Healing, Hype or Harm? : A Critical Analysis of Complementary or Alternative Medicine, Paperback Book

Healing, Hype or Harm? : A Critical Analysis of Complementary or Alternative Medicine Paperback

Edited by Professor Edzard Ernst

Part of the Societas series

4 out of 5 (1 rating)


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 190 pages
  • Publisher: Imprint Academic
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Complementary medicine
  • ISBN: 9781845401184



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I've read three other books this year examining the history and efficacy of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), so I wasn't really looking for another one. After reading a review of this collection of essays edited by Edzard Ernst, however, I was intrigued that it appeared to address a number of issues left out of the other books. In this regard, I was not disappointed. Though several of the essays covered familiar territory, many of them were rich in new perspectives. Of particular interest to me was an essay examining ways in which the media's treatment of CAM perpetuates the idea that it is more effective than it really is, a discussions of how CAM proponents insist that scientifically controlled trials are not valid ways of testing their methods when results are negative but trumpet even the slightest positive results of shoddy studies as "scientific proof," and an examination of how Prince Charles' devotion to homeopathy impacts the politics of CAM in the UK. I also liked a piece written in defense of the common criticism that conventional doctors do not treat the whole person, but rather focus only on the specific disease in question. Physician Michael Baum elegantly refutes that argument as he relates the moving story of his work with two young mothers who had been diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant. The course of treatment each woman chose was decided upon only after careful review of not just what the medical science said about what was most likely to produce the best outcome for the disease, but also consideration of the women's religious beliefs, their husband's wishes, and concerns about how treatment would affect the fate of their already born children. The essay I found most thought-provoking, however, was one entitled "Healing but not Curing," by Bruce Charlton. Charlton agrees that from a strictly scientific perspective, most CAM therapies are worthless and should not be integrated with orthodox medicine. However, he argues that they offer enough personal psychological benefits to have value in their own right, provided they drop their scientific pretensions and stick strictly to offering the subjective improvements they very often do create for patients. I think Charlton is correct that for many, CAM practitioners serve a valuable New Age spiritual healing function, and this is a large part of the reason they are so popular. I think much of the current tension between CAM and conventional medicine could be resolved if both sides were willing to admit this. However, given that the majority of CAM practitioners seem to genuinely believe that the mythical, intuitive systems underlying their treatments can cure actual disease, I doubt they will give up their fight for mainstream validation anytime soon. Because of this, the subjective benefits CAM can offer will continue to be outweighed by the danger it poses to patients who reject conventional alternatives in favor of CAM's unfounded promises.