issue 165 - November 1986
Children are children; adults are adults. These pages are
for NI readers who don't fit into either of these categories.
When you were sick as a child and the doctor called, almost certainly
medicine was prescribed to clear up the problem. Sometimes we rely too
much on such drugs. There are alternative ways to get well and stay
well which should not be dismissed just because they are unusual.
The type of medical care we are used to tends to deal with the body, it looks at the spots on your tongue or the pain in your side, and offers a 'cure'. For some types of illness, such as appendicitis or a broken leg, this is appropriate. But often ill health cannot be separated from your whole state of well-being; period pains or worries about exams colour your view of the world. Western medicine's drugs often only relieve the symptoms of such pain or anxiety without treating the cause. So it is a limited form of treatment.
Other sorts of medical care which do not rely on pharmaceuticals exist. These may be called 'natural therapies', 'alternative' or 'complimentary' medicine. They are concerned with your spirit - your vitality or 'bounce' - and the way it links in with your mind and body. When the body, mind and spirit are in harmony they are said to be 'whole'. This 'holistic' approach is the basis of complementary medicine. The word 'complementary' itself means to make complete; so complementary medicine helps a person towards 'wholeness'.
Here is a short guide to some complementary therapies; sometimes several can work together.
This involves treating 'like with like', using substances which would make someone ill if they are sick. For example, belladonna (deadly nightshade) is a poison which can give a fever. But someone who already has scarlet fever may be made better when given bella donna as a homeopathic treatment. Homeopaths reckon that the more a drug is diluted, the more powerful a healer it becomes while large doses of a poison may kill, minimal doses can encourage the body to heal. Homeopathy is good for all sorts of conditions - coughs, colds, burns, body odour, diarrhoea, spots, feeling sick. Because the remedies have little or no side-effects, you can buy them over the counter and treat yourself. Pharmacies selling homeopathic drugs usually supply leaflets which advise which medicines to use.
Counselling and psychotherapy
These help you with emotional and mental difficulties - anxiety about your love life or despair with the world. Methods involve talking and listening, leading you to find a new approach to the problem. Techniques to help you relax can be used too and are useful for coping with moments of stress.
Herbal medicines are not generally used to cure diseases but rather to help return the body's balance to normal. Using plants and herbs in this way is an ancient and worldwide custom; animals also eat certain plants to heal themselves. Herbalists find that local plants are the most effective; don't go to the Himalayas to gather a flower to cure a patient in Canada. Stings and bites can be helped by Horseradish, headaches by chamomile, mint or poppy and bruises by arnica.
This has been practised for over 3,000 years and is a form of self-help; you do it yourself. It involves controlled breathing in a series of special positions (called asanas) which encourage meditation, making you feel calm and at peace with yourself. Although anyone can benefit from the discipline of yoga, it is especially helpful for people who feel anxious or under stress.
The Chinese have been using this technique for over 4,000 years. The fact that it is still used today shows that it is effective, although the reasons why it works are not clear.
Acupuncture involves charting the lines of energy flowing through your body. Disease occurs when these energy paths are blocked, and fine needles are inserted painlessly under the skin to free the block and allow energy to flow again. It is widely used for headaches, period pains and conditions which don't seem to be connected to a specific disease.
Osteopathy and Chiropractic
Osteopaths and chiropractors believe that much backache and muscular or joint pain is caused by the way we stand or sit poorly for long periods, or lift things incorrectly. The tension from the general hurly-burly of life aggravates such conditions. They heal by manipulating the spine and other bones to restore the body's harmony. Their treatment is especially helpful for back pain resulting from pregnancy, or from repetitive activities, such as digging or bending, which put a big strain on your body.
Body, Mind and Spirit
All 'natural' or 'holistic' health practices focus on the whole person; you body mind and spirit. Looking at what you eat and how you live is just as important as examining the physical symptoms of your illness. The homeopath or acupuncturist will spend time talking to you about yourself, building up a picture of where the stresses and strains of life have affected you. Together you will look at the sort of life you lead, the quality of sleep, the food and drink, your opportunity for emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual fulfilment, the possibilities for reducing anxiety and stress, and how you might become more comfortable with yourself and your surroundings. The treatment is worked out according to you specific needs - not anyone else's - in an attempt to restore balance and make you 'whole'. Your involvement and participation help you understand why you are unwell. Such a co-operative approach with the practitioner encourages you to take fuller responsibility for your health, instead of leaving it up to a 'miracle' drug to do the trick.