Why are we so drawn to alternative medicine?

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The other day I began my story of how I fell in love — and then out of love — with the crunchy community. I said I wanted to explore some of the dangers and pitfalls of the wellness industry.

But before I spend too much time discussing the negative sides of “crunchy living” and alternative medicine, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that alternative healing practices definitely have their strengths and benefits, and I totally understand their allure.

Many of us turned to alternative medicine when conventional medicine failed us.

Because the truth is, the conventional (Western) medicine model can be very disempowering for patients.

The doctor typically holds all the power: it’s their office; you go in on their time. They tell you what to do. They decide your prescription and the dose, and tell you when to come back.

They often use unfamiliar, infantilizing jargon that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and belittled. And they often shame you if you admit to googling your symptoms or trying out alternative healing practices. It can feel like they don’t want you to have any agency in your own wellness.

No matter how old, intelligent, or experienced you are, you often leave a doctor’s office feeling like a child. It’s a relationship where the doctor knows everything and you know nothing.

We often come out of a doctor’s office feeling like we weren’t heard or taken seriously. We often feel like there is nothing we can do to aid in our own healing. And we feel like our doctors don’t take into account our whole selves: we don’t feel like our spiritual and emotional selves are acknowledged.

And that’s if we can even get ourselves to step through the door. Hospitals and doctor’s offices are often cold, sterile, unwelcoming places. They tend to be crowded and busy, and we feel anonymous. Monitors beep, we stand in lines, everything smells antiseptic. Most of us will do just about anything to avoid going there in the first place.

Compare that to many holistic wellness centers, which are typically more welcoming and empowering. The floors are often carpeted and you’re encouraged to take off your shoes. There is often soothing music playing, and diffusers bubbling with calming essential oils. The lights may be dimmed and there is probably a potted succulent on the receptionist’s desk.

Your alternative healthcare provider often listens carefully as you discuss not only your source of pain, but your daily routine, your diet, your emotional responses to you suffering, and alternative remedies you’ve tried. They take you seriously when you say you’ve tried acupuncture or cutting out gluten. They typically use language you understand. They often offer a number of options and encourage you to find a dose that works for you. They might give you their email address in case you have additional questions for later.

You typically leave a wellness center feeling like a whole person who is actively participating in finding a solution.

And sometimes you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home. The Internet offers an infinite number of ideas, suggestions, and solutions. There are millions of people out there telling you that you can take control of your own health. You just have to read the right books, eat the right food, do the right exercises, or take the right supplements.

Who wouldn’t want to go that route over the medical route if possible?

Well, unfortunately, I’ve discovered firsthand that there are some problems inherent in the alternative health model as well.

For one thing, alternative healthcare is not as well regulated, so a lot of nonsense – often dangerous — can slip in. There is often not enough accountability for peddlers of alternative medicine.

And sometimes the burden of figuring things out for yourself can become overwhelming rather than empowering.

And when alternative healing doesn’t work, you can wind up feeling like you didn’t try hard enough, or that you’re just too lazy, or any number of self-defeating things.

And it’s these problems that I want to explore a bit more in future posts.

Thanks for following along!

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  1. Wow, I really related to what you said about how patients feel in traditional medical community. And have also experienced feeling like a failure when a natural remedy didn’t work. Definitely tracking with your thoughts here.

  2. Thank you for this.

  3. patricia greene says

    I think there is a place for both. God gave us the herbs and plants for healing but He also granted knowledge to man(Luke was a physician and I am sure the early believers benefitted from his knowledge and training) when herbs and plants aren’t available or do not work for the individual. Thank you for sharing.

  4. I’m so excited about this series on some of the problems with alternative medicine. I completely agree with you that it has so many benefits but that it would be wise for individuals to weigh the pros and cons of alternative medicine vs. conventional/Western medicine on a case by case basis.

    One point I would also like to highlight (perhaps it’s one you are already planning to address!) is how alternative medicine is often more available to privileged members of society (read: White, college educated, with full-time employment, time & energy for research, and access to alternative medicine options.)

    • Wow, I often feel quite the opposite – that conventional Western medicine is more available to privileged members of society (at least in the USA). It is mostly college educated, with full-time employment that have access to good insurance plans which make conventional doctor’s office visits, tests and medicine affordable. People with “bad” insurance plans don’t even go to doctors unless they have an emergency since they can’t afford the cost of several hundreds of dollars related to it (for minor issues). On the other hand small bottle of homeopathic pills (alternative medicine that my family has a good experience with) cost only $6-10.

  5. “For one thing, alternative healthcare is not as well regulated, so a lot of nonsense – often dangerous — can slip in. There is often not enough accountability for peddlers of alternative medicine.” <— This.

  6. There are pros and cons with pretty much every decision in the life, but regarding this question I just can´t stop thinking about something I read in a pamphlet I got somewhere ; “Eastern aka herbal,natural,alternative healthcare is tried and approved on people. Western medicine is tried on corpses”.

    By illnesses and medication I am forced to stay away from a long list on herbal supplements that could interfere, and stick to western medication and doctors. Even though I am fascinated by natural medicine, I am grateful that my medication,doctors and examinations are regulated and controlled.

  7. Fully agreed with you Kathleen. I have started walking & doing foot strengthening exercises instead of taking medicines as per my trainer and feeling much better now as I had previous week feet issues. Nature is the best healer I believe now.

  8. I am really glad to see this post that can be helpful for me. I just wanted to say, thank you for sharing this article.
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  9. Everything you said has been an eye opener to me. My doctor does make fun of me in a subtle way. Sometimes, I’m forced to do what I don’t feel like doing, and I’m paying for it too. I definitely feel like a dumbo when checking in to their offices. But I also know that I will need doctors one of these days.

    As for alternative medicine, if it works for you, then I respect that. To each his/her own.
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  10. What an interesting post to read! I agree with you alternative medicine might help us but it has also its advantages. It is proven to be ineffective. It will be good if you will use natural herbs and supplements. Looking forward to your next post!
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  11. Great Information. It is very helpful blog. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  12. Great blog really helpful. We have also found homeopathy to be very effective, and use it is as “primary medicine” and consider other as alternate. Results are great and it is very light on your one of the most vital organ… The liver
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  13. I will at times look for alternatives to traditional medicines for certain ailments and have had success. Thanks for sharing.

  14. I found your post really interesting. After spending some time receiving healthcare in Mexico, which is still a “western” system, I noticed that the doctors and other healthcare professionals place a higher emphasis on listening to the patient than I experience with doctors in the US. In the states, I always feel just like you said, “it’s their office; you go in on their time. They tell you what to do. They decide your prescription and the dose, and tell you when to come back.”

    Great post!

  15. Great article, I agree with you .this post is very helpful to every normal person. Thanks for Sharing. Keep posting like this.

  16. You have mailed it. Now I wonder why not hospitals transform themselves to be more welcoming, at least get rid of that medicine smell, have a more holistic and reassuring environment. I also feel that instead of having long queues, doctors must limit the number of patients they see regularly and give quality time to each patient so that patient feels that they have been heard property and their problems have been acknowledged appropriately by the doctor and the prescription are being given on those lines.
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  17. Ascend National says

    And many natural remedies that don’t work are putting a toll on our environment to grow, process and distribute them. Thank you for sharing your personal experience!

  18. Thank you for sharing your experience. It helps us to evolve and find out more.

  19. Great read about alternative medicine! Thanks for sharing your experience!

  20. I liked what you said about how most alternative medicine places can be really relaxing and they can be better at communicating so that they can take better care of their health. My mom has been having a lot of problems with her stomach and she really wants to get some help to manage it so that she can have more fun. Getting some help from a professional could be really useful and get her a better array of care products.

  21. I would add a third category to your final quote. There is scientifically proven medicine, unproven medicine, and scientifically disproved medicine. There is a difference between something like homeopathy and something that we just don’t know enough about yet.
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  22. Thanks for sharing this amazing post!
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