Alternative Modes of Healing

After the World Health Organization established an Office for Alternative Medicine to conduct research and evaluate different approaches to healing, interest in alternative modes of healing (e.g., homeopathy, acupuncture, acupressure, reiki, qi gong) has increased. We intend to open a dialogue on the inclusion of alternative modes of healing in the public health system. The Society for Shamanism, Healing, and Transformation is dedicated to sponsoring presentations on this topic at its annual conference as well as other endeavors supporting the exploration of alternative healing practices.

The following statement by Stanley Krippner gives a pertinent overview of definitions as well as guidelines for research and inquiry:

Research Methodology

In April 1995, the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM) of the United States National Institutes of Health held a conference on research methodology. The charge of this conference was to evaluate research needs in the field of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), and several working groups were created to produce consensus statements on a variety of essential topics. The panel on definition and description accepted a dual charge: To establish a definition of the field of complementary and alternative medicine for purposes of identification and research; to identify factors critical to a thorough and unbiased description of CAM systems, one that would be applicable to both quantitative and qualitative research (O’Connor, 1995).

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)

The panel proposed a definition of CAM. A “complimentary” healing system (e.g., massage) can be used as an adjunct to allopathic biomedicine while an “alternative” healing system is difficult to combine with allopathy because it is based on different assumptions about the cause and treatment of disease and illness (e.g., homeopathy):

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a broad domain of healing resources that encompasses all health systems, modalities, and practices and their accompanying theories and beliefs, other than those intrinsic to the politically dominant health system of a particular society or culture in a given historical period. CAM includes all such practices and ideas self-defined by their users as preventing or treating illness or promoting health and well being. Boundaries within CAM and between the CAM domain and the domain of the dominant system are not always sharp or fixed. (O’Connor et al., 1997)

List of Parameters

The second charge of the panel was to establish a list of parameters for obtaining thorough descriptions of CAM systems. The list was constructed on 14 categories first conceptualized by Hufford (1995):

Lexion What are the specialized terms in the system?
Taxonomy What classes of health and sickness does the system recognize and address?
Espistemology How was the body of knowledge derived?
Theories What are the key mechanisms understood to be?
Goals for Interventions What are the primary goals of the system?
Outcome Measures What constitutes a successful intervention?
Social Organization Who uses and who practices the system?
Specific Activities What do the practitioners do? What do they use?
Responsibilities What are the responsibilities of the practitioners, patients, families and community members?
Scope How extensive are the system’s applications?
Analysis of Benefits and Barriers What are the risks and costs of the system?
Views of Suffering and Death How does the system view suffering and death?
Comparison and Interaction
with Dominant System
How does this system interact with the dominant system?
Evaluation Are there data available that demonstrate the efficacy of the healing system? What methods are appropriate for investigating the system?

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