Sorting Out the Terminology
Conventional medicine, alternative medicine, complementary medicine, integrative medicine… can you keep all the terms straight in your mind? Canadians today enjoy many choices in seeking health care treatment, but it’s not easy to stay informed about all the options.
Conventional medicine (often also referred to as Western medicine) is the approach to health care that Canadians tend to be most familiar with. It is the type of medicine that medical doctors practice, and is well supported by the Canadian health care system.
Alternative medicine is the use of health care approaches to replace conventional medicine. These types of approaches include chiropractic, naturopathy, and homeopathy, among others. For example, this could mean using herbal products instead of prescription drugs, or visiting a homeopath instead of your family MD.
Complementary medicine is the use of non-conventional therapies (such as acupuncture, tai chi, yoga, or aromatherapy) in addition to conventional medicine. An example could be an acupuncture treatment used in addition to taking a pain reliever, or meditation or yoga techniques used in conjunction with anti-anxiety medications.
Integrative medicine is the integrated use of conventional and complementary practices. It makes use of the best available evidence of both approaches to healing. One of its important characteristics is that it considers the mind-body-spirit connection within the patient and regards the patient as a whole.
The connection between the mind and the body is not fully understood, but several techniques that harness the power of the mind over the body have been shown to help people ease their symptoms and rely less on medications. These techniques include:
- biofeedback – a therapy that involves learning to control involuntary body responses such as heart rate, brain activity, or blood pressure
- yoga – not just a set of exercises but an entire philosophy of being with the goal of achieving peace of mind and of body (although many people today turn it to for the improved flexibility and reduction of stress it offers)
- meditation – another spiritual practice that many are discovering for the stress reduction its deep focus and breathing offers
- hypnosis – an altered state of consciousness brought about by a trained specialist to help change or differently control behaviour, emotions, or the state of one’s physical well-being
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