The origins of complementary therapy

The origins of complementary therapy date back to the 1620’s to ‘ceremonious’ in the sense of forming a complement, but it is a term coined by the Americans for a therapy used alongside orthodox medicine.

Complementary, is meant completing something, or making it better, forming a satisfactory balanced whole, and combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize the qualities of each other.sports-massage

With Therapy, a healing treatment, serving to improve health, and make someone feel better and grow stronger and deprived  from the mid 19th century Modern Latin term ‘therapia’, and from the Greek ‘theropeia’, meaning healing.

After the Second World War there was a huge increase in significant medical breakthroughs, leading to the development of drugs such as antibiotics, cortisone, insulin and vaccines, plus ground-breaking surgical techniques and intensive care.

Originally coined by the Americans, the term ‘Complementary Therapy’ developed in the 1970s to describe the relationship between non-mainstream practices and conventional care, and also as a definition of a group of disciplines. Often placed under the heading of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAMS).

Practices that had previously been used to help people regain and maintain their health were suddenly dismissed as ineffective, and even fraudulent, by the medical profession. The result was that they developed into a completely separate discipline, taken up by ‘alternative therapists’, and described in a British Medical Journal article as “a flight from science”. The public continued to use therapies, but tended to be secretive about it.

Prince Charles championing complimentary therapy (Photo Credit – BBC News*)

However, there was a major turning point in 1982. Prince Charles, then President of the British Medical Association, spoke at its 150th anniversary dinner. As a long-term user of homoeopathy, and with an interest in complementary therapies, he demanded that doctors end their “hostility to the unorthodox”, and accept that there may also be alternatives to the dependency on drugs that were then costing the NHS £2 billion per year. He said “by concentrating on smaller and smaller fragments of the body, modern medicine perhaps loses sight of the patient as a whole human being, and by reducing health to mechanical function it is no longer able to deal with the phenomenon of healing.”

*Click here for the BBC news report on complimentary therapy

The BMA’s response was to acknowledge that there was an interest in Complementary and Alternative Medicine, while continuing to dismiss it as ‘medieval’. By 1992, they finally had to accept the inevitable, and published ‘Complementary Medicine – New Approaches to Good Practice’. The 160 page report recognised that “the demand for non-conventional therapies had become so pressing that organised medicine in Britain could no longer ignore its contribution”.

In 2000, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published a report addressing the fact that complementary therapies have proved difficult to fit into a framework of randomised trials, the benchmark of scientific medicine.
The Department of Health announced that it would fund a programme that would attempt to build a new type of research capacity in British Universities with emphasis on finding out how and why CAM is effective.

There has been a lot of world-wide research about the benefits of selected complementary therapies as adjuncts to mainstream clinical care, and a number of studies. However, it continues to be patchy, mainly because it is a challenge to design appropriate clinical trials. Although all therapies are generally placed under the heading of Complementary and Alternative Medicine the NHS, and practitioners themselves, tend to define them as very separate modalities.

  • Complementary Medicine: Non-conventional, but diagnostic therapies, such as chiropractic and osteopathy, used in conjunction with conventional treatments.
  • Complementary Therapies: Non-mainstream therapies, such as massage and aromatherapy, which do not claim diagnostic skills, but are used to complement conventional medicine.

Alternative Medicine: Techniques used in place of conventional medicine, often indifferent to clinical scientific principals.

The availability of complementary therapies on the NHS is still somewhat limited, but quite a few hospitals, hospices and health centres do provide access to practitioners. Originally most therapists were volunteers in units set up mainly for patients with cancer, and to provide free sessions during conventional treatments. The cancer charity, Macmillan were extremely proactive in this, and actively funded these units.

Gradually, all patients were able to access these services, but the general expectation was that therapists would continue to provide their expertise free, or at a very low cost to clients. However, with interest growing in the benefits of reducing workload and the financial savings by prescribing less medication, more complementary therapists are gradually being funded directly by the NHS. In fact, a number of consultants, doctors and nurses have also become complementary therapists themselves.

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) provides guidance to the NHS on effective treatments that are value for money. They rarely mention complementary therapy options, or just state that some patients may possibly find them useful. Guidelines often appear to be inconsistent, arbitrary, and out-of-date.

In 2009, the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council was established with Department of Health funding and support, with the key purpose of protecting the public, They have voluntary registers which are accredited by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA). Their regulated professions include massage therapy, sports therapy, shiatsu, reflexology and reiki.

Complementary therapy needs to be seen as professional, continuous, safe, and within the interests of the individual, while maintaining credibility within orthodox clinical and medical care. Feel Good Co-operative only offers evidence-based and regulated therapies to our clients.