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  • Writer's pictureJan Johnson

What is Complementary Therapy?

Updated: Apr 14, 2023

White treatment couch with towels and balms in a therapy room

‘Complementary Therapy’ is a term often combined with ‘Alternative Medicine’ known as ‘Complementary and Alternative Medicine’ (CAM). In fact, each term is different. As the name suggests, complementary therapy is used alongside and complements mainstream healthcare. When a therapy or non-mainstream practice is used instead of conventional medicine, it is therefore, ‘alternative.’

Some examples of complementary therapy

  • Reflexology

  • Reiki

  • Massage therapy

  • Aromatherapy

  • Acupuncture

  • Meditation

  • Yoga therapy

Reflexologist giving a foot reflexology treatment

Complementary therapies take a holistic approach, meaning they aim to support the whole person to incorporate physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. These therapies do not aim to diagnose or cure a particular health issue and therapists and practitioners are not generally medically qualified (although some may be). Many therapies, especially reflexology, focus on aiding relaxation and reducing stress. Calmer emotions and less anxiety have the effect of enhancing wellbeing, achieving better quality sleep, and promoting natural health.

Some people are quite skeptical towards complementary therapy and alternative medicine and there are many misconceptions – ‘they don’t have any effect’ – ‘they are a scam,’ just to quote a few. Due to the scarcity of clinical evidence, your GP is probably unlikely to prescribe a complementary treatment, although I have had clients who have come to me for reflexology on the recommendation of their medical practitioner, either doctor, nurse, or midwife. Research-based evidence continues to grow and as with all therapies, different things work for different people. Whether or not a complementary therapy has a specific, proven clinical effect is quite immaterial; the outcome of feeling better is completely real, and this has a meaningful and sometimes profound effect! Getting support from a complementary therapy can help you feel more in control as you deal with the issues of life or illness. Some people build a strong relationship with their therapist, as having someone who listens can add an extra dimension of care they need.

Complementary therapies are often used in a cancer related setting. People affected by cancer find that receiving a therapy such as reflexology or reiki helps them to better cope with their symptoms. It can help them feel better and may often improve quality of life. I am privileged to work as a volunteer therapist at Macclesfield Cancer Help Centre, a charity which offers support including a range of complementary therapies, for the Macclesfield and Congleton area.

It is becoming increasingly popular to seek a more natural approach to our health and wellbeing and many choose to include some form of complementary therapy into their self-care plan. I would never encourage the use of any therapy as an alternative to medical treatment, but to put away your worries and take a break from whatever you are dealing with for an hour or so can be extremely therapeutic for mind body and spirit!

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