As human beings, we have our fair share of problems–physical, mental, emotional–we have it all.
So what do we most commonly do when something goes awry within ourselves? We head to see a doctor, of course.
Whether our ailment takes us to the emergency room or our primary care physician, most people’s first thought is to visit someone who’s spent at least seven years and countless hours studying anatomy, psychology and microbiology earning a medical degree.
But when conventional medical practices fail us, where do people turn? According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control, 38 percent of American adults and 11.8 percent of American children used complementary and alternative medical practices in 2007. Although complementary techniques are used to supplement conventional Western medical practices, alternative medicine replaces Western techniques.
Alternative medicine is used as a healing mechanism for a slew of conditions. Most commonly, the modalities are used to heal chronic conditions like orthopedic impairments, hypertension, migraines or sinusitis. However, the techniques have also been known to help people with issues such as infertility, obesity, nicotine addiction and many others.
And the modalities themselves vary a great deal as well. Some of the more common alternative medical practices include acupuncture, diet-based therapies, massage or meditation. But lesser-known techniques and equally interesting practices are out there as well, like hypnosis, qi gong, naturopathy and guided imagery. Energy-healing therapy, like Reiki, and movement therapies, like Alexander technique and Pilates, both have a presence in Mount Airy and are also among these unique modalities.
Such practices differ from traditional western medicine because there is insufficient proof that they are safe and effective– meaning the modalities are not scientifically proven to work. But despite this, between 2002 and 2007, the CDC reported an increased use of methods like acupuncture, deep-breathing exercises, massage therapy, meditation and yoga in adults.
“For the past 150 years there’s been a big emphasis on science [having] the answers to everything and it turns out that’s not the case – there’s more going on,” said Elise Rivers, Community Acupuncture of Mount Airy founder. “But the marketing of the idea that only unless [something is] proven in a certain way does it have validity, that’s starting to go by the wayside.”
And as a result, Americans are increasingly interested in experimenting with, or even routinely practicing, alternative medicine techniques.
One of the most desirable elements of these modalities is that they practice health holistically. This means they work with the whole person – mind, body and spirit–in an effort to heal the individual and enhance his quality of life rather than focusing on specific symptoms.
“Because it’s mind, body, spirit medicine, people change not only on the physical level but on the emotional level and that’s some of the most exciting parts of the work,” Rivers said. “It goes all the way from the profound to the subtle.”
Often, those interested in alternative medicine are people who have had extensive medical tests but have not had satisfactory experiences, said Sharon Sherman, founder of Chestnut Hill’s Empirical Point Acupuncture. See the website at https://www.philadelphia-acupuncture.com/
And due to insurance constraints in western medicine, [doctors] have to specialize, she added.
“When you go to specialists they fulfill this role within these parameters and if it’s outside those parameters, you go to another specialist,” Sherman said. “What we do is we back it out a little bit so it’s not as micro in that sense and [we] look at the many symptoms being thrown off and to try to tease out those threads that go back to a root cause.”
In addition, with the American health insurance system often leaving people uncovered, alternative medicines become more attractive because they are often less costly than conventional methods.
“There’s not great insurance for everyone unless your employer can afford to pay for high-end insurance, so what I’ve tried to do is operate outside the insurance system and basically charge the same price as a co-pay for a complete office visit,” Rivers said.
For acupuncture, the federal government currently does not reimburse for treatments. On a state level, since there are so many insurance policies out there, some will reimburse but most do not, Sherman said.
However, affordability hasn’t always been characteristic of alternative medical practices. In fact, initially, and even still today, methods like acupuncture have been primarily upper class practices, Rivers said.
New ways of administering acupuncture, like community acupuncture, are trying to make it more accessible.
“It’s the whole mission and goal,” she said. “I think there’s slight variation in the types of [community acupuncture] offered but the concept is always to take it out of upper class and bring it down to the other classes.”
Another big reason people are turning to holistic medicine is the exhaustion of prescription drugs, often accompanied by damaging side effects. In fact, according to a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, every year more than 100,000 deaths occur as a result of expected prescription drug side effects; over a decade, this amounts to more than one million deaths or more deaths than were reported in every American war and conflict over the last 100 years.
“[People] realize there’s a price to pay for using pharmaceuticals to address their problems,” Rivers said. “They’re realizing it’s not the magic bullet everyone hoped it would be and they’re seeing the side effects and want an alternative to that…It’s important for people to realize there’s a choice – you don’t just have to get the scrip and go fill it and then deal with the consequences.”
Ultimately, many alternative medicine techniques are geared toward bringing the power back to the practitioner so he can bring on his own healing.
“In contrast to some of the Western medicine, which is very symptomatic, [Reiki and Alexander] are coming from a place of going more into your wholeness and bringing to yourself that sense of what you need,” said Zoana Gepner-Mueller, founder of Mount Airy’s Cresheim Healing Arts Studio and Reiki/Alexander master. “Your wholeness is geared to bringing you back into balance, your wholeness brings you into the next steps that you need to be well and to learn to trust that.”
Rivers said: “My deepest wish is that people try something that they otherwise would have hesitated to do if they’re having health problems, or even if they’re just curious about a new experience. Open your mind and give yourself the opportunity of healing in a different way than you’ve tried before. There’s often more to pursuing things that aren’t mainstream than people think.”