What are the 5 Main Types of Complementary / Alternative Medicine?

by Cathy Wong ,  About.com | 2007-07-24

One of the most helpful things the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has done is to help people understand the many complementary and alternative treatments by classifying them into five broad categories:

1. Alternative Medical Systems

Alternative medical systems are built upon complete systems of theory and practice. Often, these systems have evolved apart from and earlier than the conventional medical approach used in the United States. Examples of alternative medical systems include:
  • Acupuncture
  • Ayurveda
  • Homeopathy
  • Native American healing practices
  • Naturopathic medicine
  • Tibetan medicine
  • Traditional Chinese medicine

2. Mind-Body Interventions

Mind-body medicine uses a variety of techniques designed to enhance the mind's capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms. Some techniques that were considered alternative in the past have become mainstream (for example, patient support groups and cognitive-behavioral therapy).

Other mind-body techniques are still considered alternative, including:
  • Art therapy
  • Biofeedback
  • Dance therapy
  • Guided imagery
  • Humor therapy
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Meditation
  • Music therapy
  • Prayer therapy
  • Yoga

3. Biologically-Based Therapies

Biologically based therapies in complementary and alternative medicine use substances found in nature, such as herbs, foods, and vitamins. Some examples include:
  • Diet
  • Dietary supplements
  • Herbal products
  • Megavitamins
It also includes the use of other so-called natural but as yet scientifically unproven therapies (for example, using shark cartilage to treat cancer).

4. Manipulative and Body-Based Methods

Manipulative and body-based methods in complementary and alternative medicine are based on manipulation and/or movement of one or more parts of the body. Some examples include:
  • Acupressure
  • Alexander Technique
  • Chiropractic
  • Feldenkrais Method
  • Massage therapy
  • Osteopathy
  • Reflexology
  • Rolfing
  • Therapeutic Touch
  • Trager Approach


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