However, consumers of alternative health care must be wary of products which are a panacea for every ailment, and incompetent or poorly trained practitioners. The good news is there are many ways you can ensure that you won't be ripped off in the name of natural, complementary medicine.
First, the cheapest and most effective therapy is bibliotherapy. Save yourself a lot of time and money by making full use of your local library, bookstore and the internet. Invest in some natural health reference books. Read as much as you can about your illness and both western and alternative treatments.
Find out if there are any local self help groups in your area that focus on your particular health problem. Self help groups like the Endometriosis Association (1-800-426-2END) have compiled detailed information on both medical and surgical treatments as well as alternative treatments.
Next, find out which practitioners are in your area, which types of natural therapies they use, and how much they charge for their services and their products.
Choose a natural practitioner as you would choose any other service or product. By quality, service, reputation, experience and lack of sexism. Find out if the practitioner has been adequately trained, gone to a reputable school or received a degree.
Training of practitioners may vary from a person taking a six-month course in holistic medicine and calling themselves a holistic practitioner, to the four-year, intensive post graduate course required for chiropractors and naturopaths. There are also some medical doctors who combine Western medicine with natural medicine. Other well-trained practitioners may include acupuncturists, herbalists, homeopaths and other natural therapists, who have been well trained and educated.
Experience is an equally important qualification. If you have a chronic illness, you'd best seek out a practitioner with many years of experience treating patients, preferably ones with the same problem.
Beware of any practitioner who says that you have caused your illness through negative thinking, "bad" lifestyle or "bad" diet. And that if you only mend your ways, you will get better. This is dangerous and simplistic thinking.
Beware of any practitioner who threatens to stop seeing you if you continue to see another doctor or refuses to treat you if you take drugs or have surgery. Or vice versa, beware of a conventional medical doctor who refuses to treat you if you persist in going to that "quack".
Beware of an alternative practitioner who believes his or her method is the only way to treat a problem. Or who has a clearly patronizing attitude and refuses to explain the reasons for treatment.
Finally, natural practitioners may offer people false hope of curing cancer or reversing some other terminal diagnosis (cures at this stage are rare with any method) or deter them from proper diagnosis in the medical system. Good practitioners will know their limits and will get a second opinion or refer to a medical doctor if necessary.
Chronic illness is complex and usually involves many contributing factors. Sometimes the best choice may be to combine a drug or surgery treatment with a natural treatment. Fortunately most natural treatments have only mild side effects that are easily reversible.
While some natural treatments may make you feel worse at the beginning, treatment should be gradual and monitored carefully. Some patients are told that they are in a healing crisis for months at a time, instead of the practitioner admitting that the treatment is not working or has too many side effects.
Make sure you stick to your natural therapies for long enough to give them a chance to work. As a rule of thumb, within three to six months, you should notice significant improvement in your symptoms and/or energy level. A chronic illness will require anywhere from six months to two years to fully deal with.
Don't abandon your common sense and critical mind when you approach non-conventional medicine and you will be able to mine a rich tradition of healing.
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