How to Talk About ‘Alternative Health’ with Doctors

Reality-3Many of us have gone beyond mainstream medicine.

We’ve taken the parts of it that work, and have moved on to some form of ‘alternative’ health care.

For me that means using therapies like grounding, as well as the nutritional and lifestyle elements of the Autoimmune Protocol.

Alternative Health Care

The trouble with ‘alternative health care’ is that it isn’t really a category.

Alternative in this context just means everything that isn’t mainstream medicine.

The only criteria for a therapy being labelled ‘alternative’ is that it hasn’t been scientifically validated and recognized by medical science.

All the practices that aren’t recognized by medical science shouldn’t, really, be lumped together as if they are one thing.

Some are dangerous.

Some are ineffective.

Some are traditional approaches that have been used for millennia.

And some will revolutionize the way we treat illness in the years to come.

Future Medical Breakthroughs

It would be silly to suggest that all our important medical discoveries have already been made. After all, oncogenomics is brand-new and it could be the future of cancer treatment.

All the potential health care breakthroughs that haven’t been validated yet are part of the big messy area outside of the medical mainstream that’s called ‘alternative’.

Ways to Think about Reality

Medical science is is the product of a logic-oriented perspective that started in ancient Greece, along with with other rational stuff, like math.

Logic was radical in its day. It was a new and exciting way to look at the world.

It’s the basis of a worldview that many people continue to subscribe to, and it’s helpful to remember that all mainstream doctors are still educated in this tradition.

This tradition includes the following beliefs:

  1. There is one objective, verifiable reality (let’s call that truth);
  2. Anything that is true can be verified; and
  3. The only valid way to know things is through science.

An alternative perspective on the nature of reality exists. One could say that it includes the following beliefs:

  1. There is no objective, verifiable reality, just varied interpretations of it;
  2. Some things that may be true may not be be verifiable scientifically; and
  3. There are many ways to know things.

Scientific Validity

The thing to remember about mainstream medicine is that before anything can be acknowledged as true, it must be validated. It has to hold up to scientific scrutiny.

This is where medical research comes in.

If something has not yet been proven, scientifically, it is not a fact, according to medical science.

Logical, right?

And therefore, all ‘alternative’ health practices are invalid simply because they are outside of the canon of medical science.

In most cases, they haven’t been scientifically invalidated. They just haven’t been tested yet.

Reality & RCTsThis picture illustrates the situation we encounter when attempting to talk about alternative health with doctors.

Doctors have been trained to consider what is inside the black circles. These are the things that have been proven by medical science.

If their training occurred some time ago, and they haven’t been keeping up with the new research, they will be inclined to consider only what is inside the smaller black circle.

This is not a criticism!

That big colourful, messy blob I’ve labelled ‘reality’ in this picture represents all of reality. The whole universe and all the multiverses.

Each of us can only comprehend a tiny fragment of that whole. Doctors are not alone in that.

But some of us more readily allow for the potential of treatments that haven’t been scientifically proven yet.

Mainstream Doctors & Alternative Health Care

The information I have shared in this post helps me talk to doctors about alternative health practices.

Here’s how:

  • I understand that the medical perspective originates from a particular worldview. This enables me to put that perspective in perspective.
  • I feel more confident about sharing my interest in exploring what lies outside currently validated medical science, because I know that new therapies are being validated all the time, and the most revolutionary therapies probably haven’t been recognized by mainstream medicine yet.
  • If a doctor mistakes their rationalist perspective for truth, I can remind myself that there are other ways to think about the nature of reality, and that we are all limited by the confines of our worldview, including me.
  • If a doctor is derisive or dismissive of alternative health practices that interest me, I have framework I can use to point out that ‘alternative does not have to equal irresponsible or dangerous. (To be responsible, I practice risk management, whether I am considering an alternative or a mainstream therapy).

Doctors are individuals (obviously) and they vary in how they respond to alternative health practices.

I find it helpful to understand the worldview of mainstream medicine, so that I can more effectively work with doctors around my interest in alternative therapies.

6 thoughts on “How to Talk About ‘Alternative Health’ with Doctors

  1. I love how you explain that not all alternative medicine can be lumped together. Using healthy eating should not be put in the same camp as ‘miracle raspberry seed tonic to cure your RA completely’ type thing. It really is a broad category that should have better sub groupings.

    Two key problems I find with the regular ‘research and testing’ proof is that A) it takes money, big pharma companies have money, but they want to make money, natural supliments, treatments and lifestyle changes do not bring in the cash (why ‘cure’ or help someone treat themselves when you can have them coming back over and over for refills) and therefore there isn’t ample resources for the clinical testing of many possible treatments and aids.
    B) it can be vastly different from place to place. What is legal and approved here in Canada can be quite different than the USA, England or elsewhere. Just because one area proves its worth medically does not mean the research holds ground everywhere. If it were more universal, a lot more of what’s considered alternative now could be added to doctors bag of tricks.

    That being said, I have a couple of great doctors that really agree with me that if a natural or alternative less invasive (or risky) treatment could work it is definitely worth trying above modern pharmaceuticals. A great post, I enjoyed reading!

    • You make an excellent point: clinical trials are expensive so they are usually funded by pharmaceutical companies. And pharmaceutical companies are only interested profitable pharmaceuticals. That’s why there is so much power in people taking their health into their own hands. Our only bias is own well-being!

  2. Another ripper of a post Petra! A few things
    – I love that you ground! Since moving to DC I haven’t been doing it nearly as much as when I was back in Aus. Thanks for the reminder!
    – I love that you point out that we don’t know all that there is to know, including the medical profession. I’ve found it very important to keep an open mind about all the possibilities to healing.

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