What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?

What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?

Photo illustrated by Leland

by Don Ingwerson

According to MedicineNet.com, complementary medicine is “a group of diagnostic and therapeutic disciplines that are used together with conventional medicine” and “alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine.” Why am I taking this space to explain complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)? Because one type of CAM is spiritual healing or prayer, which is discussed in the Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice article, “Observations on Prayer as a Viable Treatment Intervention: a Brief Review for Health Care Providers.” The first sentence in the article states, “prayer continues to gain much notoriety and attention as a medical intervention.”

I’ve been reading much about health care, especially since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed a little over a year ago. Alternative medicines have received some attention from practicing physicians and medical schools, but more attention from the public. The trend in health is that Americans are increasingly exploring other healing methods besides just conventional medicine. As the public assesses the value of alternative medicines, the medical profession is beginning to explore alternatives along with their more traditional treatment.

Many patients are interested in addressing their spiritual needs while addressing their health concerns. “Beliefs and attitudes of hospital inpatients about faith and prayer”(King and Bushwick 1994) found that “75% of patients wanted their physicians to address their spiritual commitment.” And these patients are not alone. The medical community is taking notice. David Myers, Professor of Psychology at Hope College is quoted as saying, “More than a thousand studies have sought to correlate the faith factor with health and healing.”

A survey of medical students supports the idea of the usefulness and importance of alternative medicines. It was found that 77% of the medical students that participated in this study thought that patients whose doctors were familiar with CAM benefited more than those patients who had doctors who were only familiar with conventional medicine.

As this term of complementary and alternative medicines is studied and discussed, keep in mind that it includes many types of treatments, from prayer to diets to yoga. However, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the leading alternative to medicine is prayer.

About the author

Don Ingwerson Don regularly blogs on health and spirituality and lives in Laguna Beach with his wife - both Christian Science practitioners. He brings his years serving the public in education to his work as a liaison of Christian Science, where he maintains contacts with the media and legislative offices.


  1. Anne says

    I find this article one of the most encouraging about physicans opening their thought to prayer as an important alternative to medical care.

    Their willingness to recognize prayer as a viable choice for health care can surely aid our legislators in being willing to include spiritual prayer in the national health care bill. It’s relevant to today’s needs, and people are wanting it.

    Can the acknowledgment of the major role that Christian Science has demonstrated for over a century as a “scientific system of divine healing” be far behind?

    Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, wrote: “Scientific healing has this advantage over other methods,– that in it Truth controls error” (Science and Health, p. 145).

  2. Sue says

    People need to have the opportunity to make choices for themselves which includes health care. We are all individuals and one shoe does not fit all. I am encouraged that people from many scientific fields are seeing that there are a variety of methods and choices and health care options. Focused, practical, and reliable prayer in Christian Science has met that need for many, many people and needs to be numbered among the choices people can make for their health care options.