Defining Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Alternative Mental Health Medicine

Alternative medicine is the medicine of many different names. The therapies that this medicine encompasses are constantly shifting and dependent on opinion and perspective. Consider the following list: acupuncture; biofeedback training; chiropractic; exercise; energy healing; herbal remedies; homeopathic treatment; hypnosis; imagery or relaxation techniques; massage therapy; nutritional/dietary advice; spiritual healing or prayer; traditional medicine (for example, Chinese or Indian medicine); meditation, vitamin therapy, and yoga. It is difficult to coin one term, which covers this entire list of diverse practices.

Some practitioners prefer the term Natural medicine. This term, however, can be somewhat misleading. While many of the products that are used in this type of medicine come from nature, many do not. For example, S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe), a typical CAM remedy, doesn’t grow on a tree but is found circulating in our blood. However, it must be manufactured...More

Fast Facts: Learn! Fast!

What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)?

  • This category of medicine goes by many names including alternative medicine, complementary medicine, natural medicine, and integrative medicine.
  • The terms describe an approach that (at times) can stand on its own as an alternative to standard medicine, and at other times is used as an add-on to standard medicine.
  • It includes many different practices including acupuncture, biofeedback training, chiropractic, exercise, energy healing, herbal remedies, homeopathic treatment, hypnosis, imagery or relaxation techniques, massage therapy, nutritional/dietary advice, spiritual healing or prayer, traditional medicine (for example, Chinese or Indian medicine), meditation, vitamin therapy, and yoga.

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How can I choose an appropriate complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioner?

  • While defining CAM medicine is hard, determining whether someone is a CAM practitioner is also difficult.
  • Not all CAM practitioners are created equal and choosing one requires some investigative work.
  • There is potential for harm from those who don't know what they are doing, who aren't aware of the harmful side effects of what they are prescribing, and who do not know about the dangers associated with the course of different illnesses.
  • Most good CAM practitioners have associations with standard medical practitioners and you should make sure to ask about this when interviewing them.
  • When visiting a practitioner, checking their background is essential.
  • Many good CAM practitioners attend certified schools and are licensed by the state in which they live; however, other practitioners do not have such education and oversight.
  • While attending a qualified school and being licensed does not necessarily guarantee that the person is honest and knowledgeable, it does amount to some measure of safety.
  • If practitioners you are thinking of working with are licensed, ask to see their license and check with the state licensing board if you have any questions about the provider or their practices.
  • If they are not licensed, then you should be more diligent about asking for references and training descriptions.

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How safe is alternative medicine?

  • Many people associate the word "natural" with safe and think that alternative medicines must be ok, but this is often not the case.
  • While most CAM therapies are safe, natural substances can have side effects and/or interfere with conventional drugs (either by strengthening or weakening their effects).
  • CAM medicines have the advantage of being easily available over-the-counter without a prescription, which may lead to a false sense of security about their safety.
  • Supplement quality is also a concern because there is very little oversight of supplement manufacturing companies and these companies may at times skimp on ingredients or fail to follow good manufacturing practices.
  • Understanding that "natural" does not necessarily mean harmless is a good place to start.
  • Checking with your health care practitioner whenever you decide to start taking a new supplement is an essential part of taking care of yourself.

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What is the role of Alternative Medicine in mental health care?

  • Alternative medicines for mental disorders occupy a supportive care role, for the most part.
  • However, for a few select mental disorders, there are well-researched supplements that may stand on their own and substitute for standard medicines.
  • St. John's Wort for depression and Kava for anxiety are two examples, but for the bulk of CAM therapies, though, this is not this case.
  • Research investigating the effectiveness of these treatments is either minimal, poorly done, or inconclusive.
  • The selection of a CAM therapy is best determined by the severity of your disease, how well it helps or hinders conventional therapy, and your willingness to try a therapy that is largely untested.
  • Using a good health care practitioner who can help you to integrate different therapies, along with avoiding drug interactions and other pitfalls, tends to be the most effective strategy for any health condition.

For more information 
For more information on the role of CAM treatment for Anxiety
For more information on the role of CAM treatment for Depression
For more information on the role of CAM treatment for Bipolar Disorder
For more information on the role of CAM treatment for Schizophrenia
For more information on the role of CAM treatment for ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)


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