Complementary and Alternative Therapies

You may have heard of the term Complementary and Alternative Therapies before. At the most basic level, Complementary and Alternative Therapies are typically used with the intention of helping to treat (or cure) a health condition.

The NCI splits the definition of these two terms:

  • Complementary therapies are forms of treatment that are used in addition to standard treatments


  • Alternative therapies are forms of treatment that are used instead of standard treatments.

The National Institute of Health classifies complementary and alternative therapies into five separate categories:

  1. Mind-Body Therapies
  2. Biologically-Based Therapies
  3. Manipulative and Body-Based Methods
  4. Energy Therapies
  5. Whole Medical Systems/Alternative Medical Systems

Mind-Body Therapies

It has been scientifically proven that the mind and body have a complex connection. This connection is certainly not a new development and has been around for several centuries. However, it may be unfamiliar to a lot of people, especially those living in Western economies. The mind can have a significant impact on the human body which is why there has been a lot of development and attention drawn towards mind-body therapies.

Mind-Body therapies are “practices and techniques designed to enhance the mind’s positive impact on the body”. There are various types of mind-body practices and techniques. Some of the most  common are:

  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Guided Imagery
  • Biofeedback
  • Yoga

Biologically-Based Therapies

Biologically-based therapies refer to natural substances that are believed to have special properties that help treat (or cure) particular ailments of the mind and/or body. These types of substances include herbs, foods and vitamins.

Biologically-based therapy is a rather controversial form of complementary and alternative therapies. The effects of this form of therapy are largely disputed by twenty-first century health care professionals. However, this is mainly due to the lack of research in this field of study. The uses of some of the substances used in this form of therapy date back thousands of years where they have been used by a wide variety of cultures around the world. Some substances do appear to treat certain conditions but the effects of many of these substances have rarely been monitored and so there is a concern that the potential unknown negative side effects may out way the positive.

You can find out more about biologically-based therapies and particular health conditions they have been said to treat here.

Manipulative and Body-Based Methods

Manipulative and body-based therapies focus primarily on practices and techniques that concentrate on the structures and systems of the body. This includes focusing on the body’s bones, joints, soft tissues, and the circulatory and lymphatic systems. There are a number of different methods for this type of therapy. Some of the most common are:

  • Acupuncture
  • Massage Therapy
  • Reflexology
  • Spinal, Chiropractic and Osteopathic Manipulation
  • Tai Chi and Qi Gong
  • Yoga

To discover more about manipulative and body-based therapies, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health offers a comprehensive guide.

Energy Therapies


They say that the smallest (even smaller than the atom) and most fundamental element of life is energy. Like the name suggests, energy therapy involves the use of manipulating and using various types of energy fields to help in the healing and treatment process. This type of therapy is usually used as a complementary method and is designed to balance the energy within the individual.

There are various methods in this line of therapy. The ones that are relatively easy to measure are those that incorporate the use of lights, sounds and magnets. However, other types of energy therapies are intended to manipulate the energy fields that allegedly surround and penetrate the body. These are very difficult to measure and include:

  • Therapeutic Touch
  • Reiki
  • Qigong
  • Healing Touch

To discover more about the effects and techniques of energy therapy you can visit the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

Whole Medical Systems/Alternative Medical Systems

Whole medical systems – sometimes referred to as alternative medical systems – refer to systems of medicine that have been developed outside of the practices of contemporary medicine. Some examples of whole medical systems are:

  • Homeopathic Medicine
  • Naturopathic Medicine
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine
  • Ayurvedic Medicine

Similarly to biologically-based therapies, whole medical systems date back thousands of years and have been used by a wide variety of cultures around the world. Although not often approved by contemporary practitioners of medicine, the continued use and testimonials of using alternative and whole medical systems implies that its methods and techniques do have a positive impact on the body and mind.

Interested in learning more?

During 2019, My Spa Pass will be exploring these five separate categories of contemporary and alternative therapies in separate blog posts. Watch this space if you are interested in finding out more about any of these types of therapies!

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