Conventional & Complementary Approaches to Healing:
Choosing Among Them

Notes on a talk given at the Annual CFRI Conference by Martin Rossman, M.D.
Clinical Associate in Medicine, University of California at San Francisco
Director of The Collaborative Medicine Center, Mill Valley, California

Fall 1996

Editor's Note: Dr. Rossman is also the author of Healing Yourself: A Step-By-Step Program for Better Health Through Imagery, (Pocket Books, 1989).

We are moving through a time where modern technological medicine, despite amazing advances in certain circumscribed areas of health care, is no longer seen as the only legitimate approach to healing in America, and certainly not throughout the world. With this in mind, Dr. Rossman introduced Conference attendees to a variety of ancient healing practices such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutritional medicine, physical and manipulative therapies, and meditative disciplines. These therapies are joined by the more recently available alternatives such as biofeedback and homeopathy, all of which provide the health-care consumer with a bewildering array of choices.

Dr. Rossman pointed out that alternative medicine is a misnomer. He cited an article by David Eisenberg in The New York Times which stated that one out of three adult Americans used some form of alternative therapy in 1992; overall expenditures for these therapies reached $13.7 billion, 75% of which was paid for out of the patient's pocket; and alternative therapy seekers saw their practitioners an average of 19 visits per year (as opposed to once or twice a year visits to traditional physicians). These alternatives have already moved into the mainstream, which is why Dr. Rossman prefers to call them complementary therapies.

When selecting a complementary medicine, Dr. Rossman suggests that you study your choice carefully and consider the following. What is the risk versus the benefit factor? Has your choice survived the test of time? Something like acupuncture has been around much longer than healing with crystals. Does the practitioner have some sort of credential? Is there any accountability both for the practitioner and the modality? Does the practitioner mind the client monitoring the process? What is the expense? Do you also have good Western medical options? Is there danger in waiting to use Western medicine? How much time do you have to try the complementary therapy?

When Dr. Rossman is advising a client about choosing a modality, he is focused more on the individual person than he is on their presenting symptoms. He feels strongly that certain therapies work better for certain temperaments, lifestyles, family budgets and belief systems. If these are ignored, the complementary therapy may cause more stress to the individual. The key is to study the choices and get a sense of what might work for you.

Dr. Rossman noted the lack of available information in the mushrooming field. But he listed several sources that might be helpful to the lay person (see box). Finally, Dr. Rossman said that whatever you choose, you should see some improvement in your condition within six to ten sessions (approximately a three-month period). Even for an individual who is seeking help for a chronic illness, that person should see some signs that the condition is stabilizing or getting better before continuing with more treatment.

Professional Journals & On-Line Resources

Advances: The Journal of Mind-Body Health, John E. Fetzer Institute, Inc., 9292 West KL Ave., Kalamazoo, MI 49009-9398.

Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, InnoVision Communications, 101 Columbia Ave., Aliso Viejo, CA 92656 (800) 899-1712,

Alternative and Complementary Therapies and Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: "Research on Paradigm, Practice and Policy," Mary Ann Liebert, publisher, 1651 Third Ave., N.Y., N.Y. 10128 (212) 298-2300. Editorial associate (for Journal only): Jackie Wootton,

Alternative Medicine Journal, Prime National Publishing Corp., 470 Boston Post Rd., Weston, MA 02193 (617) 899-2702.

International Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Green Library, Homewood House, Guildford Rd., Chertsey, Surrey KT16 0QA England

Journal of the American Institute of Homeopathy, editor: George Guess, M.D.,

Journal of Holistic Nursing, American Holistic Nurses Association, Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, 10 Morgan Ave., Norwalk, CT 06851

HealthWorld: The Academy for Guided Imagery Home Page

Health On-Line: Health On-Line

List compilation (c) Martin L. Rossman, M.D., 7/96

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