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Finding help: Alternative/complementary medicine

As well as seeing a GP or other health professional, some people look for additional help from complementary and alternative medicine, sometimes referred to as CAM. These therapies may also be described as being 'natural’ and include ancient treatments, such as acupuncture. There's also integrative medicine, where CAM and conventional medicine work alongside each other.

Some complementary therapies have been claimed to help with symptoms of some illnesses. However, in many cases there's not enough medical evidence to determine if alternative therapies are effective.

Most alternative therapies are not available on the NHS. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recommended the use of complementary and alternative medicines in a limited number of circumstances. These include the Alexander Technique for Parkinson’s disease, ginger and acupressure for reducing morning sickness, acupuncture and manual therapy, including spinal manipulation, spinal mobilisation and massage for persistent lower back pain.

A significant number of GPs are trained in and use, certain types of CAM, such as acupuncture, and GPs may sometimes refer to other practitioners, including chiropractic for back pain. The NHS sometimes covers acupuncture, aromatherapy, chiropractic, massage, osteopathy and clinical hypnotherapy.

Complementary and alternative therapies should not be used to replace the treatment recommended by a doctor. When choosing an alternative therapist, it is safer to select one registered with a government approved body or who is accredited to a voluntary professional body for that therapy.

This list doesn’t cover all organisations in this field, but here is a selection of organisations offering help and further information about alternative and complementary medicine:

Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC)

Complementary medicine is not regulated in the same way as mainstream healthcare. However, many complementary and alternative therapists are registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), which was set up by the government to give a degree of regulation to the sector.

The British Acupuncture Council

The British Acupuncture Council has a membership of around 3,000 professionally qualified acupuncturists.

The British Medical Acupuncture Society

The British Medical Acupuncture Society is a registered charity established to encourage the use and scientific understanding of acupuncture within medicine. Its members are regulated healthcare professionals who practise acupuncture within the scope of their professional practice.

The Acupuncture Society

The Acupuncture Society is a professional body of acupuncture and oriental therapist practitioners.

The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique

The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique aims to ensure the highest standards of teacher training and professional practice.

International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists

The International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists is one of the largest professional aromatherapy practitioner organisations in the world.

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