If you have been observing the natural, complementary or alternative healthcare movement for some time, and particularly if you have been seeking for solutions to improve your own condition, you may well have reached a point where the messages from practitioners and promoters seem confusing, exaggerated or even counter-factual.
Polarised against these messages, you probably also see the section of media and opinion to suggest that none of the methods promoted could possibly work, or are entirely without evidence. To add to the concern, some of the names signing off these opinions are people in positions of high reputation for knowledge: university professors, for example.
This creates an intellectual maze, and navigating it can become an emotional roller-coaster if you are seeking help for a difficult condition.
If you are like many seeking help from the world of natural health, you probably have an in-built conviction that approaching health with gentle methods must somehow be the right way, but also have experiences close to home where it seemed that the only thing that ‘worked’ was a more dramatic intervention such as surgery or drugs.
After 15 years in the natural health world, and declaring a continuing business interest in the field, I have developed a healthy skepticism of all strongly held opinions about health. In this article I attempt some advice on how to approach the subject, and how to proceed to get the help you need. To avoid excessive length, the notes are short on justification or philosophy, focusing instead on practical strategies you can apply to enable good decisions.
1) Consult your medical practitioner. This required advice is also good advice. You are never any the poorer for having the opinion of your GP. He or she is highly-trained and has the advantage of seeing a large number of patients every week, which allows a better overview of how health conditions emerge and evolve in different people. Don’t automatically accept the diagnosis or the recommended treatment / non-treatment, but respect the opinion given as likely to be one of the best-informed that is both free and easily accessed. Your GP is also the first port of call for securing access to the free and multi-tiered healthcare system that can serve you well if everything becomes too difficult to manage by your own explorations.
2) Do the basic lifestyle shifts. If you are at all inclined towards natural health, then you are probably already aware of a lot of sources of information about health-promoting lifestyles, including this website. Changing habits won’t necessarily make your symptoms disappear, but will likely give you a better experience of life, and increases your chances of holding onto gains for longer. Key ingredients for lifestyle improvement are:
- Diet: good quality whole-foods, targeted towards your particular body-type, health condition and life-stage. Supplement nutrients where needed.
- Exercise: moving the body is generally helpful; doing it to excess, rarely so. Choose a routine that suits you and vary it. Exercise that has a practical purpose to support life may be more satisfying than ‘burning calories’ in a gym.
- Hydration: it’s commonly observed that people do not notice if they are de-hydrated, whcih can often result from over-reliance on alcohol or stimulants. Adding at least some good quality water to your regular fluid intake is usually beneficial.
- Rest and sleep: different things and both are neceaasry. Much research indicates that 8 hours sleep is necessary to sustain optimal health for a much larger proportion of people than actually are in the habit of getting it. Resting the mind, meditation, contemplation i.e switching off extrernal stimuli, during some waking hours also has many benefits.
- Sunlight: now rehabilitated after decades in the dog-house. Reasonable exposure of your skin to sunlight boosts vitamin D which is chronically deficient in northern latitudes, and this protects against a huge array of health problems.
- Addictions: work to minimise them. Sugar, alcohol, gambling, toxic relationships, recreational drugs, adrenalin are some of the most common.
- Pharmaceutical drugs: this area may need careful consultation and thought. Some drugs make it pretty much impossible for your body to function well, though you may also feel that it cannot function well without them. Look up the side effects of any drugs you use, which may not appear for years, and see if they might be connected with your current symptoms. If you are on prescription medications you will need to consult with your medical practitioner and possibly others to see if you can be free of them.
- Healthy relationships: whether you are a recluse or a party animal, check that the interactions that make up your exchanges with others are moving in the direction of being constructive. We can’t always choose all our relationships, but we can choose which to invest more or less in.
- Life purpose: the stronger this is, the better your chances of staying in good health. Move towards the life and work that feels most inspiring to you.
- Reflection, meditation and spiritual practice: some aspects of this area are beyond the reach of any advice or practitioner. However, be aware that many studies suggest that people engaged regularly in such practices fare better than those who do not. For some people, learning to sit in silence is a terrifying idea: if that’s you, then you probably need it most.
3) Read informed opinion – but don’t get stuck in the web. Seek out the more reputable and thoughtful books and web resources pertaining to lifestyle and to any condition you are experiencing. Avoid giving undue weight to stories from on individual and to what they attribute their miracle cure. The truth is we rarely know what cured us. Always remember that your self-diagnosis may be wrong, as may be that of your doctor or practitioner. Also remember that books are often written by specialists rather than generalists so beware of too narrow a focus to your reading. If you tend to believe more that solutions are ‘physical’ then read about mental and emotional aspects and vice versa.
4) You may want to try informed self-treatments for a period with an open-mind. On occasion, beyond lifestyle change, we come upon a self-medication strategy that works. It could be a supplements in some combination, herbal medicines, or other OTC products. The key rules are only use things that are safe. Choose unadulterated recipes. Find the doses that have worked in research studies, which are often higher than on the side of the pack, but DO check safe limits via an authoritative source. Don’t expect dramatic impacts, but do give this kind of intervention some time to have an impact. Many nutritional supplementation strategies need 2 months to show an effect. If you get a positive change, don’t make the product a lifelong religion. Often something helps at a particular time, and might be useful again some day, but is not usually needed permanently. Similar advice applies to devices: there are various forms of magnetic, electrical, light, sound or heat systems sold for self-treatment. If they are expensive, try them out more than once before buying.
5) Be aware, or beware, of ‘tests’. There is a rapidly growing industry offering a multitude of laboratory tests and genetic tests directly to the public. Many practitioners outside the medical profession are also recommending and building more tests into their practice. Tests can identify hidden but vital new information , but they can also burn large parts of your budget to no useful purpose. In a great deal of cases, investing in positive changes is more worthwhile £ for £ than investing in tests. Before paying for any test, be clear what actions follow from learning the results. Consider energetic testing, which is a faster and wider-ranging way of finding out about what your individual ‘hidden’ health factors may be.
6) Beware of ‘miracle products’. Often you will have a friend, or even a practitioner, who swears by a particular product, often going along with a claim that it ‘kills pathogens’, ‘pulls out toxins’, ‘heals at the cellular level’ or even these days ‘‘upgrades the DNA’. Sometimes these products are offered for a pennies, and sometimes literally for tens of thousands. The claims may not all be untrue, but the chances that you have stumbled upon the ‘true’ product are very low indeed. The reality is that products can only be a support. Pathogens can die, toxins come out, cells regenerate and your gene manifestations alter- but these all take place when a whole lot of circumstances are right. If you meet someone whose attention is all on how one or a few products ‘fix everything’ they are probably deluding themselves andnot the person that can help you.
5) Seeking help from a practitioner. This is the part where you have most choice and scope to explore different possibilities, and probably where you have scope to create the most positive change without negative side-effects. But it is also a place where you can find disappointment and confusion and possibly spend a lot of money. How can you get the best out of this process ?
a) Decide you need a guide to help set your whole approach or just need to work with a particular technician ? This will depend on where you are in terms of your level of knowledge, motivation, current condition and other factors. If what you need is an overall guide, such as those working in the NV practice, then it will be better NOT to start by consulting a specialised practitioner of an individual discipline.
b) Whether it is a guide or a technician you need, consider the following factors: experience, breadth and depth of knowledge, location, reputation and of course ‘resonance’. It is necessary to find some point of contact with your practitioner. In fact, a very great deal of what takes place when healing results from consulting a doctor or practitioner is due to the intangible joining that takes place. This is true even though a vast majority of practitioners will put the results down to their techniques or products. Indeed, we cannot ever prove this assertion.
c) Choosing techniques. Many clients end up being very surprised by which therapies or techniques end up apparently helpful. Often it seems completely counter-intuitive for example when a talking-based practice results in removal of a localised pain, or when nutritional changes result in emotional release, or when deep bodywork changes a skin condition. For some, whole approaches seem opaque and hard to credit: how can ultra-diluted homeopathic remedies have an effect on a ‘physical disease’ ? Why did my body stop growing cancers just because one lump was surgically removed ? Our advice is, in addition to using the help of a more general guide to natural health, allow your intuition to be in charge rather than your analytical mind. You will probably be drawn towards a method that has something to offer you. The chances of understanding why are pretty low at the outset, so go with the person and technique that attracts you. The understanding of why may come a lot later.
d) Trust the process, for a time. When you choose to work with a practitioner in a more holistic approach, you may need to suspend your beliefs about how your body works, about where mind ends and body begins, or even about what is within you and what is part of your group, family or society consciousness. Once you have carefully chosen who you want to work with, and feel that they have your interests at heart, you should make a decision to trust their approach, at least for a period. By all means ask questions, but remember that many subtle change processes are not explainable by seeing the body as a machine, and even an expert practitioner who is getting amazing results daily may find it hard to explain in words how the process works.
6) The Money Question – in a country with a tax-funded healthcare system, it can seem like there must be a ‘free’ alternative to consulting any private natural health provider. It is probably necessary to let go of this belief and see the NHS as a back-stop that is a privilege of being in a well-developed economy and that you are mainly investing in it for life’s unfortunate accidents, end-of-life care and for others who have not yet developed a sense of sel-responsibility.
Consider how you apportion your income, and do not resent investing in yourself. Consulting a good practitioner should feel like an investment, not just a cost, as it should yield knowledge, an enjoyable experience, and an ability to hold onto at least some of the gains you make each time you do so.
Be aware of practitioners fees particularly if they are very high or very low. Neither is necessarily inappropriate. Some people have an exceptionally effective technique being delivered in a high-cost area that requires a lot of their own investment in education or equipment. Likewise, not all very low-priced practices are ineffective – it is very common to meet practitioners who wish to give as much as possible to the public at the lowest cost they can. They may operate from home and genuinely love their work. One good criterion for finding your right occupation is: ‘what would you do even if you were not paid for it’.
Some services have more costs than are initially apparent. This might be in the form of a recommendation that you need ‘at least 6 sessions’, or fees for tests, or products recommended for purchase. Again, you need to use your judgement here. All of these can be entirely helpful, but a good practice will let you know if these things are pre-determined aspects of the practice, or discuss them with you during the consultation if they are unexpected.
7) When is time to move on ? There can be every kind of interaction with a health practitioner, from a single-encounter to a long-term relationship of many years. Part of this is about your own intention. Try to be clear with yourself what you want. Many practitioners also find challenges in knowing when to bring a client-relationship to a close – it is human nature for us to settle into the comfort of the familiar. Important questions to ask yourself could be: Have I achieved the health goal I set out with ? Is this interaction helping me evolve or supporting my being stuck ? Does this feel like a dependency ? Am I clear that I am making a conscious choice to pay for a regular service perhaps to de-stress or just to talk things over ?
Sometimes you might consult someone to help deal with an acute problem and that passes, but you still feel vulnerable or needing support in life. As natural health practice is really an educational process, you might want to consider moving on to group-based practices, shortc-courses that teach you how to manage an aspect of life better, or even train in a practice you has inspired you. It’s no secret that most health practitioners come to this work by having had a successful result for themselves and wishing to pass it onto others. In fact this is one of the best ways to keep evolving and stay in good health.
8) Life-journey and life-stages. We tend to form a lot of our beliefs in our early years: through the childhood influences of parents and schooling and in the years when we first learn the ropes of adult life. Many of the most difficult challenges in life come
9) Natural health philosophy. It’s not necessary to even think about this topic in order to get results, but as you have experiences with different kinds of treatment or practice you will hear many different explanations of how human beings work. What is fundamental to most natural health practices when you explore them deeply is the idea that the wisdom needed to heal is already present within you, but it has become blocked, by attachment to something that seems in your interests but is not. Most natural health practitioners believe that things have causes, and are not random, and that the cause of physical symptoms begins in the more subtle levels of thought and feeling, your own or of those who effect you.
The differences in emphasis are largely about which ‘part’ of you holds the keys, or where ‘you’ end and others begin – i.e. how your relationships affect you. The process of change usually involves embarking (with or without help) on some kind of ‘re-education’ process, usually beginning with a push in some direction. The ‘push’ might involve stimulating something, replenishing something, practicing a different habit, pushing something back into position, giving a subtle informational signal, drawing attention to a behaviour.
In general it is good advice to suspend your need to work out why a practice may or may not work, and choose ones that you feel drawn to. When something does work, you will normally be in a better position to start to see why.
9) Politics of healthcare. Every subject has its politics. In general governments need to align with forms of healthcare that take care of the needs of the majority and particularly in acute situations. This is not wrong – it is just reality. The problems come when professions seek to justify themselves in comparison to others, when commercial interests look to their own expansion or when media is looking to make news from the often emotive sphere of disease. It can also come when laws are made in the perceived interests of the majority, but an educated minority see reality differently. When you think about it, all the controversies such as vaccines, laws against health claims, the Cancer Act, railing against homeopathy, distrust of ‘big pharma’, specialism at the expense of simple common-sense come down to these. Once you have been absorbed in natural health practices for a while a whole lot of things about how healthcare is done start to seem absurd. It’s good to remember though that it’s all about vantage point. When you have become very aware of how the body and mind work, it’s easy to rubbish solutions that you might have still needed when you were not so aware. As you learn, you can share your knowledge, but not everyone is ready, and not everyone will share your enthusiasm. And, in the final analysis, no amount of personal knowledge guarantees long and healthy life as we are completely connected with others and with our environment, in time and through time.