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The chaos in alternative therapies.

Alternative medicine is here as a different way of treating disease without leaving sequelae. It is vital to be absolutely sure about your therapist, since the lack of regulation in Spain can place us in the hands of amateurs.


Approximately 40% of the population in developed countries undergoes some type of complementary or alternative therapy. This tall figure includes relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation as well as 'miracle' diets not prescribed by endocrinologists.

Complementary or alternative therapies are on the increase, as confirmed by a study commissioned by the British parliament. In Spain, half of the population has used one of these therapies, and one fourth does so on a regular basis.

A question of balance

The benefits of medicinal mineral waters and plants are unquestionable. However, having recognised that, there opens an extremely wide range of therapies, some as obscure as their names. The outreach of alternative medicine generates a debate which is further complicated by the diversity of this type of therapies, some with spiritual or religious foundations.

The balance between body and mind has a positive influence on our health, just like the placebo effects of some pills or strange therapies. This reality has adverse effects on such disciplines as acupuncture, homeopathy or osteopathy, which in some countries are studied at university.

Critics of this category of therapies allege that none of them have been tested through controlled and contrasted studies, that they are not effective and that they are no alternative to conventional medicine. Those in favour affirm that lack of evidence does not necessary mean lack of effectiveness, but only highlights a lack of adequate research in this field.

Calls for certification

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) in the United States draws a distinction between complementary medicine used in conjunction with conventional medicine and alternative medicine. It also defines integrative medicine as a way of combining conventional medical therapies with complementary and alternative medicine therapies.

The practice of integrative medicine seems like the most coherent approach. However, how do we recognise the qualifications of these therapists when most lack certification institutions? The way in which alternative therapies are regulated differs from one country to another. Germany seems to be an exception, since it has regulated all of them.

Choosing a therapist in Spain

The situation in Spain is very different. The past efforts of the Catalan Health Minister to regulate this area have been the most ambitious yet, but clashed with both doctors and therapists, as both collectives prefer to preserve the chaos. An illustration of this is the fact that the associations of doctors refuse to officially recognise alternative therapies, whilst accepting associations of therapists, such as acupuncturists.

In Spain, it is estimated that more than 15,000 therapists earn their living from treating people, and this tall figure includes amateurs who claim to be certified after having spent a weekend doing a course. Besides the amount of money that these amateurs earn from people suffering from illnesses, the biggest danger is that the patient is distracted from being properly diagnosed for a disease that could possibly produce irreversible damages if not diagnosed in time.

The best piece of advice for choosing a therapist is to guide yourself by his or her prestige and years of experience, as we have done in making this selection. If in doubt, go to the therap


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The chaos in alternative therapies.
Published in Health and Wellbeing by Susana Aretio on 08/03/2010
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