An Essential Part of your Medical Approach
Megan Eggers Zubaedi, MA, LMT, CST, CSP
Energy work, Cranial Sacral therapy, bodywork and Body-Centered Psychotherapy to facilitate harmony in mind, body, heart and soul.
Why the healing arts or alternative medicine as a compliment to modern medicine? Why the healing arts or alternative medicine instead of modern medicine? What are the “healing arts”, what is “alternative medicine”? What is “modern medicine”?
Modern medicine at its best is based in repeatable, practical results and the scientific method. It tends to have a nuts and bolts, mechanistic view of the human body and mind and is almost entirely focused on diagnosing and addressing symptoms. What we are capable of today with our modern medical sciences is unbelievable. We can help and even enhance the quality of life for those who would otherwise be disabled in body or mind. We are able to sustain the lives of extremely early newborns, the elderly or the infirm when they are far too fragile or ill to survive on their own. Modern, conventional medicine undeniably has a very important place in how we keep ourselves healthy and well.
However, in the doctor’s office or the psychiatrist’s office, with the insurance agent, even the school counselor, it is often difficult to feel that there is truly attention for all of who you are, the full picture of what might be bringing you down or creating illness. We are complex beings with unique life experiences which don’t always add up neatly in a mechanistic model. When it comes to really bringing your full human experience to a health care practitioner, you may consider working with a healing arts practitioner; someone who is skilled in not only addressing your symptoms, but also your whole person.
Let’s clarify our terms: What most people are familiar with in their doctor’s offices is considered conventional medicine. Conventional medicine is also referred to as mainstream medicine, modern medicine, western medicine, or allopathic medicine; which is the use of pharmacology or physical interventions to treat or suppress symptoms or processes of diseases or conditions. Conventional medicine, by and large, is focused on treating the symptom or the condition. The healing arts (also frequently called complementary medicine) are treatments or procedures that treat the whole person (they are holistic), not just the symptom or disease. And, frequently, are used to support and complement conventional medicine.
For example, one may be working with a psychiatrist to be medicated for depression, but the support of massage or acupuncture or psychotherapy is included to support the overall healing process by helping one to relax, de-stress, increase good energy flow, or get more to the root of the depressive symptoms. All of these things are complementary to the medication treatment; working with the conventional medication to more effectively support the whole person.
Alternative medicine (in the industrialized western world) refers to practices that have the healing effects of conventional medicine, but are not using modern medical practices, or modern scientifically proven evidence. Note that this does not necessarily mean that they are ineffective, just that they have not been put through the same scientific methods as conventional medicine. Traditional Chinese Medicine, for example, has been around literally for millennia, keeping people healthy, vital and long-lived and healing millions from all manner of disease. Although it too has a long tradition of practical application and experimentation it has not yet been identified by the modern western medical community as science-based.
Medicine takes on many forms and has many beliefs around it. What is most important is that you investigate what really works for you and that you get well-rounded support in any given circumstance. It is my suggestion that anyone interested in pursuing complementary or alternative health care also have a good doctor to work with. Conventional medicine is exceptional at diagnosis but often single pointed with treatments.
So, what are some of the advantages of including the healing arts and complementary medicines in your overall health care strategy? A complementary health care approach empowers you, as the client, to move toward what truly works for you, to be your own most knowledgeable expert on how things make you feel and how you choose to interact with medicines and interventions. It encourages you to get to know yourself, to become knowledgeable about what you need when you are stressed or ill and to widen the scope of interventions that may support you. Generally, people who empower themselves around their health are healthier people.
If you are someone, or live with or care for someone, who has navigated difficult life experience as a result of learning differences, disabilities, or other life challenges, it takes a toll. The weight of feeling overwhelmed, exasperated, confused, challenged actually does have a significant impact on physical, mental and emotional health, even for the strongest people. You can feel profoundly let down, far away from the things that lift your spirits, disconnected from what is good in life and that which helps you remember who you really are. This is exactly where complementary medicine comes so essentially into play.
When you seek out a healing arts practitioner, you are meeting with someone who is not only skilled and effective they are also available. Healing arts practitioners actually take considerable time with you. Depending on the type of session it will be 45-90 minutes. This gives you time to unwind, let down and allow the inherent healing energies of your body mind to come to the surface and attend to the aches and woes. A healing arts practitioner is available to listen, hear, see and be with you and what is arising in you. If this person is a massage therapist, her listening will be through her hands. If this person is an acupuncturist, through his understanding of the flows of chi (life force) through your whole body mind system. If this person is a counselor, she is there to help hold the challenges in the mind and heart. All of these different practitioners work with you as a Whole Person. They are not only interested in your symptoms or how your medication is working, this person is interested in how you are, as a whole person. This kind of attention allows for an inherent wisdom inside your own body to come alive and bring things into balance on many levels. This is healing. Healing approaches each person as whole and essentially good. In a true healing setting, there is compassion for all manifestations of health and dis-ease to be a reflection of what is looking to come into balance and harmony with the greater good.
Some people feel that complementary treatments are not necessary, a luxury. You do not need a Smart Phone to communicate with the people in your life. All you really need is a phone that calls or texts the people you need to reach. However, with a Smart Phone, so much more is possible. It is like this with complementary health modalities as well. Conventional medicine will give you the best it has to offer, but not necessarily all that there is to offer. A complementary healing environment facilitates healing and well-being on the multiple fronts that make up the actual complexity of being human so that, over all, there is a greater sense of ease, harmony and well-being in your whole life.
As our modern technology gets more sophisticated, we are learning to identify things with science that traditional medicine streams have known forever. The presence of energy in the body, for example. Energy is being measured and tracked in the body on very sophisticated levels, leading to ground breaking information about how the mind and the body work. Decades ago, many in conventional medical models would deny that energy had anything to do with health. Primarily this is because the foundational world-view and practices of conventional medicine are mechanistic: the body and mind are viewed as a machine with interlocking parts each with their own isolated function. However, what we are coming to prove with science is what “alternative” modalities have known forever: that we are whole, that each thing is a part of the next, and that the body and the mind are a complex intelligent organism than a machine with parts. Just because we can’t, or haven’t figured out yet, how to measure and experiment with something, does not mean that it is not critical for life.
Choosing the Right Practitioner for You
First, is there a modality that you are most interested in? In the field of complementary medicine, there are a wide variety of different modalities. Not everything works for everybody. Some people don’t like to be touched, so getting a massage would not feel relaxing and healing. So, what draws you? Let yourself be led by that curiosity and interest. Trust yourself.
What is most important in choosing a good therapy or a good therapist is that it works for you. It works for you if you feel like you can be yourself, if you feel comfortable and able to relax, able to open up to the support that is available for you through that practitioner and that modality.
If you are looking for a healing arts practitioner to work with, talk with people you know. The best referral is word of mouth. However, what works for one person does not necessarily work for another. Ask around, look around for promotional material that draws you, look on the internet. Most importantly, trust your preferences.
Find out about what kind of credentials, training, and certifications a practitioner has. Each state has different requirements for certifying or licensing practitioners. Anyone who has a certification or license in their discipline, is well trained to meet your needs in a professional way. However, just because someone has been trained well, doesn’t mean they are good for you. What is most important is that you can connect with the person, more than the techniques.
Don’t hesitate to ask questions about your practitioner, remember that this person is working for you. Don’t hesitate to make requests and ask for what you need.
Find out if the healing arts practitioner you are working with is willing to work with your conventional health care practitioners, and that this person will be a complement, not a contrast, to the medical support you are already receiving. It is common for healing arts practitioners to talk with your doctor, psychiatrist or therapist. Be sure that this person is willing to communicate with everyone on your team when necessary.
Explain your health conditions, be forthcoming and honest about what it is that you are dealing with. Choose a practitioner who is both educated and willing to work with your needs as they are. Let your doctor or psychiatrist know if you are working with a healing arts practitioner and let them know how it is helping you.
Contact your health insurance provider and ask if they cover your complementary care. Some providers do cover massage, psychotherapy, acupuncture or chiropractic, others do not. Often you can pay for these treatments out of a Health Savings Account (HAS), even if your insurance does not cover it. If a therapist does not take insurance, often they are willing to provide a receipt for your payments that you can then submit to your insurance provider.
For Further Reading
Association for Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) has compiled a comprehensive list of bodywork modalities from Abhyanga (an ayurvedic massage technique), to Zero Balancing (an energy work modality). It is an excellent resource to educate yourself on what is out there and what may be a good fit for you.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is a resource dedicated to educating people about complementary and alternative medicine.
The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine is an excellent resource for all sorts of studies and articles that have been done on complementary and alternative medicines.