Western physicians limit their help to the cure of
disease--a biological disorder. They are
generally unprepared to heal illness--the way the ill person experiences
his or her disorder, in a given social and cultural
context. Alternative healing, by contrast,
appears generally to address illness more than disease. (1988
McGuire and Kantor 6)
With an ever increasing frequency the topic of alternative
health care is being discussed and questioned.
Worldwide, only an estimated 10 percent to 30 percent
of human health care is delivered by conventional,
biomedically oriented practitioners. The remaining 70 percent to 90
percent ranges from self-care according
to folk principles to care given in an organized health care system
based on an alternative tradition or practice.
One of the most appealing factors that generalize this
subject of alternative medicine is its holistic approach to health.
Contrasted with this is modern scientific medicine, also known as
allopathic medicine, which divides the body into organ systems that
are treated largely as though they are independent of the other systems
of the body and it's treatments include the modern drugs, surgery,
and high tech approaches of most M.D.'s. Alternative medicine
is the general term used for a vast array of health care approaches
that fall outside of the world view of traditional Western scientific
medicine and encompasses health views that are a synthesis of both
Western and non-Western healing principles. The following are
the general divisions of the different methods of alternative health
Popular health care is the kind most people practice
and receive at home, such as giving herbal
tea to someone who has a cold. Community-based health
care, which reflects the health needs, beliefs, and natural
environments of those who use it, refers to the nonprofessionalized
but specialized health care practices
of many rural and urban people. Professionalized
health care is more formalized; practitioners undergo more
standardized training and work in established locations.
Many consumers of these practices are from upper middle
class and middle class backgrounds. "The acceptability of belief
in alternative healing systems among middle class persons belies the
notion that marginal medicine is a characteristic of the lower classes,
a remnant of folk culture that is waning as education and socioeconomic
prospects increase" (1988 McGuire and Kantor). "It is logical
that the alternative therapists working with these middle-class, educated
clients, would themselves need to be academically and socially sophisticated
people" (1989 Heber 569).
The popular definition of alternative
health care would be simply any health care approach that is not Western
scientific medicine. This definition encompasses "a vast collection
of theories and practices, some very ancient, some very recent, some
sensible and worthy of study, others not so sensible" (1993 Family
9). The National Institutes of Health (1992 NIH)
has recognized the importance of this field and created the Office
of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCAM). Wayne Jonas,
M.D., the director of the 1992 NIH's OCAM, gave the following explanation
of alternative medicine in 1995: "Complementary and alternative medicine
is defined through a social process as those pratices that do not
form part of the dominant system for managing health and disease"
(1997 Cohen 362). This definition has allowed OCAM to fund various
projects among which are research on acupuncture, Ayurvedic medicine,
yoga, hypnosis, biofeedback, massage therapy, music therapy and prayer
(1994 Consumer 51). OCCAM has recently been reorganized as the National
Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and "[i]ts small
budget of $2 million in 1992 has grown to $68 million in Congressional
funding for the year 2000" (2000 H.S.I. 50).
The interest and popularity
of alternative and complementary health care is growing considerably
and it is gaining more acceptance by the population at large.
A 1990 survey found that Americans made 425 million visits to providers
of uncoventional therapy, at a cost of close to 13.7 billion dollars,
with 10.3 billion being out of pocket expenses; as compared
to 388 million visits to primary care physicians (1993 Eisenberg).
Confirming this trend, another study in 1997 showed, "more Americans
visited an alternative therapist than a primary-care physician.
Meanwhile consumer demand for herbal medicines is skyrocketing; the
American Botanical Council estimates 1997 sales at nearly $4 billion"
(1999 Lemley 57-58). "The Cochrane Collaboration, which analyzes
statistics on health care research recently reported that randomized
controlled trials in complementary therapies at prestigious universities
around the country will increase to over 500 this year, up from 169
in 1988" (2000, H.S.I. 5). With such economic incentive considerable
research is being directed in this area and is showing many beneficial
What is regarded as alternative
medicine is defined in large measure by cultural standards.
For example, in the early 20th century Western psychology was introduced
to China yet, in the 1960's through the 1970's it was there regarded
as a pseudoscience; thus, Chinese doctors who graduated after the
1960's had no knowledge of Sigmund Freud, however, in
more recent years the field has gained more respect (1986 Shen 138).
Thus, it is often who is looking at a health care regimen that defines
if it is "orthodox" or not.
Many of the benefits of alternative
medicine are claimed by Western medicine practitioners to simply be
"placebo" effect. Even if this were completely accurate is it
necessarily so different from our scientific medicine. "Perceived
meaning has direct consequences to health. The placebo response is
one of the most widely known examples of mind-body interactions in
contemporary, scientific medicine, yet it is also one of the most
undervalued, neglected assets in medical practice." (1992 NIH)
"It is commonly believed that placebo effects account for at least
33 percent of all cures attributed to allopathic medicine. However
when patient and healer believe in the efficacy of treatment, that
figure is probably closer to 70 percent." (1997 Cohen 347).
When medically ineffective forms of therapy were used on 6931 patients
, 40 percent had excellent outcomes, 30 percent good outcomes, and
30 percent poor outcomes (1993 Roberts 17).
Even the medical establishment itself is changing.
These days, 118 of the nation's 120 medical schools
offer courses in alternative therapy. Insurance companies are
increasingly reimbursing for hypnotherapy,
acupuncture, and similar once-fringe therapies. (1999
We shall examine the various
alternative health practices in use today by dividing our topic into
the following five subdivisions: movement; bodywork;
nutrition; herbal medicine; and the mind and health connection.
The problem encountered with this division is that it will artificially
separate treatments that are part of a larger whole. Many of
these alternative techniques have their origins in Traditional Chinese
Medicine (TCM), Ayurvedic Medicine and shamanism which all include
elements of all five of the subdivisions.
Out of the numerous areas of
alternative medicine I will focus on the practice known as qigong
(pronounced chee kung). Qigong is of two types the active or
external and the passive or internal. This is an ancient component
of Traditional Chinese Medicine that is receiving vigorous scientific
study in China and to a lesser extent in other parts of the world.
This practice has many similarities to such practices as yoga and
hypnotism and is concerned with regulating and increasing the "life
force" known as chi or qi. This practice is seen as very important
as it is considered the basis and foundation of both Traditional Chinese
Medicine (TCM), all martial arts, and ultimately life itself.
The majority of the research that is contained in the literature (that
is the literature in English as much of the research is in Chinese
and has not been translated) is concerned with hard science data.
Much of the research that is being conducted is examining the electromagnetic
spectrum emitted by qigong practitioners and testing the claimed
psychic abilities of such people. Only recently has survey research
been started in the U.S. to look at the claimed health benefits of
Movement includes various
forms of exercises including exercises in different temperatures of
water, yoga, martial arts and Qigong practice. Water has long
been used as a treatment and the spa has long been a part of treatment
involving extremes of heat and cold. The change of temperatures
affects circulation and the water supports most of the body's weight
and allows it to relax more. In this state injuries can be rehabilitated
faster and exercises can be done more easily. Yoga was developed
in India around 5000 years ago and involves stylized poses with meditation,
stretching and breath exercises. Various forms of martial arts
exist and are generally divided into two groups the external or hard
styles and internal or soft styles. The most popular in the
U.S. are the hard styles which include karate and kung-fu. The
hard styles develop martial ability quicker and often appear more
athletic than the soft styles but, with age ability decreases.
Some of the internal styles include T'ai chi, Hsing-I and Aikido
and are generally considered by most martial artists to have better
long term health benefits than external styles and with age ability
is believed to increase. Both hard and soft styles have components
of each other in them and at higher training levels there is great
deal of overlap in their techniques. Many martial arts traditions
have health care regimens that involve pressure points, meditation,
massage, and herbal treatments which usually focus on training and
combat injuries. Qigong is similar to yoga, the two methods
share similar techniques and show evidence of borrowing from each
other, and involves similar movement, meditation and breathing exercises.
There are qigongs designed for health, longevity and martial arts.
The martial applications were noticed as side effects of the other
types and further refined. Health qigong is used to treat certain
conditions and prevent others. Longevity qigong is used to slow
the metabolic processes of the body to extend life. Martial
qigong allows individuals to receive powerful blows to the body with
no bruising or injury and resist chokes and joint locks; and at its
highest development to project energy at opponents and cause reactions
without physically touching them. This energy projection, which
is also used by qigong healers, will be discussed further in the mind
and health section. Qigong is an interesting phenomena that is being
intensively studied in Asia and to less of an extent in the U.S.
Bodywork includes various
forms of massage such as Swedish, Rolfing, shiatsu, and reflexology
along with such practices as acupuncture, and the Alexander technique.
Swedish massage uses "a variety of gliding, kneading, and percussive
strokes..., along with deep circular movements and vibrations, in
order to relax the muscles, improve circulation, and increase mobility"
(1993 Family 156). Rolfing is a form of deep massage that focuses
on working the fascia in a sequential order of ten sessions that increasingly
get deeper and sometimes more painful. Shiatsu, reflexology
and acupuncture all involve the use of pressure points for treatment.
The aim of these treatments is to free energy blockages in the body
so that the body is able to heal itself. Reflexology is an ancient
healing massage technique, with versions of it used in Egypt, India,
Africa, China and Japan, that utilizes primarily the feet and hands
(1993 Family 170) . The feet and hands are divided into zones
that correspond to different organs and by massaging these areas these
organs are effected and energy blockages released. Acupuncture
attempts to free energy blockages with the use of fine needles inserted
into the pressure point. The Alexander Technique is "a method
of adjusting body posture to relieve chronic pain or muscle tension,
and to increase range of motion" (1993 Family 180). The treatment
involves building good posture habits by "gentle physical and verbal
instruction, clients learn how to eliminate such common problems as
slouching, hunching, and the habitual (and harmful) tensing and twisting
of the spine" (1993 Family 180).
...about 10,000 years ago the agricultural revolution
profound dietary changes in many human populations.
The ability to produce and store large
quantities of dried foods led to preferential cultivation of
some foods, such as grains, which constituted new
challenges to the human digestive system.
Then about 200 years ago, the Industrial Revolution
introduced advances in food production, processing, storage, and
distribution. Recent technological innovations, along
with increased material well-being and
lifestyles that have allowed people more freedom in deciding
what and when they wish to eat, have led to even
further major dietary changes in developed
countries. Because changes in the dietary patterns of the
more technologically developed countries, such as the United States,
have been so dramatic and rapid, the people consuming
these affluent diets have had little time
to adapt biologically to the types and quantities of food
that are available to them today. The longer term
adverse health effects of the diet prevailing
in these countries---characterized by an excess of energy-dense
foods rich in animal fat, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils,
and refined carbohydrates but lacking in whole grains,
fruits, and vegetables---have become apparent
only in recent decades. (1992 NIH)
Nutrition has long been a component of many health care
traditions and is gaining more recognition in Western scientific health
approaches. It is now generally agreed that poor nutrition is
a leading factor in high blood pressure, strokes, colon and breast
cancer, coronary artery disease, and diabetes.
Recent studies have also reported that certain cultural
eating styles, such as the Asian and Mediterranean
diets, appear to lower risk factors for heart disease and
certain forms of cancer as well. Although there have
been few controlled studies of the benefits
of many traditional diets, such as those originally
consumed by Native American Indians, diseases such as diabetes and
cancer were not a problem for these populations until
their diets became more Western, or affluent.
Among the alternative health approaches to nutrition
are vegetarianism, macrobiotics, and vitamin and mineral therapy.
Vegetarianism is an interesting phenomena that has many subcategories.
Some vegetarians will only eat plant products while others will eat
fish and diary products. "Some studies show that vegetarians
have lower levels of blood cholesterol and lower blood pressure than
meat eaters--meaning that their risks for heart disease is also lower"
(1993 Family 268). Macrobiotics sees food as having an energy
level and the goal is to eat meals that have balanced energy levels.
Macrobiotic cooking uses cast iron, stainless steel, enamel pots,
and ceramic and tempered glass ovenware but it avoids copper or aluminum
vessels as they may effect the vitamin content of food (1993 Family
270). The regimen involves eating foods native to your region
and in season while avoiding treated or processed foods, red meat,
sugar, diary products, eggs, and coffee. Vitamin and mineral
therapy involves the use of supplements or whole foods to prevent
or treat disease conditions. One popular approach to using vitamins
and minerals is taking megadoses of selected supplements. Vitamin
C is a popular candidate for megadose use as, preliminary research
has indicated, it has possible benefits in treating and preventing
Herbal medicine, also known
as phytotherapy, is one of the most popular alternative health approaches
today when measured economically as the profits continue to mount
and the number of herbal products increase. Herbs are used in
several ways as they are used both internally and externally.
Some of the alternative health treatments utilizing herbs include
aromatherapy, Bach flower remedies, and homeopathy. Aromatherapy
uses essential oils from plants to stimulate, relax and relieve pain.
This treatment is rather new to the U.S. but has been in use in Europe
for some time. "In France, pharmacies sell aromatic oils, and
health insurance plans cover prescriptions for them" (1993 Family
329). A similar treatment is Bach flower remedies developed
by Bach, a British physician that rejected scientific medicines use
of drugs for treating disease symptoms, who believed mental states
contributed to illness. The system uses 38 healing plants arranged
into 7 groups with "each representing a mental state that could, according
to his theory, contribute to sickness and interfere with healing:
apathy, fear, uncertainty, loneliness, oversensitivity, despair, and
overconcern for the welfare of others" (1993 Family 330). A
treatment consists of taking a few drops in a drink or under
the tongue four times a day. The new scientific medicine field
of psychoneuroimmunology now looks at the link between emotions and
health and has found a link between emotional states and health.
Homeopathy was developed by Samuel Hahnemann in the early 19th century.
This was one of the most popular treatments before the advent of scientific
medicine as we see in the following:
The first homeopathic college opened in Philadelphia
in 1836, and others soon followed.
In 1844, the American Institute of Homeopathy was formed, the first
national medical organization in the country.
By the end of the century, there were
15,000 practitioners and 22 homeopathic schools in the U.S.
(1993 Family 61)
Homeopathy can best be summarized as like cures like
and less is more. The problem that is run into is the less is
more theory. Homeopaths dilute their treatments down, in a process
known as potensification, many times over to the point that their
should be none of the original substance left. The only explanation
that homeopaths can offer is a theory that the water or alcohol used
to potensify the curing substance has molecules that possibly have
a "memory" or energy signiture that will allow them to resonate the
curing substance through the body when taken. Most researchers
attribute the effects to the placebo effect, however, statistically
significant effects have been demonstrated on infants and animals.
Mind and Health
The connection between the
mind and body, with the exception of the field of psychology, has
been largely ignored by contemporary scientific medicine. Most
cultures traditional systems of healing, and many of the newer alternative
medicine approaches, recognize the powerful interaction between the
mind and its emotions with the human body. The power of belief
and expectation can dramatically influence an individual's health.
The so called "placebo effect" is an example that scientific medicine
recognizes. Among the popular treatments that rely heavily on
the individuals belief and expectation (belief and expectation in
the healer, the treatment, and in themselves) are the following:
faith healing; meditation; rituals and choreography; relaxation
therapy; biofeedback and visualization; hypnosis; dream therapy;
psychoanalysis and its many derivatives; group therapy; creative therapy;
primal therapy and rebirthing. Many of these treatments are
employed by psychologists and psychiatrists and have their origins
in traditional Oriental religious and healing techniques. MacHovec
(1984) has traced Gestalt, existential, psychoanalytic, transactional-analysis,
cognitive, and family therapy concepts back to ancient Taoist, Zen,
Confucian, and Buddhist sources. Jung was an important figure
in researching and bringing to Western treatment techniques many of
these traditional Oriental principles that have evolved into several
treatment branches (1993 Family 103).
Treatments that rely heavily
on both the patient and health practitioner's belief and expectations
are those that involve manipulating the patients life energy.
Reiki is a healing technique that was developed in Japan, by Dr. Mikao
Usui, in the mid-1800's. The techniques involves the "transfer
of energy from one being to another" where the flow "of vibrations
or radiant energy is reciprocal, with the practitioner and client
both giving and receiving" (1993 Family 99). "External Qigong
refers to emission of Qi by a Qigong 'master' (Qigong practitioner
with exceptional skill) with the objective of affecting someone or
something other than himself; in that way the process is not unlike
a medical procedure or treatment" (1991 Sancier 367). The condition
of the patient is treated when the master uses his Qi to balance the
patients life energy. A similar technique is known as therapeutic
touch and was developed by Dolores Krieger, Ph.D., R.N. who believes
that "the energy fields are somehow involved in blood hemoglobin levels"
as she experimentally determined "a significant rise in hemoglobin
levels among patients treated" (1993 Family 97). The fact that
such a technique was developed in the U.S. by a nurse, indoctrinated
in the methods of scientific medicine, is not surprising when we observe
that "nursing differs from medicine in its focus on the whole person"
(1990 Kovner 91). Thus, we have "Rogers (1970), another popular
nursing theorist, descib[ing] the person as an energy field, having
no real boundaries" and "she proposes that the energy field of each
person is in constant interaction with the environment, which is itself
an energy field that is everything outside the human field (Riehl
& Roy, p. 332)" (1990 Kovner 91).
Alternative healer as a shaman
"Shamanic healers have a far
greater propensity to experience anomalous events than general populations
and to use their beliefs arising from these episodes to produce ceremonies
that change clients' perceptions of their illnesses" (1993 McClenon
107). Western medicine and shamanism both "...provide experiences
that convince clients that specific procedural methods alleviate illne
(107). Anomalous experiences are defined as "perceptions that
seemingly refute current scientific principles, inspiring wonder"
such as extrasensory perceptions (ESP), apparitions, out-of-body experiences,
near-death experiences, precognitions, clairvoyance, night paralysis,
syncronicities, and contacts with the dead (108). "A growing
number of surveys of random national samples of American and European
contries reveal the extensiveness of psychic experience and occult
belief (Gallup and Newport, 1991; Greeley, 1975; 1987; Haraldsson,
1981, 1985, 1988-89; McClenon, 1988; McCready and Greeley, 1976)"
For example, in 1990, 25% of randomly sampled Americans
reported having felt that they had been"'in
touch with or getting a message from someone who was far
away without using the traditional five senses";
25% claimed to have been able to heal
their bodies "using the power of [their minds] without traditional
medicine", 17% had felt that they "were
in touch with someone who has already died", and 9%
claimed to have "seen or been in the presence of a ghost" (Gallup
and Newport, 1991, p. 141). American,
Japanese, and Chinese student samples revealed correspondingly
high rates of anomalous experience (McClenon, 1988, 1990 a,b).
For example 71% of the Chinese, 88% of the Japanese,
44% of those at the University of Maryland,
and 35% of the students at the predominately African-American
college in North Carolina reported ESP experiences. Among
the Chinese, Japanese, and American student samples,
the percentage reporting contact with
the dead varied from 10% (Japanese) to 40% (Chinese). The
percentage stating that ESP was a "fact" or a "likely
probability" varied from 61% (Japanese)
to 76% (Chinese). The elite American scientists revealed far
lower rates of experience: 26% reported
ESP episodes and 10% had contacts with the dead.
Only 20% regarded ESP as "an established fact" or "a likely possibility"
(McClenon, 1982, 1984). (109)
From this overview of alternative
medicine several conclusions can be made. The use of alternative
health care is receiving greater attention and more research is being
directed towards why it is used and what is being used. Some
of the reasons that both health care providers and patients are interested
in alternative approaches are given in the following:
1. The health practitioner may encounter clients
who are faced
with problems that do not seem to respond to traditional
2. One way that some choose to confront these
complaints is to employ some of the health traditions
of other cultures and to view the body
and mind as a balanced whole.
3. Massage, acupuncture and acupressue, t'ai
other alternative treatments] focus on the mind/body
connection to facilitate healing through relaxation,
pressure points, and movement.
(1993 Wanning 351)
Increasingly, Western scientific
medicine is looking to alternative approaches to health care.
Our current system of health care is geared more towards acute than
chronic health conditions. China is a good example to look to
for the integration of alternative health practices (mainly TCM) with
Western scientific medicine.
Modern medicine has first separated the body from
the external world, taking it as a closed,
self-contained system, and then by dissecting its structures into
various organs has attempted to understand
their respective functions. In contrast, Eastern
medicine has from the outset understood the body
as an open system connected to the external
world. (1993 Yasuo 103)
When the two paradigms exist side by side and begin
to meld as in China the observed result is TCM generally being
more effective for chronic conditions and scientific medicine generally
more effective for acute conditions. The logic behind this is
clear as most chronic conditions are diseases of life-style and life-abuses.
Herbert Benson, M.D. elaborates that "between 60 percent and 90 percent
of visits to physicians are prompted by conditions that are related
to stress and are poorly treated by drugs and surgery" (1995 44).
TCM is a holistic health approach that integrates all of the categories
we have covered and is much more concerned with prevention rather
than treatment. The differences between Western and Eastern
ideologies is presented well in the following:
What are the fundamental differences between the
modern Western pattern of thinking and
the traditional Eastern pattern of thinking? To approach this
question in light of the mind-body function,
modern Western medicine uses for its standard
the normal condition of the great majority of people, that is, an
unspecified, large number of cases.
For example, by observing cases of normal people that "this"
organ functions in a certain way or "that" drug has
a particular effect, an empirical law
is formulated. Generally speaking, modern empirical science
adopts this method. For this reason,
a modern scientific law has general validity. This
approach, however, tends to ignore or treat lightly
the exceptional cases. In contrast, Eastern
medicine follows the principle of prescribing medication
differently from patient to patient; even though
the illnesses dealt with may seem identical,
it is not uncommon for prescriptions to differ between patients.
This is because Eastern medicine does
not formulate an empirical law by generalizing as its
standard the cases of an unspecified, large number of people.
....the traditional Eastern pattern of
thinking takes as its standard people who after a long period of
training have acquired a higher capacity than the
average person, rather than the average
condition of most people. ...A law derived therefrom indeed
lacks the general validity of the laws
of modern science, but it has instead the advantage of
grasping a deeper, potential mechanism which otherwise
would remain incomprehensible.
(1993 Yasuo 61)
These differing approaches have lead to different cultural
attitudes towards health care. The West relies on treatment
oriented, technology quick fix solutions and often concentrates on
the immediate effect more than the cause which lead up to the effect.
The East is prevention oriented and emphasizes healthy lifestyle choices
and concentrates its focus on the underlying cause more than the resulting
effect. This paper will examine a product of this Eastern philosophy
in the practice known as qigong, which is gaining popularity and interest
in the West.