Alternative medicine and wellness is not accepted by everyone. There is, in fact, a great deal of skepticism and even charges of quackery about many of these fields. What needs to be remembered is that alternative medicine and wellness do not offer cures in the same way that traditional allopathic medicine does. If a licensed alternative medicine practitioner is touting a cure, then indeed there should be skepticism, and a second opinion should be sought. Remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Most of the controversy arises from unlicensed practitioners who prey on the feelings of helplessness and desperation of patients and family members in reaction to illness, especially when it is life-threatening. In some instances this is a moneymaking scheme, and in others the healer truly believes he or she can heal or cure the patient.
Alternative medicine does offer drug-free options for symptom control, such as pain management and allergy relief. However, bringing out-of-control symptoms under control is not the same as providing a “cure.” When symptoms continue to be controlled, the appearance of the disease can be so well controlled that it does actually abate for a period of time. This does not mean that the disease is cured, and follow-up examinations should never be ignored.
Many traditional practitioners — such as physicians, physician assistants, chiropractors, R.N.s and nurse practitioners, veterinarians, and dentists — have explored alternative medicine and wellness as adjunctive therapy to their own traditional practices and have become certified in the practices and treatments. Board certification is available in many areas.
More traditional, licensed practitioners have been able to use alternative approaches such as acupuncture and reflexology as adjunctive therapy to help their patients attain symptom control, particularly in the area of chronic pain.
The federal government established the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which is a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Their Web site is
State laws governing the licensing of alternative medicine practitioners vary. Some states don't license alternative medicine practitioners, and not all alternative medicine practices are licensed. In general, to become licensed in an alternative medicine practice, the candidate must have at least a master's degree from an accredited college or university and pass a state examination. Other conditions may apply. Most states have an Office of Complementary and Alternative Medical Therapies that oversees licensing. Check with your state government for specifics.
Otherwise, the alternative medicine “experts” are simply considered counselors. They can't diagnose or prescribe. As counselors, they may make recommendations based on opinions and give advice or provide noninvasive treatments, but they are not licensed practitioners.