Going outside the normal MD route might land you more palatable options for chronic complaints like insomnia, stress, or back pain than the usual prescription drug-or-surgery solution. If you are considering seeing an alternative specialist (and we’ll tell you why you should, below), here are a couple things to keep in mind: Tell your regular doctor if you’re seeking an alternative therapy; let the alternative practitioner know about any pre-existing conditions or any medical treatments you’re receiving; call ahead for a brief chat with the therapist before you make an appointment to make sure you mesh; and finally, be wary of anyone who makes far-fetched claims or won’t communicate with your regular physician.
Got all that? Good. Here are 6 alternative doctors worth considering:
What’s the idea? Ayurveda centers on five physical elements—earth, air, fire, water, and ether—and simplifies them into three basic body and personality types or doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. Depending on your type, ayurvedic doctors can customize a treatment plan of herbs, diet and detoxification, yoga, meditation, and massage. This traditional Indian medical system is enjoying immense popularity right now: An NIH survey found that more than 200,000 American adults use ayurvedic medicine every year.
What’s it best for? Studies in India suggest Ayurveda works for numerous medical issues; US National Institute of Health researchers are focusing on the use of ginger, boswellia, and turmeric for inflammatory disorders such as arthritis and cardiovascular disease. They’re also studying gotu kola for treating and preventing Alzheimer’s.
How do I choose a practitioner? Look for solid credentials and extensive education; The International Society for Ayurveda and Health recommends partnering with a practitioner who also holds a doctorate degree (e.g., MD or PhD) and has completed training at a recognized ayurvedic medical school. Check out the National Center For Complementary and Integrative Health for more tips on finding a qualified doc.
What’s the idea? Homeopathy might just be the next big British invasion: Favored by Paul McCartney, Orlando Bloom and other famous Brits, homeopathy is currently enjoying wide acceptance in the UK. It’s is governed by the law of similars, or “like cures like.” Treatments are derived from substances that might induce symptoms, but they’re diluted to the point where almost none of the offending substance remains. For instance, a remedy for insomnia might be made from heavily diluted coffee.
What’s it best for? Some research suggests homeopathy may ease allergies, colds, flu, anxiety, nervous tension, shock, fatigue, insomnia, headaches, nausea, PMS, and menopause symptoms, and long-term chronic conditions, such as fibromyalgia.
How do I choose a practitioner? Start with a referral from a national homeopathic society (there are several). During a visit, a homeopath will ask not only about physical symptoms, but also about emotional state, fears and phobias, personality and home life.
What’s the idea? Massage seems to work on both a cellular and a hormonal level, healing inflammation and releasing feel-good endorphins.
What’s it best for? As one of the most thoroughly researched alternative therapies, massage has been shown to do much more than relieve tension and reduce stress. Studies find that massage eases chronic low back pain, reduces the muscle inflammation caused by exercise, and can relieve depression and anxiety, asthma, and fibromyalgia.
How do I find a practitioner? Although there are numerous styles—from relaxing Swedish to energetic Japanese shiatsu—all seem to provide similar results. Check with friends or your doctor for recommendations. Each state enforces its own set of licensing and certification requirements, so call a local school to find out what certifications are required in your area.
What’s the idea? Put aside Hollywood’s version of hypnotism—”Your eyes are getting heavy, you’re getting very sleepy…” Hypnotherapy is actually a form of psychotherapy in which the conscious, rational part of the mind is bypassed, leaving the subconscious more susceptible to suggestion. This openness helps patients change reactions and behavior.
What’s it best for? The NIH recommends it for chronic pain, but clinical studies suggest hypnotherapy can also reduce your need for medication and improve your mental and physical condition before surgery and reduce your recovery time. It seems to be particularly effective for phobias, depression, and anxiety, and it’s showing promise for asthma, allergies, and digestive disorders.
How do I choose a practitioner? Check with the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, whose members must hold an advanced degree in medicine, dentistry, podiatry, psychology, nursing, social work, or family therapy. Look for a hypnotherapist who will teach you self-hypnosis techniques that you can practice on your own.
What’s the idea? Naturopathy is a multidisciplinary approach to healing that uses natural resources, such as herbs, exercise, meditation, nutrition, and nature therapy. It’s one of the modalities that many experts feel will be integrated into our future health care systems. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) believe that the body strives on its own toward balance, a vital force called “homeostasis,” which can be thrown off by unhealthy lifestyle, stress, poor diet, lack of exercise and sleep, and negative mental attitude. They emphasize prevention and incorporate a variety of therapies, including acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal remedies, diet, massage, hydrotherapy, and therapeutic counseling.
What’s it best for? Naturopathy works best for long-term chronic conditions such as asthma and arthritis, colds and flu, depression, PMS, and gastrointestinal issues.
How do I find a practitioner? Check education and certification: Currently 17 states offer licensing for NDs; in a state that doesn’t, you can check for degrees from schools such as Bastyr University in Seattle and National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, Ill.
What’s the idea? Osteopathy began as a drug-free, non-invasive medicine that manages various maladies by treating and strengthening the muscles, connective tissue, joints, and spine.
What’s it best for? Extensive research suggests osteopathy works best for spinal and joint conditions (including arthritis), back and neck pain, allergies and other breathing dysfunction, depression, insomnia, PMS, and digestive disorders.
How do I find a practitioner? You may have seen one already. Osteopaths have worked alongside conventional docs for decades, and unlike chiropractors (to which they’re often compared), they can prescribe drugs and perform surgery. DOs—doctors of osteopathy—attend a four-year basic medical program followed by internships and residencies, and should be