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Complementary therapies

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    Complementary Therapies

    This web page is designed to help you and your family explore the vast topic of complementary therapies and make informed choices, that you feel comfortable and confident about. The use of complementary therapies is common and increasing, especially for very sick children. Some families find that this is a way that they can meaningfully contribute to their child's health, comfort and well-being. It may be you want to consider complementary medicine for a particular illness, or you may simply want "to make life a bit more lovely, pain-free and enjoyable" for your child (to quote a parent). This page includes:

    • Definitions
    • Guidelines for checking out different therapies/practitioners
    • Sites to get you started
    • Safeguards

    Definitions for this Web page

    Complementary means therapies used TOGETHER with conventional medicine

    Conventional medicine refers to the standard treatments offered in mainstream medicine

    Complementary therapies refers to all complementary and alternative practices

    Complementary medicine refers to substances that are taken by mouth or injected, or applied to the skin, or inhaled, not prescribed by a doctor (Often referred to elsewhere as natural medicines. Note that natural does not automatically mean safe)

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    What are complementary and alternative therapies?

    They are a diverse range of treatments and practices, based on different philosophies and beliefs, that are used for healing mind, body, emotions and spirit. They are not usually taught in medical schools nor routinely offered in hospitals.

    There are around 200 different complementary therapies on record. They can be divided into four main groups which can help us understand how they are used. (This is adapted from the Center for Holistic Pediatric Education and Research in Boston.)

    1. Biochemical such as herbs, dietary supplements, minerals, vitamins, Bach flower essences, aromatherapy oils

    2. Biomechanical such as massage, osteopathy, chiropractic, Alexander technique

    3. Lifestyle such as environment, diet, exercise, and mindbody techniques such as meditation, relaxation, imagery, hypnosis

    4. Bioenergetic such as acupuncture, Reiki, therapeutic touch, kinesiology

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    Guidelines for choosing complementary and alternative therapies
    (adapted from Consultations Newsletter, Winter 1997, Duke University Medical Centre)

    First, make sure you completely understand your child's conventional medical treatment, and ask your doctors about anything and everything you want to know more about

    Weigh what you judge to be the potential costs and benefits of any new treatment with quality of life issues that are important to you and your family (just as you would with any conventional treatment)

    Consider you and your family's unique needs, beliefs and desires

    • You may want to choose therapies for yourself and other family members as well as your child. Everyone may benefit from stress management for example.
    • Ask yourself how you honestly feel about the treatment. Only do what feels right.

    Be clear about expectations of treatment, so you can monitor outcome

    • Cure disease
    • Reduce stress/toxins, increase well-being
    • Manage symptoms
    • Prevent disease
    • Inner peace and harmony
    • Any combination of the above

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    Check out practitioner credentials and conditions in which they practise

    Check training, registration of practitioner and claims being made. Beware of a treatment that is very expensive, claims that it is the only one that will work and all other treatments should stop. Ask whether any studies have been done, or adverse effects reported, but remember, no evidence is not proof that something doesn't work, and it may not always be necessary to prove value (eg listening to music, playing , reading, meditating, visualizing).

    Discuss your options openly with people you trust in the conventional medical setting

    They may be able to help with risk-benefit analysis, and to monitor the effects of a treatment. Integration of complementary therapies with conventional medicine is in its infancy. You may want to talk with other parents, nurses, palliative care specialists, anyone who may have information or experience.

    Selecting information about Complementary Medicine from the Web

    The pick of the sites is the US Government National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) site, recently redesigned to make it easier for the consumer to use. This is a good place to start and it has some links.

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    Safety on the net

    If you decide to browse the small-scale websites written largely by practitioners promoting their own philosophy and treatments, it may be worth bearing in mind the concerns listed below, that have been discussed in the medical journals.

    • Some internet sites/practitioners tell patients to stop their medical treatment
    • Patients may delay seeking conventional treatment which has proven effectiveness
    • More and more interactions are being described between herbs and dietary supplements with over the counter and prescription drugs
    • Lack of scientific evidence (that is, studies where lots of patients have had the therapy and it has been evaluated by the scientific method).
    • Cost

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