Complementary or Alternative?


Here’s a question for you; complementary or alternative, which term should we use when we refer to what we do when treating our clients using our therapeutic skills? Do we hear the term complementary as often as we hear alternative? Both are used in the established term CAM therapies which refers to Complementary and Alternative Medicine but what is the difference and more importantly are we complementary or alternative?

First let’s look at the term alternative, to me alternative implies something as being preferable to something that is deemed more acceptable. For example, alternative comedy or alternative rock which purport to be set up as rejecting established stereotypes and have gone a little away from the norm and set out with their own agenda. With this in mind it seems to me alternative is a strange word to use for therapies, as this would mean what is being deemed as alternative has been in practice for thousands of years. So maybe it makes a little more sense for the newer ever evolving systems of treating people with allopathic medicine to be referred to as alternative. With ever increasing new technologies in use, such as PET scans which are the currently new definitive diagnostic tool, and as we hurtle forward leaps and bounds with regard genetics and genetic engineering, surely these are more alternative than what is a more natural system of care and healing. Whilst I am certainly not demanding we bring back bloodletting and leeching I am just not sure how this terminology has come about and how appropriate it is.

Therapies have been in use for thousands of years, why are they regarded as alternative?

To me the common sense argument would be that therapies be recognised as mainstream. I am not even going to mention the fact that in the past many of the people who would have administered herbs and essential oils as treatment for common disorders and diseases would have been outed as witches and warlocks (potential future juicy blog material). But thinking about it, maybe it really should be medical treatments that are deemed as mainstream by the establishment could be viewed as alternative?

Complementary on the other hand describes to me one thing that is used with another to make a whole. One would not exist at its best without the other and when the two are joined, they complement each other in order that one will make up for the others shortfall or deficiencies.

When I began my career as a lecturer over 10 years ago I found it interesting to note that the majority of stude