – that can hook you in when in your logical mind you would stay away. And the ego thing – sometimes they want to believe themselves that all their treatments work, as they want to think of themselves as some kind of magical special healer person!

  2. I tend to think of it as ‘complementary therapy’ – sounds less combative from the start! I dont see it as something that has to fight with TM. I have also had a lot of experience with comp therapy – some good, some bad, There are are good, caring, honest people to be found, but there is are also a few loonie tunes – although not as many as, I think its importat as you say to do your research, and preferably get a recommendation off someone your trust- those are like gold dust! Avoid the loonie tunes who claim to alter your DNA or something- LOL!.
    I have been having reiki lately by a lovley down-to-earth man called Phil, who used to be a policeman! I come away feeling calm and soothed and he gets £10 (for half an hour). Job done. I thought the article on charlatans was amusing, but I dont think its that black and white. I suppose we have to use our discernment – although the trouble is i suppose if people are desperate and naive, then their discenrment can go out the window. Its a tricky topic.

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