- Kathi J. Kemper
Over the past 50 years, health care has grown more complex and specialized. Health-care institutions now are staffed with an array of specialist physicians, social workers, psychologists, therapists, and nutritionists as well as general practitioners and nurses. The types of providers outside of the hospital are even more numerous and diverse: physicians; nurses; nurse practitioners; chiropractors; counselors; acupuncturists; herbalists; spiritual healers; and purveyors of nutritional supplements, aromatherapy, crystals, and more.
Intent on distinguishing their "products," providers focus on differences, polarizing into distinct camps such as "mainstream or traditional" versus "alternative or unconventional." Although these dichotomies are simple, they also can mislead. The definition of "alternative" is very dependent on the definition "mainstream"; acupuncture may be an alternative in one setting, but it clearly is traditional within Asian communities. Therapies that once were considered unconventional, such as hypnosis and meditation, have moved into many mainstream medical settings. (See Sugarman article "Hypnosis: Teaching Children Self-regulation" in the January 1996 issue of Pediatrics in Review.)
The public wants health care that is low-cost, safe, effective, and personalized. Practitioners of "natural" therapies often are viewed as more humanistic and less technological than busy physicians. According to one study, in 1990, alternative medical therapies were used by nearly one third of Americans.1
- Copyright © 1996 by the American Academy of Pediatrics