They have been called “Witch Doctors” or more correctly “Shamans”. But what ever you call them they understood the workings of the natural world and our place within it. And they combined this unique knowledge of the mind, body and spirit with the gifts of the forest, to fight sickness and disease. Yet until recently the methods of alternative practioners were widely rejected by the scientific community. Today, not only can we trace the roots of many of our modern pharmaceuticals to the fields and woodlands, the practice of using herbs, acupuncture and other so-called “alternative medicines” to prolong life and improve health is no longer restricted to ancient mystics.
“I think there’s more acceptance of complementary and alternative medicine now, says Dr. Scott Dillard of Columbia University, “because the whole medical community, the frontline physicians are being dragged, probably mostly kicking and screaming by their patients who are using these therapies. America is a real mixture of cultures, we have people from all over the world who come and become Americans and they bring their healing traditions with them, we have very old Asian traditions from China and the Orient, we have traditions from Latin America, and from Europe, a lot of herbal traditions come from Europe, so all of these things get mixed together into what people are using for their health here in this country”
A recent survey published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that one in three Americans uses some form of “unconventional therapies”. Interested in taking a more proactive approach to their health, many people are seeking alternative methods to prevent and treat disease. Yoga, meditation, and the use of natural nutritional supplements are all part of this holistic approach to health, and continue to become more and more mainstream.
Insurance companies are starting to take notice, several managed care companies now recognize the validity of certain alternative practices and provide a complementary and alternative medicine program, which can provide insurance coverage for acupuncture, Yoga and other non-traditional procedures. Says a representative of Oxford Health Plans, “Ã¢Â?Â¦there have been more studies that are evidence based that have shown the importance of alternative practices in addition to traditional medicine. We arranged for specific providers in specific specialties in alternative medicine to become part of our network through various quality driven means of measurement such as they needed to be licensed by the state, they needed to provide continuing education credits, we will also look at their actual office sites to make sure that they are up to the standards our members want”
For devotees of alternative medicine being able to obtain insurance coverage not only provides financial support for their treatments, but also adds a level of legitimacy and acceptance, which can also have a positive effect on healing. And for those that have never considered an alternative treatment, knowing that is going to have a fixed cost associated with it may encourage them to try. Driven largely by patient demand healthcare today is embracing more and more non-traditional therapies, representing a fundamental shift in the philosophy of most Western, or so called Modern Practioners. As Dr. Dillard puts it, “”We want to mix the best of the alternative medicine world, with the best things we have from the conventional medical world for the benefit of the patients. There’s good evidence that if you combine these things sensibly, you actually get better results and the happier, healthier patients.”
Or to put it another way: the test tubes and beakers of the science lab may seem in stark contrast to the herbs, roots and needles of the alternative medical practioner. However, it is by bringing together the proven healing arts of the past, and the modern technology of the present, that we may build a healthier future.