Editors' note: Paula Kamen will be guest-blogging at the Cupcake blog on Fridays this month.

By Paula Kamen:

On a lighter note....I've been getting a lot of questions about alternative medicine, which I think can be very helpful. I definitely use massage, yoga and acupuncture to "take the edge off" pain (although they have not been "cure alls" for me, as would be expected for someone with constant pain, which is harder to treat).

A challenge is that we need to be as critical of "holistic" providers as we are of Western Medicine. Just because someone can quote Lau Tzu and tells you to "love yourself," that doesn't always mean that they have your best interest at heart.  Without proper caution, you can be hoodwinked -- and even harmed. So I've made up the following handy tips:


1) If there are live animals running around. This happened to me at a cranial-sacral therapist in Uptown (in Chicago) who has pet dogs. (But sometimes this is OK; I did interview one woman who went to a neurology clinic in Russia, which had a good excuse for the many cats on location: "If we didn't have cats, we would have mice," she was told.)

2) If the "healer" practices out of a location which has a NON-MEDICAL primary purpose. I experienced this in a grocery store in Chinatown, and a chiropractor's office in the back of an insurance office in Skokie. And the offices of naprapaths in a crumbling Victorian home in Madison, Wisconsin, and a rented office in an empty Evanston bank building.

3) If you have to pay in cash. Not professional.

4) If the provider wants you to come back for repeated visits despite no apparent help of the treatment.

5) If the provider promises TOO MUCH. A sign of credibility is of a "healer" recognizing the complexity of chronic problems. At best, many can only relieve pain a notch or temporarily, not CURE it totally. If they are too confident, promising total healing in a short time, they are either deluded or crooked. I don't know which is worse.

6) If the provider wants to be your "friend." This is especially dangerous with any kind of therapist. You need a professional separation of roles. This can blur judgment on both sides. As the saying goes: "Your friend is not your therapist, and your therapist is not your friend."

7) If they think the key to total health and wellness is to avoid dairy products. For some people it's true, but I feel that dairy is a convenient scapegoat. If only it were that easy....

8) If they make you take any extreme diet changes, like cutting out ALL grains. Or ONLY eating powdered supplements or protein bars (that they sell you).

9) If they put too much emphasis on how you can achieve total wellness with a complex chronic problem by just changing your attitude.  Yes, attitude can count, but often such providers blame the patients for "emotional blocks" keeping them sick. The result is increased guilt and shame.

10) If they are against ALL drugs, including ones that you need for your basic functioning, such as antidepressants, anti-seizure medications insulin, blood-pressure medication, etc. Don't feel guilty if a drug works for you and makes your life better. It's not a moral failing or weakness to take a prescription drug. Just because something is "herbal," that doesn't mean that it's safe and better than a drug (especially an old one, that has been out and proven for years).

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