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Peace and Harmony in Holistic Medicine?

by Leon Chaitow, ND DO(more info)

listed in complementary medicine, originally published in issue 16 - December 1996

Peace and Harmony in Holistic Medicine? You would think so but the truth is there exists a tendency, currently awesomely evident, for displays of mutual animosity, antagonism and frank antipathy between almost all groupings within the field of holistic/alternative/complementary health care in the UK. And what seems extraordinary is that this seems to increase as external pressures – from the authorities and orthodox medicine – diminishes.

In Athens, Greece there are said to be more theatres per head of the population than in any other city in Europe. I don’t know if this is statistically accurate or not, but it is close to the truth. The reasons? Mainly because each actor/actress wishes to play leading parts and the best way of achieving this end is to run your own theatre company!

Whether this ego-based component is the root cause of the internecine warfare observable in most branches of unconventional medicine, or whether there are other – possibly more noble reasons, is a matter for debate. From my limited observations and experience this pattern is true in these fields of health care in other countries as well – the USA and Israel for example – and it is not a new spectacle.

I recall my early annual visits to naturopathic conferences in the late 1950s and early 1960s (after which I abandoned forever attendance at such bun-fights) – and my horror and embarrassment at the sight of leading lights in the profession almost coming to blows and certainly coming to the boil as they attacked each other’s views and personalities.

My awareness of the reality of many of the current professions in complementary health care in the UK at present is that little has changed apart from the personalities of the combatants.

Aromatherapy is being torn apart by disputes over the rights and wrongs of the teaching of aromatology – a variation on the use of essential oils – with a degree of viciousness which is in sharp contrast with the soothing effects claimed for the use of essential oils. At least this is the surface reason – perhaps deeper in the debate lie jealousies and personality issues.

The osteopathic and chiropractic professions in the UK have recently passed through a process in which they have had to unite (one could say ‘adjust’ – ouch! but that’s the only pun I could come up with) in order to meet the requirements needed for state legislation. This has called for the coming together – in apparent harmony – of different branches of professions which in other circumstances would not wish to be associated with each other. The truth may also lie below the surface where many of those in both these professions – osteopathy and chiropractic – with higher degrees of training, look askance at their new – less academically well trained – bed-fellows, with barely muted contempt. Peace reigns for now but for how long?

A scratch below the surface (sorry) of the acupuncture world finds similar areas of antagonism – couched in words which reflect philosophical rather than personal animosity – although this surfaces all too quickly when tempers start to rise. And as to homeopathy – well how can I put it – a high potency constitutional remedy would seem to be called for to reconcile those who practice ‘pure’ classical homoeopathy with those who use the short-cuts of combination remedies. The whole issue of whether a medical qualification should be a requirement for the practise of homeopathy also burns away in the background.

Naturopathy has, of course, continued with its unending state of toxic discord, the purists (diet, fasting, fresh air and pure water along with relaxation and exercise being the ingredients of their approach) disparaging of those who include nutritional supplementation and herbal medicine in their armamentarium and vice versa.

Applied Kinesiologists are also divided into camps for reasons which outsiders find hard to fathom, as are psychotherapy groupings whose lack of calm and insight when dealing with each other can be frightening to behold.

Nutrition counsellors seem to possess a similar deficiency of goodwill as demonstrated by the personal verbal and literary attacks which periodically appear, wrapped and disguised in words which suggest that there are only idealistic and philosophical differences.

And then we come to the energy merchants – the healers and users of radionics and dowsing. Here one might anticipate a loftier more idealistic state of affairs. Not so. In my experience – as editor of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine from 1990 to 1995 – I had few more difficult tasks than keeping the letters from one camp or other – about the other – on the right side of the libel laws. The antagonism towards the messenger rather than the message seems to be one of the problems, along with an inability or unwillingness to see other people’s points of view.

The pinnacle of these feuds is seen in the organisations which try to draw together different professions, the names of which I will avoid mentioning for fear of having to deal with the correspondence this is almost sure to provoke.

Why is there such a state of discord? Is it due to genuine philosophical differences? Possibly such lofty ingredients exist somewhere in the spectrum of factors contributing to the situation; however, personal ambition, stubbornness, egos the size of houses and a blind drive towards the building of power-bases via the establishment of ever more ‘practitioner organisations’ seem to underlie at least some of the causes. This rivalry pushes aside the best interests of the memberships and the systems they purport to represent, and more importantly the patients/clients we all serve.

It compares poorly with the appalling track record of many religious organisations and cults in the middle ages – where similar discord so often reigned. (Has this really changed?)

However well public relations are going, and however accepted the methods are becoming in mainstream settings, it would seem that we remain in the dark middle ages of complementary health care, the real potentials of which will not be realised until these internal battles cease. I wish!

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About Leon Chaitow, ND DO

Leon Chaitow ND DO is a registered Osteopath and Naturopath and is an Honorary Fellow at the University of Westminster. He is author of over 70 books, edits the peer reviewed Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies, and practises in a NHS Health Centre and privately. He teaches widely to Physiotherapists, Osteopaths, Chiropractors and Massage Therapists. For further information Leon can be contacted at leonchaitow1@mac.com or via his website: www.leonchaitow.com

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