There was a time when many people in North America looked at complementary medicines as something too outside the box to consider. But researchers are showing complementary medicine can be effective, and this is starting to change how patients and doctors are looking at therapies like meditation, hypnosis and acupuncture. Not only are doctors tolerating their patients’ desire to explore complementary treatments, many are now encouraging it themselves. Complementary Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine When discussing the various types of complementary therapies available, it’s important we understand the difference between alternative medicine and complementary medicines. Alternative medicines or therapies are what people use instead of western medicine, meaning they may choose to follow a special diet or program, rather than using commonly accepted medical treatments. Complementary medicine is what people use with western medicine, as a supplement to conventional treatments. When doctors treat their patients with both western-style medicine and complementary therapies, they are treating the whole person, not just the illness itself. This is called integrative medicine, bringing together treatments for the mind, body, and soul. There are many types of complementary medicines. Some of the more common ones include: Acupuncture Meditation Massage therapy Hypnosis Music therapy Cognitive behavioral therapy How Doctors Use Complementary Medicine Complementary therapies can be used to promote healthy living or to help manage symptoms associated with illnesses and their treatments. If you’re stressed or anxious, your doctor may suggest you try meditation or mindfulness to calm your mind. Yoga can also help relieve stress and anxiety, through movement and breathing exercises. If you’re depressed or experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), another option may be cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), offered by psychologists and therapists. It’s not unusual for people to use CBT and medications at the same time–both types of therapy playing a role in healing. Complementary medicines may also help physical problems. If who have difficulty with balance or have a hard time moving about because of pain and stiffness, for example, you may find practicing yoga or tai chi can help keep you active. If you have an illness like cancer, not only might you have effects from the disease, but also from the medications used to treat it. Doctors have learned when their patients can control some of the more difficult side effects—such as nausea, pain or fatigue--the better the chances they will follow and finish their treatment plan. Your doctor may suggest you try some complementary therapies to combat these side effects, while allowing your more traditional treatments do their work. Some people find some relief with acupuncture, while others benefit from massage therapy, among other treatments. Growing Acceptance for Complementary Medicine Major centers, like Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Mayo Clinic, have already incorporated complementary medicine into their systems. These complementary and integrative medicine programs allow practitioners of all types to work together, to ensure that patient care is continuous and thorough. There are many advantages for your doctor to work alongside complementary medicine practitioners. There used to be, and still is in some cases, a culture of secrecy with complementary therapies; patients were reluctant to tell their doctors about wanting to use complementary therapies. But it’s important that your doctor is always aware of what therapies you are following and their results. While most types of complementary medicines are quite safe, there are some situations where people should avoid certain treatments. For example, massage therapy is usually not recommended for people who have severe osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) or for people who take blood thinners. Also notify your doctor if you plan to change your diet or start taking supplements, as this could have an effect on the medicines you’re taking. You, your doctors, and your complementary medicine practitioners make up your healthcare team. By working together, you’re increasing the chances of reaching your goal: the best possible outcome for you.