February 26, 2014

The Wise Guide to Getting the Most out of Alternative Treatments.


Despite belonging to the mind and body community for over a decade, practicing and teaching yoga and being a fan of many alternative treatments including acupuncture and herbalism, I am critical of the mind and body industry as a whole.

I’m critical of the services that are on tap for anyone who happens to have enough time and money to devote to such things. The reason is that over the years, I have seen a lot of dodgy things and out-right quacks hiding under the banner of “holistic helper.”

Personally, I like the word “holistic.” There is something instantly calming and reassuring about it and I am not alone in thinking that.

It’s estimated that Americans alone spend $34 billion dollars a year out-of-pocket on alternative treatments. Increasingly, a lot these include energy work, life-coaching, astrology and other things designed to heal both the mind and the body.

While there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence that many of these things work, anecdotally speaking, I know many people who have tried these things and claim they helped them on whatever journey they happened to be on at the time.

My personal feeling is that if we find something that works for us and we can afford both the time and money investment, then go for it. However, the phrase caveat emptor or “buyer beware” comes to mind.

With exception of massage therapists, who in most states (including my own) are licensed, the majority of alternative practitioners are not. Nearly anyone can call themselves a “life coach” or “energy healer” and those (and many other similar) titles mean nothing. Likewise, if you feel that you have been scammed or did not get your money’s worth, there is nothing you can do.

Therefore, below is a list of questions to keep in mind whether you are seeing alternative medicine providers such as herbalists, life coaches, astrologers or Ayurvedic nutritionists for the first time.

While it may seem tedious, taking the time to do your homework and ask questions upfront may ultimately save you time, money and sanity.

Before you book your first session, ask:

1. What sort of training do you have?

This a pretty basic question, but one we often forget to ask. While nearly everyone has a website that cites their qualifications, it’s important to see past the often-impressive language and ask what it really means. Who was this expert that your would-be healer/coach trained with? What are their qualifications? Is there any way to speak to them? Also, how long did they train for? Did they actually train one-on-one or was this done over a weekend or online?

If something is unclear, speak up. Don’t take their word that they are a well-known expert or trained with someone who was. Ask for evidence.

Depending on what you learn and how much or little training they have received in their field of expertise, their price per session may look reasonable or a may be a complete waste of money.

2. Why did you decide to train in this field?

The stock answer is, “Because I wanted to help people,” but don’t just move on after you hear that. Everyone wants to (or at least pretends) that they want to help people. However, it’s often possible to gauge if someone is truly passionate about what they do if they go deeper than that. For example, I had a Pilates teacher who shared that Pilates helped her recover from some severe injuries she incurred as a result of an accident. She also shared that she had a pre-medical background from a well-known area college. It was clear that this woman was not only passionate about what she did, but had an extensive knowledge of the human body.

Often times, those who are really into what they do are more likely to go well and beyond the minimal amount of training required. As a rule, that is  positive sign you’re in good hands.

3. What are your limits?

This may seem like an odd question, but every “expert” has their limits. A life coach may be able to give you the tools to help turn your life around, but s/he cannot give your dream life. Likewise, a herbalist or nutritionist should make it clear that some things like cancer, heart disease and diabetes to name a few require a doctor’s care. An astrologer is not a substitute for a professional therapist.

If the person you are asking seems hostile or offended by this or any other question, that is usually a good sign to run. Even the best know there are limits as to what they can achieve under the best of circumstances.

Choosing a holistic healer with the same care that we would use to choose any other expert such as a home repair expert or doctor makes perfect sense.

After all, it’s our time, our bodies and our money we are talking about. Don’t settle for nothing but the best. We’re worth it and if done wisely, it can help us avoid the charlatans that would gladly take our money and time and leave us feeling worse off than when we started.

Lastly, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. While these people may be able to help you, the only person who can ultimately make the changes you desire in your life is yourself.

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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