Alternative/Complementary etc.

Is it Holistic, Alternative, Natural, Integrated or complimentary Medicine?

HomeopathyHerbsAcupunctureChiropracticHolistic MedicineNatural Feeding

There is much argument and posturing over nomenclature in the world of alternative medicine, just as in many other walks of life. Much time and energy are frittered away in such controversy. This page may be a little tongue-in-cheek but it makes a point that must be made. Words are not everything, names mean even less. It is deeds that count.

The term Holistic Medicine (or holistic veterinary medicine) applies to an approach to the patient and to medicine that embraces the concept of interconnectedness, of microcosms within macrocosms (ad infinitum) and that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. No part of the body can be considered in isolation and no patient can be considered apart from environment, lifestyle and management. Usually, more than one approach is necessary to cover all aspects of a case. It is described in more detail on the page with that title (holism). It is not so much about which particular branch of medicine is practiced but more about how it is approached and practiced. For this reason, homeopathy, acupuncture, herbalism and other medicine systems can be holistic, if practiced properly. Even modern conventional medicine can be practiced in a holistic manner although the mode of application of the medicines strays a little from the holistic concept. Really, it is a matter of using ‘joined-up thinking'.

In the USA, it appears that a veterinarian who uses a spectrum of natural, alternative and complimentary medicines is called a holistic veterinarian. This interpretation of the meaning is well demonstrated by the article in Wikipedia:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holistic_veterinary_medicine  (at the time of writing on 10th June 2010). According to the UK understanding, however, it is the methodology that makes one holistic, rather than the systems of medicine applied. One might use only one medical system but still practice it in a truly holistic way. This is simply a matter of varying definitions and common usage.

The term Alternative Medicine* (or alternative veterinary medicine) might imply that the medicine is used ‘instead of' or as an ‘alternative' to something else. If one specifies that something may be used instead of modern conventional medicine, in certain cases, then it is clearly an alternative! People sometimes become hung-up on the notion that those who offer ‘alternatives' do so to the absolute exclusion of conventional medicines and of conventional diagnosis and care. At the AVMC, while we offer clients and patients an alternative to what has gone before, we do not reject or fail to consider conventional medicine or diagnostic methodology and would not hesitate to recommend it or to use it, should it prove necessary. This is integrated medicine at work. Since homeopathy, acupuncture, herbal medicine and others can offer very real and credible alternatives to conventional therapy, they can rightly be labelled ‘alternative'. The AVMC is so-called because it offers a real alternative to general veterinary practice, in that it offers a different view, different prognosis, different emphasis and different tools.

(N.B.: One should be careful, in using the term ‘alternative', that one does not authorise, canonise or enshrine a procedure that cannot be supported. An illustrative example is talking about ‘alternatives to animal experiments‘, as if animal experiments have a value in the first place. We should not seek for ‘alternatives to animal experiments' as they are flawed science in the first place, quite apart from the terrible pain and suffering involved, and should simply be abolished forthwith).

The term Natural Medicine (or natural veterinary medicine) implies that it is part of nature and occurs in the natural world, rather than being artificial or man-made. Herbal medicine earns the natural appellation with little argument (so long as it is unadulterated and not using purified extracts of supposed ‘active ingredients'). Homeopathy often uses natural substances but they are usually ‘potentised', rendering them more ‘man-made'. It may, nonetheless, justifiably still be called ‘natural' because the source is natural and is only altered by dilution. It also uses many ‘potentised' man-made chemicals in its armoury, however, which cannot be called ‘natural'. Acupuncture is far from ‘natural', unless of course one considers the healing response of the body, which is a ‘natural' process. Tissue Salts, Aromatherapy, Bach Flowers and Crystals can arguably be classed as ‘natural'. Chiropractic, Osteopathy and Physiotherapy are arguable but certainly nothing artificial is used, unless the practitioner resorts to the use of machines.

The term complimentary Medicine (or complimentary veterinary medicine) is something hatched up by those who would insist that the only valid form of medicine is modern conventional medicine, while all others must only act in support of it or ‘complimentary' to it. It is also used defensively by some practitioners of alternative medicine therapies to palliate criticism by way of apologia. In such contexts, it is anything but ‘complimentary' (note spelling)! It is condescending, patronising and demeaning. However, one may forget that conventional medicine may act in a ‘complimentary' role to, say, homeopathy or acupuncture, when used in support of homeopathic treatment or acupuncture treatment. The term ‘complimentary' really, therefore, applies to the mode of employment of the medicine, not to the system of medicine itself. Physiotherapy, chiropractic and osteopathy, however, are not systems of medicine in their own right and can therefore only ever act in a ‘complimentary' or ‘supportive' role in the treatment of disease.

The term Integrated Medicine refers to the use of more than one therapy, integrated so as to optimise their combined benefit to the patient and to prevent or minimise potential clashes between them. In the USA, it is referred to as Integrative Medicine. It may include the use of modern conventional drug medicine.

The terms ‘complimentary and Alternative Medicine‘ (CAM) and its veterinary counterpart ‘complimentary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine‘ (CAVM) have been used to try to cover all bases, mostly in the USA.

Oh well, as the ‘great bard' once wittily remarked:

What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. (Romeo & Juliet: Act II, Scene II).

Actually, at the AVMC, we DON'T CARE whether we are called holistic vets, natural vets, alternative vets, complimentary vets, integrated vets, homeopathic vets, acupuncture vets, herbal vets, chiropractic vets or what. What matters is patient care, patient welfare and patient treatment. Let's just get back to the work of helping animals and stop the bickering over terminology!

At the AVMC, however, we do take serious issue with those commercial interests who market products with ‘natural' connotations, when they are, in reality, far from ‘natural'.


N.B. Many of the therapies are restricted to use by a fully-qualified veterinary surgeon (Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966). On this site, each page describing a therapy has a note, explaining this.


*Postscript: extract from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/425999.stm :

The USA has the most thorough definition (of Alternative Medicine).

A recent European Commission report says the accepted definition in the US is: “A broad domain of healing resources that encompass all health systems, modalities and practices, and their accompanying theories and beliefs, other than those intrinsic to the politically dominant health system of a particular society or culture in a given historical period.

“It includes all such products and ideas self defined by their users as preventing or treating illness or promoting health and well-being.

“Boundaries within complimentary and alternative medicine and between complimentary and alternative medicine and the domain of the dominant system are not always sharp or fixed.”

See also:

Holistic Medicine

Natural Medicine

complimentary Medicine

Alternative Medicine

Integrated Medicine

and FAQ