The scientific medicine paradigm of the twentieth century was so dominant that it was referred to as orthodox or conventional medicine.  While alternatives to medical doctors ranging from home remedies to prayer to chiropractors were often used, they were considered to be unorthodox or unconventional medicine.

Scientific medicine has been taught almost solely in health courses in schools, has been the focus of public health campaigns, and has been the central perspective in the medical school curriculum.

This article particularly focuses on the two widely used alternative treatments – Homeopathy and Acupuncture.  These two alternative treatments are such a perfect example in the debate over alternative medicine and the conventional medicine.

The article begins by discussing the nature of complementary and alternative medicine and flows down to the conclusive statement on the argument between the two models of medical treatment.

Definition of Complementary and Alternative Medicine

CAM is generally defined as a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not currently regarded to be part of conventional medicine (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2002, p. 1).  Goldstein (1999) has extracted five core elements from the wide variety of CAM healing practices:

1.      Holism – Treating the patient holistically (i.e. considering the entire physical, mental, spiritual, and social make-up of the patient in diagnosing illness and providing therapeutic care.

2.      CAM gives high regards to the mind-body connection and generally never treats one without the other.

3.      The possibility of high-level wellness – Health is viewed as being a very positive physical-emotional state and not just as the absence of symptoms or clinical disease.

4.      Vitalism: life suffused by the flow of energy – Life is viewed as a type of ecosystem in which the various elements of mind, body, and spirit are united by a force or flow of energy throughout the body.

5.      The healing process is viewed as a cooperative, active process that involves both healer and patient.  The healer is a caring individual who works “with” instead of “on” patients (p. 219).

Reasons Why People Turn to Alternative Medicine

So many people are attracted to alternative medicines due to some reasons.  James Dillard, M.D. director of the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons found that many patients are not satisfied with – and in fact are quite distrustful of – conventional medicine and its practitioners, who are often referred to as “money-hungry” and “cold”.

Additionally, many people have no health insurance and cannot afford conventional medical care with its costly prescription drugs and procedures.  These explanations are very common particularly in America where one half to one third of them are using complementary medicines (quoted in Seidman 2001, p. 1).

Furthermore, Astin (1998) asserts that people not only embrace alternative modalities because they are dissatisfied with mainstream medicine but they also found non-traditional approaches to healing and wellness “congruent with their own values, beliefs, and philosophical orientations toward health and life” (pp. 1548-1553).