Natural therapies snapshot


It wasn’t too long ago that natural medicine was considered a vestige of the flower power era, something only hippies were into. Nowadays, complementary medicine has become almost mainstream.

60% of Australians regularly use herbal and vitamin supplements, and the latest figures show around three quarters of a million people consult a natural therapist every year.

The most popular natural therapies include acupuncture, chiropractic, massage and naturopathy. A major difference between the approach of complementary and conventional medicine is how they view the patient. The conventional approach is very symptom based. For example, a patient walks in with a headache; the headache is treated, often with painkillers. Whereas, the complementary therapist will look at the whole person, searching for the cause of the headache. This might include stress, poor diet, neck problem or even constipation. Instead of pain killers, the treatment recommended for the patient by the natural therapist may be to have a massage and drink more water.

Increased acceptance of complementary medicine is partly due to the recent plethora of scientific evidence. The British Medical Journal in 1996, reported on an analysis of 23 clinical trials involving nearly 1800 patients that concluded that the herb St. John’s wort is effective in treating mild to moderate depression. A 2004 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, compared Echinacea to a placebo group exposed to the cold virus, the Echinacea group had less infections, and those who did catch cold experienced less symptoms. In the field of acupuncture, a trial currently being conducted by Master of Science student, Kirk Wilson, at the UTS is showing promising signs that acupuncture can reduce the symptoms of depression by up to 50%. Interestingly, while scientific studies are showing the efficacy of age old therapies, natural therapists themselves are often ambivalent about proving themselves in the modern paradigm of scientific method, citing hundreds of years of clinical evidence. In practice, patients are less impressed by a double-blind cross over study, and more interested in having more energy, feeling less pain and sleeping through the night. Other common reasons people seek help with natural therapists include back pain, hormonal imbalance, digestive disorders and stress.

In the first instance, people seek complementary medicine when they can find no joy from conventional medicine. For example, a patient may feel constantly fatigued, putting on weight, and is irritable. The doctor may do some blood tests and conclude that nothing is wrong. If this patient were to see a naturopath, their diet may be changed to avoid sugar and caffeine, eating protein in the morning (e.g. egg/baked beans) as well as a 30minute walk 3 times a week, and perhaps a few weeks on a herbal formulation containing Siberian Ginseng. However, more and more people are visiting their natural therapist as a first port of call. The best case is where conventional medicine works together with complementary medicine in the best interest of the patient.

I know it’s daggy, but I have a soft spot for Prince Charles. The poor guy is pilloried and ridiculed, however, he stands up for what he believes, in particular complementary medicine. Following is part of his address the 59th World Health Assembly of the UN World Health Organisation in 2006.

bq. It seems to me, Ladies and Gentlemen, we all have so much to learn from each other – whether we live in an affluent country or a developing one. Hippocrates said “First, do no harm”. I believe that the proper mix of proven complementary, traditional and modern remedies, which emphasizes the active participation of the patient, can help to create a powerful healing force for our world.

In every treatment, the human attributes of compassion, empathy, touch and rapport are as vital to the art of medicine and healing as they are to the essence of humanity. An integrated approach gives each individual the means and hope of contributing to his or her own healing. Integrated practitioners provide time, empathy, hope and reassurance – the so-called “human effect” – which can produce major changes in the immune system. These changes can be demonstrated using brain scans, and provide scientific clues as to how beliefs and emotions can influence our physical health and sense of wellbeing. The “human effect” can, therefore, play a demonstrably significant role in the whole approach to healing. Prince

Go Chucky.

How to find a good practitioner

At this time, there is no nationally recognised register of natural therapists. For now, a pretty good question is to ask if you can claim a refund for the consultation from a private health fund (even if you don’t belong to such a fund). Private health funds generally will only refund for an accredited practitioner. An accredited practitioner must belong to an accredited association, which in turn requires stringent proof of full education qualifications as well as demanding practitioners honour a code of practice. Many of the natural therapies including acupuncture, osteopathy, chiropractic and naturopathy require a four or five year university degree or equivalent, so you can ask your practitioner to physically show you their qualifications.

Finding the right natural therapist is like any professional relationship; whether a doctor, hairdresser or plumber, it’s a combination of skill, experience and personality. Word of mouth is usually the best way to find the modality and practitioner for you. Failing this, hunting on the web may prove fruitful; is a good place to start. Also enquire to the industry associations see below. Don’t feel shy to ring up a practitioner and ask them about how they practice and whether they can help you.



Dating back to the late 1800’s Naturopathy focuses on lifestyle and diet. Practitioners are also trained in herbs, homoeopathy, iridology and massage and may use one or more of these modalities. Naturopathy is helpful for most health problems including digestive disorders, skin problems, allergies.


Herbs are mankind’s oldest medicine. Using the leaves, flowers, root and bark of various therapeutic plants, herbs work to enhance the body’s own recuperative potential. Herbs can be taken as tablets, teas or tinctures and generally taste bad. Herbal medicine help hormonal imbalance.

Bach Flowers

In the 1930’s Edward Bach, a Harley St. doctor gave up his medical practice when he decided that our attitudes and emotions contributed greatly to health. He then developed a range of flower and bark essences to help address emotional imbalances. Rescue remedy is the most famous Bach remedy, helping to calm when feeling stressed.

Bush Flowers

Developed by Australian naturopath, Ian White, Bush Flower essences have a similar action to Bach flowers but are based on native Australian flora.


Based on the flow of Qi (energy) which flows throughout the body along meridians. Used for over two thousand years, acupuncturists insert fine (sterile) needles into specific points along these meridians to stimulate and enhance the free flow of Qi, restoring health. Acupuncture is often used for muscular-skeletal problems and more recently in maternity hospitals in the UK to reduce pain in labour.


Clinical hypnotherapist, David Shroder, claims that the fear you will be asked to do something embarrassing when under-hypnosis is impossible. A hypnotic state is when you are physically relaxed but mentally alert and focused. Hypnotherapy can delete unwanted and negative habits and thought patterns, while replacing them with positive new behaviour. Good for stopping smoking, and helping relieve anxiety.

Alexander Technique

A study reported in the British Medical Journal in August 2008, showed long term benefits for patients with chronic back pain with as little as six Alexander technique lessons. Mary Cerny who teaches NIDA acting students in Sydney describes the technique as ‘honouring the body’s ability to work we were designed to do’. The lessons involve very subtle changes of posture and gentle exercises.


Reflexology is based on the principle that certain parts of the body reflect the whole, in this case the foot. It utilises similar meridians or reflex points to acupuncture, except simple pressure rather than needles are used to release blockages and increase energy in various areas of the body. It can be used to help relieve stress as well as help with sciatica and even sinus congestion.


Both these modalities deal with the muscular skeletal system, particularly the spine and spinal nerves which relate to the health of the entire body. Osteopaths also focus on the blood supply to different areas. Many people are scared by popping noises that can take place during a treatment, this is not bone on bone, but gas released when the vertebrae are adjusted. Good for any muscular skeletal problem, headaches, digestive problems.