Alternative medicine is a term that is used to describe medical practices that are different from accepted forms and is used instead of orthodox medicine (Hunt and Lightly, 1999). This term was given to these types of medical practices by the bio-medical model which reflects their power. However, recently it has been become ‘Complementary’ which shows the increasing acceptance of this type of medicine; this now marks a shift from seeing alternatives as in opposition to modern medicine to recognising that they can support orthodox treatment.
This type of medicine has a Holistic approach, meaning that it treats the mind as well as the body, unlike the bio-medical model which could be a reason as to why more and more people use certain forms of complementary medicine. Alternative medicine has always been popular in Eastern societies; for example, treatments like Fire Cupping originate from China and over time have becoming increasingly popular in the West. According to a study in 2007, Britons spent ?
191 million on alternative medicine in that year alone and has been suggested that that figure has gone up by 32% in the past five years. Another reason as to why this form of medicine has become largely more popular in Western societies is that GPs and hospitals will often refer people to them if they feel that the bio-medical model can’t help them. Similarly, the NHS will refer to this form of medicine as ‘Complementary’, which shows that they no longer see it as a threat to their form of health care.
According to Sharma (1992) the most popular forms on Complementary medicine are Herbalism, Osteopathy and Homeopathy. This could be down to the fact that these ones are the most successful in their treatment, or on the other hand it could be that celebrities have made it into some form of ‘Popular Culture’ in which the masses feel they should also try out. There are a significant amount of reasons as to why there has been a growth in the popularity of alternative/complementary medicine over the last decade.
According to Bivins (2007) the popularity of bio-medicine suited a population under permanent threat of infectious diseases. Whereas today, patients’ needs have changed due to the fact that certain chronic conditions have risen which has in turn led to disappointment towards industrial medicine as it is shows that orthodox medicine doesn’t give people other options; it is limited in its treatments. Furthermore, industrial medicine is significantly impersonal compared to complementary medicine which could be another reasons as to why people are choosing alternate forms of health care.
On the other hand, Hunt and Lightly (1999) suggest that it could be down to the fact that there are a growing number of people in the population which simply needs/wants to be different and experiment. Illich would put forward his theory of ‘iatrogenesis’ (when medicine does more harm than good), saying that people are concerned about the unpleasant side-effects of drugs and the interventionist nature of medical practice which has been proven by surveys taken out.
Another minor issue could be that people now demand for patient input; regarding complementary medicine, the doctor and the patient talk and together come up with solutions; the patient isn’t treated passive and isn’t talked to. According to Bakx (1991) the decline in the cultural dominance of biomedicine and the medical profession has resulted in the re-emergence of the plurality of alternative approached to health. Stanway would refute this view and suggest that people ‘simply want to experiment’. He would also say that this could be down to philosophical/religious reservations about what is being offered.
Orthodox medicine have a ‘body dualism’ approach instead of a Holistic approach in which alternative medicine does take; they take into account everything to do with the patients life, whether that be physical or emotional or psychological problems. However, Coward (1989) would refute both models of health saying that they ‘tend to stress that health problems are individual, both in terms of the causes and the cures’. He would say that this ignores the wider social factors that cause ill health, such as poverty, job-related stress and pollution.
He would also say that many of the treatments haven’t been tested in the ways that conventional medicine has, so it hasn’t met the ‘Peer Review criteria’ which therefore brings into account the “Placebo Affect” suggesting that these treatments make people believe that they are feeling better when actually it is all fake. This suggests that the rising popularity of contemporary medicine is ‘fake’ and that the medicine doesn’t actually do anything, but because people think it does they are using it more and more.
He would also state that if people on rely on alternative medicine it could be dangerous in the case of serious diseases like Cancer and AIDS where conventional treatments are more effective. Fulder would agree with Coward here and question whether alternative practitioners are prepared to take sole responsibility for their patients when regarding chronic diseases and whether they would refer them to the bio-medical models’ treatment or keep them in their own hands.
According to a survey done by Fulder and Monro, it was suggested that the kind of people who use alternative medicine are more likely to be middle class, female and young to middle-aged. Some would argue that this is because alternative medicine can be expensive, and also because women often go to the doctors more than men they are now turning to complementary treatments in hope that (for example) their period pains, morning sickness etc will be sorted by other forms of medicine. To conclude, there are a number of reasons as to why there is a growing popularity of alternative medicine and there isn’t one clear cut answer.
There is one thing that we can certainly infer from this though; that it is still growing rapidly and that this is neither a good nor bad thing as some people are certainly benefiting from CAM. Bibliography: AQA Sociology AS – Nelson Thornes Sociology AS for AQA – Moore + Aiken Sociology 6th Edition – Anthony Giddens Sociology Themes and Perspectives – Haralambos and Holborn Introductory Sociology 4th Edition – Bilton, Bonnett, Jones etc. Sociology: Introductory Reading, Revised Edition – Giddens.