- Frequently asked questions
Frequently asked questions
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) refers to a variety of health care systems and practices which are currently not considered to be part of standard health care. Standard health care is 'conventional medicine' applied by medical doctors and their associated health professionals such as registered nurses and psychologists.
Although 'complementary and alternative' is often used as a single term, there is a clear distinction between the two therapies. Complementary therapies are aptly named because they are used alongside conventional medicine to 'complement' and enhance standard health care. For example acupuncture may be offered to help to ease the unpleasant side effects of breast cancer treatments such as hot flashes, nausea, vomiting and pain.
Alternative medicine on the other hand is used instead of conventional medicine - especially in circumstances where other methods have proven unsuccessful. Choosing alternative therapy means deciding not to use conventional care and instead involves the sole use of an alternative therapy.
In many cases, complementary and alternative medicine is delivered in the form of integrative care. This means conventional medicine and complementary therapies are used alongside one another in a coordinated way - often delivered by a team of health professionals from both fields. For example in the case of cancer care, patients may be offered complementary programmes such as massage therapy to help manage their stress and create an overall sense of well-being.
When might complementary therapy be useful?
Alternative and complementary therapies are widely used by individuals who feel they are not responding particularly well to conventional medicine, and are looking to try something different - either alongside their standard medical care or as an alternative. For example, smokers who have tried recommended methods of quitting such as nicotine replacement with little success often look to complementary therapies such as hypnotherapy, to further aid them on their quest to quit.
Others may be attracted to the 'holistic' element of complementary and alternative medicine. This refers to how therapy aims to address not only a particular ailment or issue, but also the entire person as a whole - helping people to achieve and maintain good psychological, physical and social health.
Ultimately though only you can decide whether alternative or complementary therapy will be useful. Our site offers lots of advice and information to help you make the most informed and beneficial decision. Take a look at our Therapy topics page to explore a range of CAM treatments and their uses.
Does everyone respond to complementary therapy?
It is not always possible to determine how each person will respond to complementary therapy and more concrete evidence is needed to support its use. Despite this, many have found complementary and alternative therapy to be highly effective, either when used in tandem with conventional treatment or when used independently as an alternative after other avenues have been exhausted.
An important thing to remember before trying complementary and alternative therapy is that you need to be fully committed to the process and feel that you can place your trust in your therapist. It's also important to keep an open mind, as any scepticism may dampen your susceptibility.
As it stands, the majority of alternative and complementary therapists are not currently regulated in the UK (with the exception of chiropodists, osteopaths, chiropractors and physiotherapists). This means there are not laws in position outlining the level of training and experience required in order to practise complementary or alternative therapy.
However questions are frequently raised across the UK and the world regarding public health risk and whether or not the current regulation system or lack there of, is good enough to protect the public.
The option of statutory regulation was first suggested back in 2001 when the House of Lords (Science & Technology Committee) produced a report on the status of complementary therapies in the UK at that time. The report concluded that in order to protect the public, a minimum standard of competence to practise should be agreed and implemented through the creation of National Occupational Standards.
Currently only chiropody, osteopathy, chiropractic treatment and physiotherapy are governed by statutory regulation but it is hoped this will be introduced to other alternative and complementary therapies. This would eventually mean that the title of the therapy would be protected and practitioners, by law, would have to join the register of the regulatory body otherwise it would be unlawful to practise.
A common regulatory option used among alternative and complementary therapists today is voluntary self-regulation. This is when a single professional body without statutory status, registers a therapy. The association cannot protect its title or force practitioners to join, but it is required to mimic that of a statutory regulator - enforcing its own code of ethics, complaints procedure and minimum standards etc, among its members.
The Therapy Directory verification process ensures that we only list therapists who have provided proof of a relevant qualification and insurance cover or proof of registration with a professional body. Once a therapist has been through our verification process, we will display a policy seal that you can see pictured to the left - as an indication of their professionalism.
For more information on regulation and our verification process, please see our Therapy Directory policy page.
What is a professional body?
There are various professional bodies (also known as member organisations) in existence that have taken on the role of self-regulation within the complementary and alternative therapy industry. While therapists are under no legal obligation to join a professional body, membership does mean they have met certain requirements set by their professional body and must abide by a code of ethics and complaints procedure.
If you are wary about visiting a complementary therapist, we would recommend choosing one that belongs to a professional body. It's simple to find a therapist who belongs to a professional body - just visit our Advanced search, enter your location and tick the 'Member of a professional body' box before hitting 'Search'.
For further information please see our Professional bodies page.
What is registration/accreditation with a professional body?
Being registered/accredited with a professional body means that an alternative or complementary therapist has achieved a substantial level of training and experience approved and recognised by their professional body.
If a CAM therapist has achieved this status, we will display a registered/accredited badge on their profile page.
What is Continued Professional Development?
Continued Professional Development (CPD) is now a common requirement among many professional bodies in the alternative and complementary therapy field and means that members must continue to maintain and develop throughout their career so that they keep their skills and knowledge up to date. Most professional bodies will require proof that a set amount of CPD has been completed each year in order for membership to be maintained.
How do I know which therapist to choose?
Therapy Directory lists thousands of complementary and alternative therapists nationwide, so we understand that with all of the choice available, it might be difficult to decide what you want and who you'd like to go and see.
If you'd like some pointers on what to look out for during your search, take a look at our Not sure where to start? page, which provides a useful bird’s eye view of the website for those who haven't quite found their way around just yet.
Do therapists offer any seminars, workshops or events?
In addition to one-to-one sessions, many complementary and alternative therapists do also offer additional services in the form of seminars, workshops and events.
If you're considering complementary therapy or if you have a general interest in the subject, our event finder lists workshops, qualifications and seminars covering a broad range of topics that are held up and down the country by our complementary and alternative therapists and practices.
To find out what is going on near you, see our event finder today.
Can I get complementary and alternative therapy on the NHS?
There are some complementary and alternative therapies available on the NHS, but these may not be widely available and the majority of practitioners tend to work privately. You will need to discuss the option of complementary therapy with your health care provider who can inform you of the availability in your specific area. Currently, among the most common complementary therapies available on the NHS are chiropody, osteopathy, acupuncture and massage.
How can I find out more about alternative and complementary therapy?
Many alternative and complementary therapists listed on our site provide Information articles, which you may find useful. You may also be interested in various other areas of the site, such as our Therapy topics section, which contains detailed information of the various alternative and complementary therapies available.
In addition to this you can keep up to date with the latest goings on in the News section. If you need any help using our site please visit the Not sure where to start? page or for additional help or contact our team.