My CAM experience… the past, the present and the future

Troll: (noun)

  1. One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption; and
  2. an ugly cave-dwelling creature

I received a nasty, stupid comment regarding one of my posts. Fortunately for me, I have fairly thick skin and rather than rise to the bait, I deleted the comment and it will never see the light of HiResday. It was clear that this person (troll) had not read my blog and was trying to get some kind of argument from me. Now, anyone who knows me, knows that I am argumentative (FYI – I am also inquisitive, and friendly and a good mum…). But I do not have time or energy to respond to ignorance. So, in light of (but definitely not responding to) that, I wanted to comment about my beliefs of and experience and history with complementary medicine – just so that you know where I am coming from:

My mum used to visit a psychic. I am not sure whether she still believes, but it was my first “hearing”of this “alternative” world, and I had LOADS of questions! Not ones that needed answering by a psychic, but more about how it was possible. I remember listening to the cassette tape she came home with, and the psychic person sounded so other worldly and so knowledgeable.  In hindsight, it was probably just a bit warped (remember that!) and that made it sound very “real”.

It was not until the start of the 90s, when I began playing with essential oils (without any knowledge of their potential benefits or harms) that I began to explore complementary medicine.  In 1998, I started working as PA to a fairly well known and published Australian energy healer and I was introduced to a whole world of magical, esoteric alternative medicine.  I learned about energy healing, reiki, meditation, crystal healing, crystal scrying, numerology, psychic healing, astrology- the list goes on.  I loved my job. I loved the people who were always around – their positivity was awesome, and at that time, I needed that.

A zen stones skyscraperI still meditate, and if I don’t have enough time for a full “session” (a bad excuse, hey!), I use the tools of relaxation to help me focus and to chill. I find this skill particularly useful when my head is spinning following a day of writing, and I cannot get to sleep. I am feeling relaxed right now just thinking about how it feels to meditate! I love the images that people use to depict meditation, because they induce relaxation. I have had some almost “religious” experiences when I have meditated and I love being able to take the time out to focus a little on me.

I have given and received countless healing treatments, and I don’t know what it was that I felt – whether it was anticipation or fear, a want or a need, or whether it was the transference of “universal energy”. It does not matter, because it was amazing, and it was an experience I had and loved, at a time in my life when I was looking for “something”.

In 2006, following the birth of my 1st child, I decided to (finally!) educate myself; I wanted to learn something practical; I wanted to set myself up in business, and work from home. I read about a course at Edinburgh Napier University, and I jumped right in!  The course was the now completely defunct (another subject for another day) BSc Complementary Medicine/BA (Honours) Complementary Healthcare.  At university, my colleagues and I learned how to be good practitioners. We learned about the history and traditions of aromatherapy and complementary health, the chemistry of essential oils, anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, massage (it was a health science degree, so we learned a lot), regulation, ethnomedicine, reflexology, five element theory and Chinese medicine, we learned about running a small business and so much more.  And I was introduced to research.

There were people in my class who wanted to practice from a very spiritual place and there were others who adopted a more scientific approach (not reductionist, but looking for evidence!).  I LOVED this course! I met some amazing teachers, and I made some wonderful friends (I have even been asked to contribute to one of my lecturer’s books!)  I left Napier with a 1st class honours degree, a very wide knowledge of complementary medicine, a thirst for more education, and, finally, an understanding of what I actually wanted to do with my life. I did not want to be a practitioner, I wanted to help people en masse. I WANTED TO BE A RESEARCHER IN THE ACADEMIC FIELD OF COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE… (but I still love to make things, and doing fun stuff with essential oils, which will happen… watch this space…)

iStock_000011772479SmallNow I am close to finishing my PhD and my focus is very clear. I want to go and find evidence for the benefits of CAM. I still think about the esoteric – the unicorns and the angels – but I am very focused on the evidence. I am not opposed to modern scientific medicine, but I wonder if there are any cheaper, safer (ie less side-effects), alternatives to current prescriptive medicine, and if so, in what areas of health? How can CAM be useful for chronic illness, and how can it be used effectively to prevent ill-health and promote wellness?

I do not agree with Tim Minchin’s quote: “You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine”, because I think a lot of the benefit of CAM comes from holistic practice, and that is much more than a prescription in a bottle! I do agree with another one, though, that “alternative medicine … has either not been proved to work, or has been proved not to work – much more of the former, and, I wonder, is this “proof” better (ie quality, more rigorous and without bias?) than some of the poor scientific evidence of effect? I am not so sure…

From my happy place of fond memories, I really want to believe that all CAM works.  But the reality is, it doesn’t ALL work, and we need to start developing a scientific evidence base to support those that do. The public needs the real low down; they need to know where they can get good advice, and when they are being completely shammed. I love complementary healthcare; I love its history and tradition and it is because of all my life experience, that I want to be a very big part of the future.iStock_000014098136Small

And so, a final note – One very “traditional” CAM practitioner and educator once said to her audience that science, and learning about CAM in a university setting means that you lose the intuitiveness of the practice. To that, I say: you are not born with the knowledge of how to practice any complementary medicine; you need to learn this, and a university is the right institution; it has access to the most current knowledge, it is not biased, and it is a very broad education (with many transferable skills). An intuitive practitioner does not innately “know” which oil to use before they speak to a client; the “intuitive” is the practitioner who learns how to listen AND hear, they watch and feel (through massage or palpation), and then they can be intuitive with their practice, because then they have a better understanding of the clients needs. All of this comes from education. Intuition is important.

So is the knowledge that drinking some essential oils will kill you!

Look out for my next blog – something about “Show me the evidence…”

“…I realized that rewards are not the goal- if one seeks the ultimate it will elude you. The reward is life itself, in its richness, in its sadness, and joy.”

Valerie Ann Worwood