Traditional medicine such as acupuncture, chiropractic, ayurvedic and naturopathy have been referred to by skeptics as woo-woo medicine – a derogatory term for healing therapies that have been in practice for thousands of years, and with reports and studies of efficacy and acceptance increasingly growing.
It is unsettling to me when I hear this term in reference to effective and authentic healing methods because it misrepresents and suppresses them. Woo-woo is a slang term that denotes things that are nonsense, crazy or quackery. These modalities and their licensed and trained practitioners are anything but nonsense or quacks. Traditional medicine practitioners choose professions that require rigorous and costly studies knowing their salaries will be much less than if they had chosen a conventional medicine path. Their office visits may last an hour or longer because they spend the time to understand the whole person and address the proven mind-body connection. They educate and restore health by working with the body’s innate ability to heal itself and address the root cause of disease, not just covering up the symptoms. They understand the benefits of combining traditional natural medicine with the best of modern medical science. They take an integrated approach.
The skeptics refer to anything that lacks substantiated evidence as woo-woo. Anyone who has ever been touched by the therapeutic benefits of a traditional healing therapy knows they are not nonsense or quackery. Their benefits are life changing and their proof is supported by the growing number of people experiencing these benefits, and the increasing number of reputable institutions that are researching, practicing and teaching about them.
The National Institute of Health has funded an entire agency with 65 employees to study complementary and alternative medicine. This agency, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, states integrative medicine “combines mainstream medical therapies and CAM therapies for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness.”
Their efficacy continues to be reported from the 50 highly esteemed medical institutions that are part of the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine whose mission is to advance the principles and practices of integrative healthcare within academic institutions. A few of these institutions include Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Johns Hopkins.
The acceptance of traditional healing therapies is seen at some of the most respected medical centers in the nation that have established integrative medical centers, i.e. Scripps, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Mayo Clinic and Duke University Medical Center. Some of the services listed at these centers are acupuncture, yoga, Healing Touch, Qigong, meditation, massage therapy, Reiki and herbal medicine.
Even the military has embraced acupuncture, meditation, yoga and biofeedback as strategies to help veterans and soldiers manage chronic physical pain, PTSD, depression and insomnia.
Yet there are still many skeptics who diminish the credibility of these effective healing therapies by labeling them “woo-woo”. This label limits acceptance and deters from educating. It is preventing people from accessing all the modalities available to help achieve optimal health.
In Deepak Chopra’s post “Woo Woo Is a Step Ahead of (Bad) Science”, Dr. Chopra states “ ‘woo woo’ is a derogatory reference to almost any form of unconventional thinking, aimed by professional skeptics who are self-appointed vigilantes dedicated to the suppression of curiosity.”
I have often heard from traditional medicine practitioners that their typical patient comes to them after exhausting all western medicine options and they are desperate for an alternative because they are still sick. These traditional methods do not have to be an alternative; they can be integrated with a conventional regime and expand choices beyond western scientific care.
Cancer patients integrate acupuncture into their treatments to help combat nausea from chemotherapy, or yoga, Reiki and meditation to alleviate stress, fatigue and pain. They consult with naturopathic physicians to confirm the supplements they take are safe and appropriate when combined with their cancer drugs.
We have to broaden our definition of medicine from the conventional expectations that a 15 minute visit to our primary physician and a take-a-way prescription will bring us the solution to a chronic health problem.
As Amanda Enayati writes in her article “Searching for a Medical Miracle” for CNN Health, “At some point we will recognize that our wonderful and already-overwhelmed doctors can’t be all things to all people, and we will seek and incorporate the advice of certified nutritionists, naturopaths, energy medicine practitioners and others into regimens for the treatment of disease.”
The primary physician should be educated and comfortable in referring patients to all healing traditions and modalities that may be appropriate for optimal health. If physicians are educated about the benefits of all integrative therapies they can be reliable sources for referrals. Physicians currently refer to the Urologist, ENT and Physical Therapist. They should be comfortable in referring to an Acupuncturist, Naturopath, Chiropractor and Reiki practitioner too.
By both patient and physician being educated about all available treatments, the approach to achieving health becomes a shared responsibility. Physicians and patients should educate themselves on the benefits and limitations of all therapies.
Medicine is not a one-size fits all health solution. No single individual is alike. We have to explore what combination of therapies would be best for our individual health condition and tailor our healthcare to our individual needs.
We should choose our healthcare with the same understanding and conviction as other important choices in our lives. We choose our friends and spouses that best support our own values, interests and happiness. We choose the mix of stocks, bonds and funds that support our investment goals. We choose the religion or way of life that best supports our personal spiritual needs. We also need to take this educated and individual approach in discovering the best therapy or modality to support our health, even those that exist outside the familiar and comfortable conventional treatments but can be very effective when combined with them or alone.
One solution to optimizing the integration of all therapies to healthcare is offering more venues for educating about them. Health education seminars, workshops and classes in the workplace and community are great platforms for this education. The more information people have the better choices they can make.
Another solution is already being implemented in a number of medical schools around the country – the addition of CAM courses to the medical school curriculum. This knowledge will help physicians adopt an integrative approach and partner with their patients to create a plan including ALL the very best treatments available to achieve health.
So let’s be done with the term “woo-woo” and call these effective therapies what they are – integrative healing therapies. Then more educating can occur and optimal health achieved.