Skip 
Navigation Link

Crisis Hotline & Intake Screening 1-800-772-5987

Alternative Mental Health Medicine

Defining Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Alternative Mental Health Medicine

Alternative medicine is the medicine of many different names. The therapies that this medicine encompasses are constantly shifting and dependent on opinion and perspective. Consider the following list: acupuncture; biofeedback training; chiropractic; exercise; energy healing; herbal remedies; homeopathic treatment; hypnosis; imagery or relaxation techniques; massage therapy; nutritional/dietary advice; spiritual healing or prayer; traditional medicine (for example, Chinese or Indian medicine); meditation, vitamin therapy, and yoga. It is difficult to coin one term, which covers this entire list of diverse practices.

Some practitioners prefer the term Natural medicine. This term, however, can be somewhat misleading. While many of the products that are used in this type of medicine come from nature, many do not. For example, S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe), a typical CAM remedy, doesn’t grow on a tree but is found circulating in our blood. However, it must be manufactured...More

Fast Facts: Learn! Fast!

What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)?

  • This category of medicine goes by many names including alternative medicine, complementary medicine, natural medicine, and integrative medicine.
  • The terms describe an approach that (at times) can stand on its own as an alternative to standard medicine, and at other times is used as an add-on to standard medicine.
  • It includes many different practices including acupuncture, biofeedback training, chiropractic, exercise, energy healing, herbal remedies, homeopathic treatment, hypnosis, imagery or relaxation techniques, massage therapy, nutritional/dietary advice, spiritual healing or prayer, traditional medicine (for example, Chinese or Indian medicine), meditation, vitamin therapy, and yoga.

For more information 

How can I choose an appropriate complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioner?

  • While defining CAM medicine is hard, determining whether someone is a CAM practitioner is also difficult.
  • Not all CAM practitioners are created equal and choosing one requires some investigative work.
  • There is potential for harm from those who don't know what they are doing, who aren't aware of the harmful side effects of what they are prescribing, and who do not know about the dangers associated with the course of different illnesses.
  • Most good CAM practitioners have associations with standard medical practitioners and you should make sure to ask about this when interviewing them.
  • When visiting a practitioner, checking their background is essential.
  • Many good CAM practitioners attend certified schools and are licensed by the state in which they live; however, other practitioners do not have such education and oversight.
  • While attending a qualified school and being licensed does not necessarily guarantee that the person is honest and knowledgeable, it does amount to some measure of safety.
  • If practitioners you are thinking of working with are licensed, ask to see their license and check with the state licensing board if you have any questions about the provider or their practices.
  • If they are not licensed, then you should be more diligent about asking for references and training descriptions.

For more information

How safe is alternative medicine?

  • Many people associate the word "natural" with safe and think that alternative medicines must be ok, but this is often not the case.
  • While most CAM therapies are safe, natural substances can have side effects and/or interfere with conventional drugs (either by strengthening or weakening their effects).
  • CAM medicines have the advantage of being easily available over-the-counter without a prescription, which may lead to a false sense of security about their safety.
  • Supplement quality is also a concern because there is very little oversight of supplement manufacturing companies and these companies may at times skimp on ingredients or fail to follow good manufacturing practices.
  • Understanding that "natural" does not necessarily mean harmless is a good place to start.
  • Checking with your health care practitioner whenever you decide to start taking a new supplement is an essential part of taking care of yourself.

For more information

What is the role of Alternative Medicine in mental health care?

  • Alternative medicines for mental disorders occupy a supportive care role, for the most part.
  • However, for a few select mental disorders, there are well-researched supplements that may stand on their own and substitute for standard medicines.
  • St. John's Wort for depression and Kava for anxiety are two examples, but for the bulk of CAM therapies, though, this is not this case.
  • Research investigating the effectiveness of these treatments is either minimal, poorly done, or inconclusive.
  • The selection of a CAM therapy is best determined by the severity of your disease, how well it helps or hinders conventional therapy, and your willingness to try a therapy that is largely untested.
  • Using a good health care practitioner who can help you to integrate different therapies, along with avoiding drug interactions and other pitfalls, tends to be the most effective strategy for any health condition.

For more information 
For more information on the role of CAM treatment for Anxiety
For more information on the role of CAM treatment for Depression
For more information on the role of CAM treatment for Bipolar Disorder
For more information on the role of CAM treatment for Schizophrenia
For more information on the role of CAM treatment for ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)


News Articles

  • Many Parents Don't Tell Doctor About 'Complementary' Therapy Use in Kids

    Hiding info from pediatricians could be risky for young patients, report authors say. More...

  • Meditation's Soothing Effects

    3 easy ways to explore this mind-body technique More...

  • Alternative Medicine Alone as Cancer Treatment Linked to Lowered Survival

    There's not much research into these therapies, study authors said. More...

  • Yoga May Boost Aging Brains

    Changes seen in areas involved with attention and memory, but it's not yet clear if yoga is the cause. More...

  • Yoga May Help Ease Depression

    It's not a cure-all but has great potential, leader of an American Psychological Association panel says. More...

  • 31 More
    • As Many as 1 in 3 Experience New or Worse Pain With Yoga

      Still, two-thirds feel better from this ancient form of exercise, study finds. More...

    • Health Tip: Yoga Before Bed

      Positions that may help you sleep More...

    • Take A New View of Yoga

      This ancient discipline has a modern (and growing) following. More...

    • Yoga Soothes Back Pain in Study

      Age-old practice did as good a job as physical therapy, but neither was a cure for all patients. More...

    • Meds Rooted in Ancient China May Help Heart: Review

      But U.S. experts greet report with caution, urge further research. More...

    • Yoga, Meditation May Ease Some Breast Cancer Symptoms

      But study into alternative therapies didn't find evidence to support using dietary supplements. More...

    • 10 Minutes of Meditation Can Up Focus for Patients With Anxiety

      Ten minutes daily of mindful meditation can improve focus among patients with anxiety, according to a report published in the May issue of Consciousness and Cognition. More...

    • Could Tai Chi Ease Insomnia in Breast Cancer Survivors?

      Study found it as effective as talk therapy for improving sleep and depression. More...

    • Meditation Can Help Improve Focus in People With Anxiety

      Just 10 minutes each day might boost concentration, prevent mind wandering, small study suggests. More...

    • 'Mindfulness' Probably Won't Cure Your Back Pain: Study

      But one specialist still isn't ruling out this complementary therapy. More...

    • Treatment Plan From Massage Therapist Alleviates Chronic LBP

      Massage therapy may provide some relief in chronic low back pain, according to a study published online recently in Pain Medicine. More...

    • Yoga Helps Ease Side Effects of Prostate Cancer Treatment

      Among prostate cancer patients, novice yoga practitioners experience renewed energy and fewer of the sexual and urinary symptoms tied to radiation treatment, compared with men who don't practice yoga, according to research published recently in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, and Physics. More...

    • Healing Hands: Massage May Ease Chronic Back Pain

      People over 50 tended to respond best, study finds. More...

    • It's Yoga to the Rescue for Prostate Cancer Patients

      Study suggests the ancient practice might ease side effects of therapy. More...

    • Chiropractors Not Magicians When It Comes to Chronic Back Pain

      Review suggests there's no quick fix for this common ailment, with only modest relief seen in most cases. More...

    • Provider Understanding of CAM Use in Menopause Is Key

      Many women use complementary and alternative medicine for menopause, and increased provider understanding may improve provider-patient communication and treatment effectiveness, according to a review published in the May issue of Maturitas. More...

    • Hold That Pose: Yoga May Ease Tough Depression

      Study finds weekly sessions, plus deep breathing, helped ease cases when medications failed. More...

    • Review Raises Questions About Herbal Meds for Heart Problems

      While popular among patients, they haven't been proven safe or effective in clinical trials, study says. More...

    • Health Tip: Get a Massage

      It may help your mind and body More...

    • Low Back Pain? Relax, Breathe and Try Yoga

      Review of 12 studies found small improvements in pain levels, function after 3 to 6 months. More...

    • Increase Noted in Mindfulness Practices From 2002 to 2012

      The prevalence of specific mindfulness practices has increased in recent years, with variation in rates of engagement among worker groups, according to a report published in the Jan. 5 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Preventing Chronic Disease. More...

    • Chair Yoga Helps Older Adults Manage Osteoarthritis Pain

      Chair yoga may produce sustained improvements in pain interference among older adults with lower extremity osteoarthritis, according to a study published online Dec. 23 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. More...

    • Serious Yoga Injuries, Though Rare, Are on the Rise

      Problems requiring ER care up about 70 percent, even more in older people, study finds. More...

    • Turning to an Ancient Art to Help Ease PTSD in Veterans

      Small study suggests that Tai Chi could reduce symptoms, but a larger trial is needed. More...

    • Health Tip: Beginning Yoga

      Make sure it's safe More...

    • Herbal, Dietary Supplements Cause One-Fifth of Hepatotoxicity

      Herbal and dietary supplement-induced liver injury accounts for 20 percent of cases of hepatotoxicity in the United States, according to research published online Sept. 27 in Hepatology. More...

    • DEA Halts Move to Ban Controversial Herbal Kratom

      Bowing to public pressure, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has halted a move to ban a plant called kratom, which experts say could help battle the nation's opioid epidemic. More...

    • Acupuncture May Cut Menopausal Vasomotor Symptoms

      Half of women treated with acupuncture report a decline in the frequency of menopausal vasomotor symptoms, according to a study published online Sept. 26 in Menopause. More...

    • For Migraine Sufferers, Is a Chiropractor's Touch All in the Mind?

      Study participants who had sham treatment reported pain relief, too. More...

    • Changes in Emotional Processing With Mindfulness Meditation

      Mindfulness meditation produces demonstrable changes in emotional processing, according to a study published online Sept. 7 in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. More...

    • Hatha Yoga Shows Promise in Treating Anxiety

      Hatha yoga is a promising method for treating anxiety, but additional research is needed, according to a review published in the August issue of the Journal of Evidence-Based Medicine. More...

Resources