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Complementary Therapy

What are Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAMs)?

“These are ways of treating illness that have developed
outside the mainstream of modern medicine.”
(The Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2009)

There is growing evidence that Complementary Therapies are being used to good effect within mental health services throughout the UK and Internationally. Many clinicians are expanding the spectrum and variety of services to be offered to patients/clients both in the hospital and in the community. These services are designed to complement and support the recovery process, maintain the individual’s wellbeing, and offer individuals choice.

There is much debate about the benefits of complementary therapies for people experiencing mental health issues. Many CAMs have been used for mental health problems but there is limited evidence to support their use. Many service users have voiced the benefits of receiving complementary therapies but there is little validated research to support this. Some of these treatments may work, but most have not been thoroughly tested. The studies have often been too small to give a clear answer. More information has been provided about the benefits for the treatments for depression, anxiety and insomnia.

The range of Complementary Therapies available are extensive, but can include, Indian head Massage, Reiki Healing, Reflexology, Aromatherapy, Shiatsu, Auricular Acupuncture, Craniosacral therapy, Kinesiology etc. Further information on the full range of therapies available please access one of the websites below or speak to your Healthcare professional/GP etc. The Royal College of Psychiatrists have a very helpful section on Complementary and Alternative Medicines.

Complementary therapies can be independently used to aid relaxation, to provide pain relief and to support health promotion. Complementary therapies can also be used as an alternative to traditional medicine and treatments. The term complementary therapy and alternative therapy are often used interchangeably, however they are based on different principles;

• Complementary therapies are used in conjunction with conventional medicine/therapies as part of the persons overall package of care.
• Alternative therapies are used in place of conventional medicine/therapies for example so could often be the only form of therapy/intervention being offered.

The Mental Health Foundation for Complementary Therapies in Mental Health, believe that the views of service users should always be sought on the effects of complementary therapies on their mental and physical health.

“Service users’ views should act as a driving force for innovation in research into complementary therapies and their voices should steer the ways in which complementary therapies are developed within the voluntary and statutory sector”.

It is always advisable to speak to your GP, Consultant Psychiatrist, Pharmacist, or Health professional prior to undertaking a Complementary Therapy. The Royal College of Psychiatrists have published the following guidelines for using CAMs safely -


  • choose a qualified practitioner who is a member of a recognised society
  • ask about their qualification and experience
  • ask about side effects
  • if in doubt, ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist
  • tell professionals involved in your care, including your CAM practitioner, about all your treatments and medications
  • tell them if you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant or breast-feed
  • tell them about your physical health and allergies
  • discuss your concerns about treatment
  • seek medical advice if you experience unusual symptoms
  • make special time for your treatment sessions
  • find a reliable source for your information about therapies


  • stop conventional medicines without telling your doctor
  • believe claims for “wonder cures”
  • take high doses of supplements unless confirmed with an experienced health professional
  • combine many different remedies
  • take complementary medicines without knowing what they are for
  • take somebody else’s complementary medicines
  • give remedies to children without seeking specialist advice
  • take remedies from an unreliable source - this includes the internet
  • eat or drink raw plant material, such as flowers, fruits, leaves, seeds or the root unless you are sure it is absolutely safe. Many plants are poisonous and need to be processed before they can be used safely
  • prepare your own teas and extracts unless you are sure it is safe
  • smoke raw plant material
  • pay large sums of money up front
  • practice acupuncture or any other physical treatment on yourself unless you have been trained
  • blame yourself if a treatment does not work.

The following web-sites may be helpful in gaining further information on CAMs.

The Prince of Wales Foundation for Integrated Health:
A UK website providing information on the integration between complementary and conventional healthcare. The Foundation is currently producing national guidelines on the use of complementary healthcare within the National Health Service to be published in 2007. Click on “publications” in the menu to see available reports, for instance the “Complementary health care guide for patients”, which can be downloaded free of charge.

This is a website run by the US National Institute of Health. The homepage has a search option allowing you to type in different keywords so you can retrieve the information you want. Typing the keyword “alternative medicine” or “drug information” will direct you to the relevant sites.

World Health Organisation:
This website contains information on how complementary and alternative medicine is practised all over the world. It has an alphabetical list of topics. Try “acupuncture” or “plants medicinal”.

The Food and Mood Community Interest Company (previously the Food and Mood Project)
This web-based user-led social enterprise founded with a Mind Millennium Award in 1998 sells dietary self-help resources for individuals and groups, including a DIY Food and Mood Workshop pack and The Food and Mood Handbook.

National Centre for complementary alternative medicines / National Institute of Health:
This US website provides comprehensive information on complementary medicines. It is easy to surf. Of particular interest is the clinical trial register which gives an overview of American research. This needs to be complemented with information from other clinical trial databases, for instance the Cochrane collaboration. Click on “news and events” for important safety updates.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database
A subscription-only website with extremely detailed and comprehensive information on all types of natural medicines. It is cross-referenced with the scientific literature, and contains features such as a natural product effectiveness and drug interaction checker. It also allows condition-specific searches and offers tutorials on specific topics. Patient hand-outs can be downloaded.

A non-profit corporation whose purpose is to combat health-related frauds, myths, fads, fallacies, and misconduct. This website can be helpful when unusual treatments are suggested, particularly if a lot of money is to be paid in advance. Some people may find the website too provocative and sceptical - click onto the “cheers and jeers” section to get a flavour of the site.

Last revised 14 February 2010



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