This may seem like a controversial topic to some, but there is a subject that comes up frequently in discussions I have, and with our NHS currently facing threat – and on the other side of the Pond, our US friends seeing their healthcare system in a different kind of jeopardy, it’s one worth examining.
I am in the fortunate position of bridging two areas of healthcare. On the one hand, hypnotherapy comes under the broad umbrella of therapies that could be considered ‘holistic’ or ‘alternative’, whilst also having a solid grounding in evidence-based neuroscience. Similarly yoga is seen as the hallmark of the ‘hippy’ or ‘spiritual’ health nut; but it also has benefits that can be explained through neuroscience and sports sciences. As someone who has experience of science journalism, but also an interest in alternative healing systems and spirituality, the subject of “Western medicine” verses “alternative medicine” is one I get drawn into time and time again.
The main problem with this kind of debate is how polarised it is. There seems to be a strict line that cannot be crossed, and that confuses and frustrates me. Yes I get sometimes overly wound-up at the anti-vaccine movement who would deny scientific evidence and put children’s lives at risk; but I get equally exasperated at those who sneer and roll-their eyes at any health system used to support wellbeing that doesn’t directly come in a pill bottle.
The state of our poor-beloved NHS, and the insurance-based US health system are almost certainly to blame for both the mistrust of evidence-based medicine, and the inability to access it freely. I myself visit the doctor a lot less now for thing I may used to have seen him for. If I’m told it will be two-weeks to get an appointment, it is likely I will seek alternative treatment in the health food shop or go for some reflexology to see if I can deal with it myself, and I think this is true of many and is not necessarily a bad thing.
In America it is likely the mistrust of medicine comes from the astronomical costs of private health care, thus making “big-Pharma” seem like an unscrupulous villain. Add into that the anxiety people naturally feel about their health and the health of their families and it is no wonder that people get sucked into the evangelical belief that all Western medicine is poison. Charismatic snake-oil salesmen and quacks back up this ideology, yet are just as happy to take your money, but do it under the guise of saving you from the evil powers at be, while peddling “cures” and remedies that are unproven in their efficacy or approved in their safety.
There is a powerful argument for taking responsibility for your own health, and an equal argument against scepticism turning into cynicism over all alternative medicine and healing. To do your own research into what helps keep you healthy and well is a fantastic thing to do to gain control over your own health. Nutrition is important. Keeping emotionally and mentally well is important and many of these alternative therapies are great at keeping your anxiety low and your positivity high. Whereas there may not be any direct medical “evidence” for reiki or reflexology, or crystal healing; there definitely is evidence that keeping your stress levels down and taking time to relax and recharge keeps your immunity strong.
If a particular therapy, no matter how “fluffy” it sounds helps an individual into their parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest one), helps their serotonin increase and their cortisol decrease; then it is working, and is a completely valid treatment for that individual as part of their wellbeing routine. You don’t have to believe in chakras, or “Qi” or crystal power; you just need to look at the actual effects of lowered blood pressure, better sleep, higher levels of good hormones – how it works is less important. A possible reason why one therapy might work better for one person than another has less to do with the efficacy of the therapy and more to do with the beliefs and experiences of that person. We are all different, while I regularly bliss out and feel fantastic after reflexology, someone who hates having their feet touched is probably not going to feel so good, while some people find real heath benefits from homeopathy, where I have never found it to do much, possibly because I can’t really wrap my head around how it works. Is the placebo effect a factor? Quite possibly it is at play, but the placebo effect is a powerful too that even Western medicine has admitted.
I believe there is a compromise in this war of medicine and alternative therapies. Primarily you should be making preventative medicine a priority over curative healthcare anyway, and that is something that everyone can be taking responsibility for; such as eating well and finding food which fuels you best. Yes there is a dearth of diets and advice out there on this, which is all the more reason to research what is right for you. Low carb/low sugar will suit some, vegan others, some will always feel better if they eat Organic; it’s up to you, if you find something that has you feeling glowing inside and out then stick to it.
Find the exercise you enjoy, find the stress management you enjoy, find ways to manage your sleep, mental health and energy levels. If this involves a range of different therapies and health systems then so be it, find whatever works for you. But your health and life is precious if you are truly ill then go to the doctor. Evidence-based medicine has revolutionised the world! We can prevent illnesses that wiped out whole communities 100 years ago, we can survive terrible diseases, infections and conditions that would have been death sentences years ago. Evidence-based medicine works, not always, but it is prescribed because it has been deemed to work. Yes doctors are not infallible but there are far more who chose their vocation to help people be well than are supposed ‘shills for big Pharma’.
As a hypnotherapist I do not claim to be able to “cure” people of anything. However what I can do is help people in a complementary way to face problems, illness or treatment by helping them cope better. I can help lower anxiety, I can help moods lift and help a person come up with solutions. I can help you sleep, which in turn can boost your wellbeing, I can help you get over a phobia of needles, or the dentist or the doctor so you can finally get that health problem sorted! I can help you manage pain, have a calm, easy birth, or help you overcome addiction and bad habits. All these things can quite easily make you feel better or even recover quicker, but as hypnotherapists we are never peddling a ‘cure’, and please beware anyone who does. We are popping up more and more in hospital settings now, whether Dorethea Read’s brilliant team at the University Hospital in Cardiff supporting those going through chemotherapy, or the more and more birth centres offering hypnobirthing – even the NHS are realising now that complementary therapies have their place in healthcare.
The best chance of good health is to use common sense and you own brilliant mind. Don’t take anything as ultimate truth, but find out what works for you. If something sounds to good to be true it probably is, so above all use your judgement; but life is all about balance. There will always be those trying to promote their wonder “cures” or scare you, but approach everything with a critical eye, and you give yourself the best chance of good health in life.