Alternative healing approaches

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Alternative healing approaches

Some brief comments on:

While some Christians go to extremes and throw out everything that is different, we believe that some of the alternative medicines/therapies can possibly be of some help to some people in some situations - but care and caution is needed. Christians should neither blindly reject NOR blindly accept all alternatives.

With most alternative therapies, however, there are often alternative philosophies/religious concepts that are in conflict with Christian and Biblical thinking.

Many approaches, including e.g. iridology, are not medically/rationally proven/supported with hard evidence, some do have occult elements in the actual approach, but often the practitioners are involved in a range of other, and from a Christian perspective, questionable and dubious practices and beliefs. There are also differences between diagnostic approaches (trying to work out what is wrong) and prescriptive or healing treatment processes (trying to heal/overcome whatever is wrong) that need to be taken into account.

We would strongly recommend some books, especially:

Alternative Medicine - Helpful or Harmful?

By Dr Robina Coker - Monarch Publications. 1995.

In the forward to this helpful book Dr Andrew Fergusson comments: ’In recent years doctors have gained in the science of medicine at the expense of losing the art…we should not just be technicians of cure, but concerned for the real needs of whole persons. Alternative medicine’s popularity presents us with a much needed challenge to return to the art of healing. This at least has been helpful!’ However, Dr Coker rightly reminds us in the words of the Bible: ’“Test everything. Hold on to the good.” We dare not be uncritical. Alternative medicine can certainly be harmful physically and psychologically; I believe they can sometimes bring spiritual harm too.’

Both Drs Fergusson and Coker are members of the British Christian Medical Fellowship.

As Dr Coker clearly states: ’This book is not an authoritative or exhaustive guide to all the forms of alternative medicine being practised today…The field of alternative medicine is expanding so rapidly that such a guide would be outdated before publication.’

Dr Coker presents an overview of modern medicine, what might be considered as ’Alternative medicine,’ and an historical perspective to the development of medical practice in various countries and cultures. She notes: ’Firstly, the distinction between orthodox and alternative medicine is to some extent an artificial one, although there may be excellent reasons for making that distinction. Secondly, religion and medicine have always been associated…Thirdly, throughout history the sick have had recourse to practitioners of orthodox medicine as well as to spiritual leaders and “folk medicine”.’ She went to to comment that there is a distinction between harmless folk remedies and alternative practices which have a definite spiritual or religious significance or connection. ’Fourthly, modern medicine owes much to contributions from non-medical scientists…Finally, orthodox medicine is not always correct in its interpretation of established scientific knowledge.’

The book goes on to examine the reason for the increased interest and popularity of alternative medicine today. Dr Coker lists a number of factors including: great hopes brought by modern medical progress; great disappointments that many diseases are still not easily cured, and that a lot of helpful medication (drugs) have negative side-effects - one problem may be overcome at the cost of developing some other problems; the changes in the doctor-patient relationship, from the family doctor who was interested in and knew of the whole family to a seemingly remote doctor controlled by time and clinical procedures - and the subdivision of specialists (seemingly even more remote) who are only interested in specific body parts and have even less time to give to the whole person who happens to be a patient. She also notes the greater awareness about disease in the community and the shift in disease patterns. The social changes to households and families, ethnic and cultural diversity, rejection of traditional religions and religious values, and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor are all regarded as significant factors. Dr Coker also notes the positive aspects of much of alternative medicine such as the patient receiving more time and personal attention, touch, and trust (which also includes the placebo effect), the spiritual (and wholeness) dimension, and that sometimes it really works.

These overview aspects provide the first part of the book, helping to provide the groundwork for the rest of the book.

In part 2 of the book Dr Coker addresses various forms of alternative treatments and then discusses some of the real and serious physical hazards involved in some alternative medicine and compares these with the risks involved in orthodox medicine. She also looks at some of the non-physical risks involved in some alternative practices.

She goes on to examine the role and importance of thorough testing and evaluation of all medical claims and practices, and makes it clear that alternative medicine cannot be exempted from such testing and evaluation. Dr Coker provides a chapter on a Christian response to the whole area which calls for an examining of claims and facts, motives and worldview, and Biblical concepts.

Section 3 of Dr Coker’s book is informative and very helpful in practical ways. She gives a brief A-Z guide of some of the more common and popular alternative therapies. This is followed with a very practical 5-point evaluation approach that can be applied to any therapy, and illustrates it by applying it to three alternative therapies: acupuncture, homoeopathy, and Transcendental Meditation.

She suggests that the following 5 questions be asked/applied to any therapy:

1) Do the claims for this therapy fit the facts?

2) Is there a rationa scientific basis for the therapy?

3) Is the methodology or the principle the effective element?

4) What is the therapist’s worldview?

5) Does the therapy involve the occult?

This book is balanced, informative, practical, and very helpful in considering the whole area of alternative medicine and therapies today. It is also very readable - and well worth having.

A more recent and very thorough, excellent reference volume dealing with the whole spectrum of alternative healing is:

Alternative Medicine - The Christian Handbook, (2001) by: Donal O’Mathuna, Walt Larimore M.D., Publisher: Zondervan

(We believe this is probably an essential tool for anyone considering this whole important area from a Christian perspective.)

Publisher’s synopsis:

’An in-depth guide for Christians seeking to understand and evaluate the medical and spiritual implications of alternative practices, herbal therapies, and self-treatments available today.

Description: The Definitive Resource on Alternative Medicine for Christians

Herbal remedies, supplements, and alternative therapies

- Their specific uses

- Which ones really work (and which ones don’t)

- What to watch out for

Christian versus non-Christian approaches to holistic health

Clinically proven treatments versus unproven or quack treatments

Truths and fallacies about supernatural healing

Ancient medical lore: the historical, cultural, and scientific facts

And much, much more

In today’s health-conscious culture, options for the care and healing of the body are proliferating like never before. But which ones can you trust? Some are effective, some are useless, some are harmful. Some involve forms of spirituality that the Bible expressly forbids. Others that are truly helpful have been avoided by some Christians who draw inaccurate conclusions about them.

Alternative Medicine is the first comprehensive guidebook to non-traditional medicine written from a distinctively Christian perspective. Here at last is the detailed and balanced coverage of alternative medicine that you’ve been looking for. Professor and researcher Dónal O’Mathúna, Ph.D., and national medical authority Walt Larimore, M.D., draw on their extensive knowledge of the Bible and their medical and pharmaceutical expertise to answer the questions about alternative medicine that you most want answered—and others you wouldn’t have thought to ask.

This massively informative resource includes:

Two alphabetical reference sections:

- Alternative therapies

- Herbal remedies

Entries include an analysis of claims, results of actual studies, cautions, recommendations, and further resources.

A handy cross-reference that links specific health problems with various alternative therapies and herbal remedies reviewed in this book.

Five categories of alternative medicine defined and then applied to every therapy and remedy evaluated in this book.’

Other informative books include:

Can You Trust Your Doctor? - by John Ankerberg and John Weldon (1991) Wolegmuth & Hyatt Publishers; New Age Medicine - A Christian Perspective on Holistic Health - by Paul C. Reisser, Teri K. Reisser, John Weldon (1987);

The Hidden Agenda - A Critical View of Alternative Medical Therapies - by Drs David and Sharon Sneed (1991) Thomas Nelson Publishers.