Complementary and Alternative Medicine are practices, products, and systems that are not conventional medicine. While traditional medicine is practiced by doctors who hold M.D. or D.O. degrees and other professionals such as psychologists and nurses, CAM is exercised by a less formally educated but often completely competent group of practitioners. Some studies on CAM therapies have been conducted which offer some early suggestion of their efficacy, but CAM therapies are typically those that have not yet been scientifically proven to be effective.
Conventional health care professionals adopt CAM therapies that are clinically proven to be safe and efficient - this is especially true of treatments regarding mental health. The alternative approach to mental health care focus in the relationship between body, mind, and spirit. As conventional health care does not endorse CAM therapies, it is important to note that before using a given approach to achieve mental wellness, one should always consult a conventional healthcare professional.
Complementary, Alternative and Integrative Medicine.
There is a difference between complementary, alternative and integrative medicine. The first is typically used together with conventional medicine, as when a patient who has undergone surgery is treated with aromatherapy to lessen their discomfort. Alternative medicine is a substitute for conventional medicine, as when an individual opts for the use of a special diet instead of undergoing surgery or an abrasive procedure, as a doctor would have recommended. Lastly, integrative medicine is a treatment that combines traditional medicine with CAM and is considered to be the safest and most effective option of the three.
Whole Medical Systems
Whole medical systems, as the name implies, works with complete systems of theory and practice. These systems were developed before modern conventional medicine and have evolved in tandem. Some examples include homeopathic medicine and naturopathic medicine, which uses non-invasive and natural methods to treat illnesses and diseases. These are relatively new forms of Whole Medical Systems in comparison to the ones coming from non-Western Cultures, such as the traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, a system of medicine with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent.
Mind-body medicine uses a variety of strategies to enhance the mind's capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms. Some of these methods have even become mainstream, conventional medicine, like support groups and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Even meditation is recommended by conventional medical professionals today. Other mind-body techniques that are still considered CAM include prayer, mental healing, and creative outlet therapies with art, music, or dance.
Biologically Based Practices
These practices in complementary and alternative medicine make use of substances found in nature, like herbs, food, and vitamins. They are very popular with people who follow a vegan diet or lifestyle as they include dietary supplements and herbal products - although not all medications are free from animal products. Biology-based practices are occasionally deemed controversial as they make use of other natural but scientifically unproven therapies. Because the medication used in these methods do not need approval from the Food and Drug Administration before they are marketed, there is no rigorous testing to confirm their efficiency. Many countries have laws requiring such products to be labeled as non-medicine because of this lack of screening.
Manipulative and Body-Based Practices
Manipulative and body-based practices are the ones in which one or more body parts are moved or manipulated as is done by a chiropractor, osteopath or a masseuse. These movements also address imbalances of the bones and joints, soft tissues and the circulatory and lymphatic systems. Manipulative and body-based practices are normally used to treat anxiety and stress, sports injuries, migraines, infertility, sinusitis, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Energy therapies make use of energy fields, separated into two types; the first is Biofield Therapies, which are used to affect the energy fields that bind and penetrate the human body. No scientific (observable) evidence has been found to support them, which is what makes some professionals skeptical. Some forms of Energy Medicine therapies involve the professional applying pressure or manipulating the body by placing their hands on these fields, as it is done in qi gong, Reiki, and Therapeutic Touch. The second type of energy medicine is Bioelectromagnetic-Based Therapies, which engage the unconventional use of electromagnetic fields, such as magnetic fields, pulsed fields, or alternating-current or direct-current fields to affect the body.
When it comes to mental health care, an alternative method to traditional medicine is the use of self-help. These are followed by an individual seeking books that may offer them support, or groups involving people who have similar needs. While the first is executed by the patient, the group meetings are facilitated by an individual who offers guidance. These groups are formed to assist people in dealing with difficult life events. They can be combined with a conventional treatment or not, usually operating on an informal, free-of-charge, and non-profit basis.
Diet and Nutrition
Dietary balance has been directly connected to mental health. A particular diet might be recommended to someone who is struggling with an illness. Some foods help to manage symptoms and promote quicker recovery, whether it is paired with medication or not. One researcher claimed that people who have schizophrenia, and some children with autism had their symptoms reduced after removing dairy and wheat products from their diets. This dietary treatment is also used by natural physicians, who employ herbal remedies, B-complex vitamins, riboflavin, magnesium, and thiamine a variety of mental health issues. A balanced diet is often one of the first steps a doctor will recommend to help alleviate symptoms.
This method is usually only used by those who have a strong religious belief system. Instead of seeking the help of a therapist, they look for someone who is affiliated with a religious community, such as a pastor, rabbi, or priest. These counselors often work with psychotherapy and meditation along with prayer and spirituality when dealing with traditional faith communities as it these can help some people living with mental disorders. However, it is important to note that in more extreme cases of mental illnesses, pastoral counseling is often not effective and may even be detrimental.
Animal Assisted Therapies
For most people, animals bring comfort in the form of a companion, which is why some professionals adopt the use of animals to treat people with mental illnesses. It helps with the increase of empathy and enhances of socialization skills. When a patient is paired with the same animal, it also creates a bond through trust. Animals are employed as part of group therapy programs, as they encourage communication and increase the ability to focus. Not only are they used for mental health, but some hospitals also welcome animals so they can brighten a patient's day - reducing loneliness and anxiety levels. This method has been shown to be an effective complementary treatment for the betterment of mental health.
Expressive Therapy: Art
Art helps people to express themselves and with conflicts that might be weighing on their minds. Drawing, painting, and sculpting help many people by allowing them to release their emotions and achieve personal growth. Some professionals are also able to diagnose their patients through their art by the interpretation of their artistic works. Depression, abuse-related trauma, and schizophrenia have been observed to manifest themselves in creative pieces. Art therapy is not unusual; most health centers have at least one professional who has received specialized training and certification in art therapy.
Expressive Therapy: Dance and Movement
Dance is another art form which helps to release stress. Combining art and exercise stimulates the brain and lets the spirit soars. There are many modalities, but contemporary and self-expression dances are the most common for dealing with mental health. Some prefer a different yet similar form of expressive therapy, one that is slightly more structured to achieve inner peace. These are operated through Eastern martial arts, such as Aikido and Tai Chi. They are often helpful for those who are recovering from physical, sexual, or emotional abuse as they gain a sense of ease with their bodies.
Expressive Therapy: Music and Sound
Regardless of their mental state, people turn to music to for all kinds of emotional release. The beat of a song helps to control the emotions, giving someone energy or helping them to fall asleep, so it does not come as a surprise that it is also an effective way of therapy. Researchers claim that music stimulates the opiates and endorphins in the human body, which improves the blood flow, blood pressure, pulse rate, breathing, and posture. Not only music but also different sounds for different effects. Some people feel safe or calm when they hear the sound of waves, wind, rain, birds singing, and even white noise. This kind of therapy is often used to treat stress, grief, depression, schizophrenia, and autism in children, and to diagnose mental health needs.
Culturally Based Healing Arts: Acupuncture
As seen before in this list as a Manipulative and Body-Based Practice, this Chinese method claims to manipulate the body's flow of energy by inserting needles at specific points into the body. Acupuncture can be used to regulate bodily functions such as heart rate, body temperature, respiration, sleep patterns, and emotional changes. It has been used to assist people with substance abuse disorders, relieving the stress, anxiety, and symptoms of withdrawal brought on by abstinence. It is also used to treat attention ADHD in children, reduce symptoms of depression, and to help people who have suffered a body injury.
Culturally Based Healing Arts: Ayurveda, Yoga and Meditation
Ayurvedic medicine has historical roots in the Indian subcontinent, and it is described as "knowledge of how to live." It incorporates an individualized regimen to treat each condition. Diets, meditation, herbal preparations, and other techniques are employed to treat depression, stress, and to facilitate a life change. It is typically combined with yoga and transcendental meditation, which make use of breathing exercises, posture, stretches to balance the body's energy to release stress and anxiety.
Culturally Based Healing Arts: Native American Traditional Practices and Cuentos
The Indian Health Service programs employ ceremonial dances, chants, and cleansing rituals to heal depression, stress, and substance abuse. It can be considered a combination of expressive therapy and pastoral counseling rooted in Native American tradition. Cuentos originated in Puerto Rico and is based on folktales. This method uses stories containing healing themes and models of behavior to help someone through their struggle. It is primarily used to help children recover from depression and other mental health problems which may surface when they leave their homeland and face difficulties when adapting to life in a foreign culture.
Relaxation and Stress Reduction Techniques: Biofeedback
This method is used in combination or as an alternative to medication to treat disorders such as anxiety, panic, and phobias. It helps the patient to learn how to control muscle tension and involuntary body functioning, such as heart rate and skin temperature. For a person with anxiety, it can help them to control their breathing in stressful situations to self-induce relaxation and ease hyperventilation. There is ongoing research on this method.
Relaxation and Stress Reduction Techniques: Guided Imagery or Visualization
Similar to meditation, this process takes the patient into a state of deep relaxation where they create a mental image of recovery and wellness. Physicians, nurses, and mental health professionals sometimes recommend this method to treat alcohol and drug addictions, depression, panic disorders, phobias, and stress as a compliment to conventional medicine. As it is something of a low risk and not very complicated, it can be found in self-help books, which guide the individual through a journey of recovery.
Relaxation and Stress Reduction Techniques: Massage Therapy
As a manipulative/body-based practice, the principle of this approach is that by manipulating a person's body tensions and emotions are released. The professional proceeds by rubbing, kneading, brushing, and tapping that person's muscles, which not only contributes in healing physical injuries but it is also used to treat trauma-related depression and stress. It can be dangerous as it is a highly unregulated industry, so it is better to seek for a professional who has been recommended by someone who can speak for their skills on top of having the right training.
Technology-Based Applications: Telemedicine
As technologies advance, therapy professionals saw opportunities and benefits it can bring to their area of expertise. Being able to call or have a video conference can allow both the consumers and the healthcare provider limited by remote or rural areas to gain access to mental health professionals and patients. Telemedicine enables consulting providers to speak to their patients in real time, and in some cases even observe their patients more or less directly. It can also be used in education and training programs for generalist clinicians.
Technology-Based Applications: Telephone Counseling
Nowadays there are emergency and non-emergency phone lines that one can call when in need of medical help. Telephone counselors are available through twenty-four-hour helplines for those who need assistance. They can provide information, listen, and refer the caller as it is needed. It is ideal for those who are in remote areas or have not yet prepared themselves to deal with their problems face to face - it is often the first step that some will take towards receiving mental health care. Some services may charge a fee, but others are free, and their numbers are readily found online or in health care centers.
Technology-Based Applications: Electronic Communications
An alternative to telephone counseling is through other electronic communications. Many websites offer real-time interaction with their customers, many being free of charge. There are also bulletin boards and electronic mail lists providing contact and further information on professionals to their public. There are also forums and pages where people can connect with others and offer support. Other websites have detailed lists of symptoms, how to identify a possible mental illness, and methods used to treat them. It is important to note that regardless of what these lists profess to offer, to get an exact diagnosis it is necessary to talk to a conventional healthcare professional.
Technology-Based Applications: Radio Psychiatry
Radio psychiatry was introduced in the United States for the first time in 1976. Although it has been around for longer than the electronic communications, it is also a relatively new treatment type. Radio psychiatrists and psychologists can provide advice, information, and referrals, as required by their callers, live on the air. The American Psychiatric and Psychological Associations have issued strict guidelines to limit the role of psychiatrists and psychologists on the radio as a matter of ethical concern. Therefore it is safe to trust the professionals who offer their expertise via Radio Psychiatry.