Somebody who seeks the advice of a practitioner of alternative medicine is clearly not content with orthodox medical science.
Indeed, a number of objections are often raised against establishment medicine. Patients sometimes complain that they are treated not as individuals but merely as collections of symptoms. Another reason for dissatisfaction is that the medical profession cannot always guarantee a cure, although it tends to imply that it can. On the one hand spectacular surgical operations are performed every day with remarkable results; while on the other, the treatment of chronic disorders such as cancer or arthritis can hardly be termed a success in a dismayingly large number of cases. The side-effects of some forms of treatment by drugs are also a major source of criticism. So what does alternative (or complimentary) medicine have to offer? Its practitioners claim that they offer each patient individual attention, and take into account his or her circumstances and the bearing this might have on the patient’s disorder. Complementary medicine often achieves better results in the treatment of chronic ailments, and treatments have fewer side-effects because ‘natural’ methods are used. Not surprisingly, the medical profession views these claims with a considerable degree of scepticism. A great deal more research needs to be done before a true comparison can be drawn not only between the different types of alternative therapies. One advantage of alternative medicine is clear, however: the patient is much more likely to be involved in his own treatment. A change of lifestyle is often recommended and the patient is encouraged to regard the menagement of his disorder as lying more or less in his or her hands.
Modern drugs, as used in orthodox, or allopathic, medicine, have provided answers for many of our ills. However, in some cases, although drugs reduce or eliminate the symptoms of a disorder, the fundamental cause remains. It is particularly dissatisfaction with this situation that has prompted many patients to explore traditional forms of healing – often referred to as alternative or complementary medicine. Thus ancient techniques are being rediscovered or brought into Western society for the first time, giving a wider choice of treatment and also, because of the nature of the traditional therapies, encouraging individuals to take more responsibility for their own health. Modern systems of health care are comparatively recent developments. Much of the research which laid the foundations for modern drugs was begun just before the World War II, so modern medicine is very new in relation to world history. A statement by the World Health Organization, popularly known as ‘Health for All by the Year 2000’, confirms that until the beginning of the last century all medical practice was based on tradition. It was the expansion of scientific and material understanding into many areas of Western cultures that brought about changes in the theory and practice of health care. Traditional methods of healing still prevail in some countries, in which up to 80 per cent of the rural population are cared for in this way. However, the availability of drugs and the ease with which they can be administered has achieved popularity in certain areas of the world, particularly the westernized industrial nations. A significant factor in modern medication is the high cost, which prevents its use in less wealthy environments, such as developing nations.