Locating a Qualified Alternative Practitioner
By Jimmy Scott, Ph.D.
as published in Health Freedom News, Vol 12, Nr.
1, January 1993
Modern medical care is largely the treatment of illness
with drugs and surgery, rather than the promotion of the health of the whole
human being. The World Health Organization recognized the distinction between
health care and sickness care when it defined health as “the physical, mental
and social well being of the person, not merely the absence of infirmity or
disease.” Dissatisfied with the fragmented, overspecialized modern medical
model, consumers are increasingly turning to alternative forms of health
Among these alternatives are the energy techniques I have
described in previous articles in Health Freedom News, including Health
Kinesiology™, Applied Kinesiology, and Touch for Health. Based on my
discussion of these methods, perhaps I led you to believe that they might be
able to help with a health problem you have. It is one thing to understand
that these techniques exist or how these techniques work, but quite another
to find someone who is competent to use them. How do you go about finding a
health professional who is qualified to practice these or any other
Some Alternative Approaches to
If you have been following the story, you are probably aware
of many alternative approaches to health care. Here are some of the more
commonly mentioned ones:
Some professionals use diet, nutritional counseling, and
nutritional supplements to help correct health problems. Since medical
schools provide very little training in nutrition, nutritionists are usually
not MDs. Registered dietitians are often recommended as reliable sources of
nutritional information; unfortunately, however, their training often
reflects outmoded ideas about human nutritional needs.
As it becomes increasingly recognized that allergies (to
foods, pollens, dusts, molds, chemicals, and other environmental substances)
are responsible for many physical and psychological problems, more and more
health practitioners are working with, or outright specializing in, allergy
problems. Some are MDs with orthodox medical school training, who tend to
treat allergy through skin testing and desensitization shots. Clinical
Ecologists are primarily MDs who use sublingual testing or the newer blood
tests to identify allergies, and who recognize that tiny amounts of
environmental substances can provoke serious mental and physical reactions.
Other health practitioners identify allergies through muscle testing
techniques such as Health Kinesiology™ or Applied Kinesiology (described
below), and treat allergy through diet, nutrition, and/or energy methods.
The ancient Chinese system of acupuncture views disease as
a disturbance in the body's energy. This energy is regulated and balanced
through the insertion of fine needles at acupuncture points along the
meridians, or energy pathways, through which the energy flows. A variation on
acupuncture is acupressure, which involves pressing on the acupuncture points
rather than inserting needles.
Applied Kinesiology (AK) uses muscle testing to identify
substances to which a person is allergic, according to a concept of allergy
in which the offending substance is seen as interfering with the body's
energy. The energy system in AK is related to the Chinese system of
acupuncture meridians. By blocking the energy flow along a meridian, the
allergic substance weakens a muscle related to that meridian, and so a
person's sensitivity to various substances can be detected by testing the
strength of the muscle. AK is used by chiropractors as well as
nutritionally-oriented health practitioners.
This comprehensive system of health care uses muscle
testing techniques for discovering energy disturbances from all currently
known sources, including psychological as well as physical causes. It also uses
energy techniques for correcting energy imbalances directly, as well as
ascertaining what other steps must be taken to restore the individual to
proper balance. Health Kinesiology™ was the first alternative to grow out of
the earlier methodology of Applied Kinesiology and Touch for Health.
In the eight states where they are presently licensed,
naturopathic doctors generally have the same status as allopathic physicians
and surgeons. Naturopaths are trained much like medical doctors, except that
instead of spending the bulk of their time in medical school learning about
drugs, they are taught about diet, herbs, acupuncture, massage, and other
natural approaches, as well as anatomy and physiology.
Chiropractors also receive a thorough education in
anatomy, physiology, and the functioning of the body. Chiropractors make
extensive use of manipulation, believing that alignment of the body is of
crucial importance in health, and that malalignments interfere with bodily
functions. There are two major divisions of chiropractic practitioners today.
The more traditional “straight” school concentrates on the mechanical
adjustment of the spine and joints, while the others, “mixers,” are more holistic
in their approach, using a wider variety of techniques including nutrition
and muscle testing. Chiropractic has become so widely accepted that many
people today consider it a mainstream rather than an “alternative” approach.
Homeopaths, who may be MDs or lay practitioners, treat
illness through the use of very tiny amounts of specially prepared extracts
of the same substance that would produce similar symptoms in a healthy
person. Homeopathy emphasizes a holistic view of the individual. The selection
of the proper remedy takes into account not only physical symptoms, but also
psychological and emotional problems and other factors that distinguish the
person as an individual.
Osteopaths receive essentially the same training as
medical doctors, except that they receive more training in manipulation of
the spine and joints, similar to chiropractors. Like chiropractic, osteopathy
is considered by many to be a mainstream form of health care.
Massage or Bodywork Therapy
Although the term “massage parlor” has become virtually
synonymous in many areas of America with prostitution operations, in actual
fact there are many more authentic, well-trained practitioners who offer
massage for relaxation, relief of muscle tension, and management of stress.
The American Massage Therapy Association sets exacting standards of training
and practice for its members. We are becoming increasingly aware that touch
can have a healing effect in itself, especially in a society where touch has
ceased to become a major element of human communication. In addition to the
various forms of “straight massage,” there are also many varieties of what
are called bodywork, in which the body is manipulated to provide relief of
physical and psychological symptoms.
We could extend the list of alternative forms of health
care almost indefinitely, to include biofeedback, relaxation training,
iridology, vision training, colonic irrigation, psychic healing,gem and
crystal healing, color therapy, aromatherapy, and many other techniques. The
important point here is not to explain each alternative system of health
care, but rather to help you to evaluate the qualifications of a
practitioner, no matter what system he or she uses. Do keep in mind that the
above descriptions are superficial, only to remind the reader about the
discipline rather than to explain the discipline.
Who Practices These Techniques?
Some of the methods described earlier maybe practiced
either by MDs or by other practitioners. The fact that a practitioner has an
MD does not necessarily guarantee that that person is a “better” practitioner
of the technique in question; in some states an MD may attend a weekend
workshop on a certain technique and then consider himself qualified to use it
on his patients. There are unqualified practitioners in every form of
treatment; a license or certificate in itself is no guarantee of the
Licensing laws vary greatly from state to state. Chiropractors
are licensed in every state, while naturopaths are licensed in only eight
states, and in many foreign countries. In many states, various agencies are
responsible for regulating the practice of some of these techniques. Often
these agencies have little to do with the supervision of health care. Because
many alternative practitioners use techniques that are not part of the
established medical system, the laws often simply cannot accommodate them.
For example, a woman in California who wanted only to teach the Touch for
Health system was told that she would have to have a business license as a
massage parlor. However, massage parlors were not allowed in her
Thus, because alternative practitioners often don't fit
into traditional categories, they may find it difficult to meet legal
requirements. This does not make what they do any less valid or useful,
The Issue of “Unproven” Techniques
Alternative health care techniques are on the increase for
helping manage many of our major diseases. This is understandable, since
medicine has little to offer people suffering from heart disease, cancer,
arthritis, and other serious chronic diseases, except for temporary
palliation of their symptoms. Non-medical approaches, including energy work,
diet, nutritional supplementation, exercise, biofeedback, visualization, and
other psychological techniques, can often produce a dramatic reversal of the
disease process without resorting to drugs or surgery. In fact, one recent
British research study demonstrated that — with certain types of cancer,
psychotherapy was more effective than chemotherapy.
As alternative approaches gain in popularity, organized
medicine and the pharmaceutical industry are increasingly directing charges
of “quackery” against these competing forms of therapy. Of course, there has
always been real quackery on the part of unqualified health care
practitioners — among MDs as well as “alternative” practitioners.
In an attempt to protect the public from “quackery,”
Senator Claude Pepper introduced bills before Congress which would prohibit
the use of “unproven techniques.” Ironically, the Pepper bills failed to
recognize that a great many of the techniques employed by modem medicine are
just as “unproven” as some of the alternative approaches. In fact, in some
cases it has actually been proven that certain medical interventions are
useless. For example, studies have shown that the five-year survival rate for
heart attack patients who have undergone coronary bypass surgery is no better
than for those who do not have the surgery. Similarly, recent studies have
shown that breast cancer patients who have radical mastectomies have no
better chance of surviving for five years than do the women who have simple
lumpectomies, or removal of the malignant lump alone. Yet, these more
radical, and expensive, types of surgery are still used.
Finding Help for Your Problem
With so many possible approaches to health care, and so
many people offering alternative techniques to the public, it is
understandable that people become confused. How can you locate a practitioner
who is truly qualified to practice the form of health care that you want? How
can you evaluate the practitioner's qualifications, and the quality of the
care provided? How can you as a consumer determine who has the proper
training and experience?
Sources of Referrals
The first step is to compile a list of people who practice
the particular form of health care in which you are interested. You might
begin by looking in your phone book for listings of chiropractors,
naturopaths, nutritionists, and other holistic health practitioners. You
might also ask the owners of local health food stores to suggest
professionals in your area. If you already have a family physician or other
health care practitioner, ask him/her for suggestions about people
specializing in the technique in which you are interested. For many health
practitioners, (such as chiropractors) there are professional societies which
can serve as sources of referrals. Specialized professional publications may
contain listings of practitioners in your area. Your friends can also be an
excellent source of referrals. If available, check directories of alternative
practitioners in your area.
Questions to Ask
Once you have compiled a list of names of practitioners
who are likely to use the techniques in which you are interested, you can
begin calling to ask specific questions. For example, does the practitioner
use muscle testing? Does he emphasize allergy work, or nutrition? Does he use
massage, or a specific bodywork technique?
Here are some of the questions you might ask the
professionals you call:
How did you get your training in
holistic health methods?
Since many alternative health care techniques are very
new, there may be no official, recognized university degree programs or
certificate courses in these methods. You will not necessarily see a
certificate on the wall stating that the individual is a qualified
practitioner. In fact, certifications are frequently offered by
non-accredited schools, and are bought with money rather than earned with
effort and skill. Just because someone has a certificate or diploma does not
mean that he is adequately trained. Sometimes the certificate may be well
earned, but may not represent training in the precise area required. For
example, I have met a number of Registered Dietitians who admit to knowing
little about natural foods.
Do you use muscle testing or other
energy techniques in your practice? Where did you learn them?
Perhaps you are interested in finding someone who does
muscle testing for allergies. If a practitioner does use muscle testing, you
will need to determine where he learned these techniques. There is a big
difference between learning energy techniques as part of a weekend massage
workshop, and taking courses devoted specifically to muscle testing.
Likewise, an entire course devoted to allergy would be preferred to a general
course in which allergy techniques were demonstrated. Training workshops and
classes sponsored or approved by the recognized professional associations
(such as the International College of Applied Kinesiology, or the Touch for
Health Association) are often of high quality. This is the sort of training
you should look for in a practitioner. It is common in holistic health
circles for people to say, “I trained with.. .“ and give a long list of names
of outstanding people in the field. “Training with” someone may mean no more
than attending a lecture. If a practitioner says “I trained with so and so,”
your next question should be, “Will he recommend you?” Always ask the
duration of the training and when it occurred.
How long have you been in
practice? How long have you utilized these techniques in your practice, and
to what extent do you use them?
A practitioner who has been using muscle testing for two
years, and who has only been in practice for two years, will probably not be
at the same level of expertise as someone who has been in practice for 20
years and has been incorporating the techniques for two years. These
techniques are not magical cure-alls, but are tools that are most effectively
applied to an existing base of knowledge. Keep in mind, though, that a fine
tool can still be used by a klutz! There is a big difference between a
practitioner who uses these techniques only occasionally, and someone who uses
them every day.
How much experience do you have
with my particular problem?
The more experience a practitioner has with your problem,
the more likely he is to know the right questions to ask in dealing with it.
However, because there are relatively few holistic health practitioners, they
are likely to see a wide range of problems in their practice, and may not
have encountered your particular problem. A good practitioner will be honest
and straightforward about this, and if he is not familiar with your kind of
problem, will let you know whether or not he thinks he can work with you on
the basis of related experience. Naturally if the practitioner has experience
with your problem, you should also ask how effectively he has dealt with it!
However, with some of the techniques I have mentioned, it
really does not matter what your specific problem is. It is not the disease
that is being worked on, but rather the deficiencies, imbalances and energy
disturbances that are contributing to the disease. So, depending on what
approaches the practitioner uses, it may not actually be relevant whether he
has experience with your particular problem.
Can you let me talk to any of your
patients, especially others with my problem?
Because of confidentiality considerations, this is not an easy
question to deal with, but talking to other patients can be very helpful. A
secure, ethical practitioner will generally be happy to make the effort to
contact patients with similar problems and get their permission for you to
talk with them. Keep in mind, however, that good practitioners are very busy,
and locating former patients can be a difficult and time-consuming task, so
do not ask too much of this from a practitioner. It may be appropriate to
suggest that the practitioner hold evening or weekend classes or discussions.
Usually many patients will attend.
What Will Your Insurance Cover?
Most alternative health care is not covered by insurance,
for the simple reason that the insurance industry is controlled by orthodox
medicine — hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and the traditionally
schooled medical doctors and their organizations. Because the way the “health
care delivery system” is set up in this country, the fact that certain forms
of treatment are covered by insurance actually drives the cost of that
treatment higher. Thus the techniques without insurance coverage are
generally not as costly as the orthodox methods.
In an effort to compete with demonstrably effective
alternative forms of health care, many orthodox medical establishments are
now offering similar options, with full insurance coverage. For example, the
popularity of midwives and home births has caused hospitals to establish
birthing centers, providing a homelike environment within the hospital. At
the same time, midwives working out in the community remain subject to
harassment and arrest.
Careful Consumerism Applies to All
The questions and screening methods I have described in
this article don't apply just to alternative practitioners. You can apply
them equally well in evaluating any health practitioner — whether an MD, a
private duty nurse, a dentist, or even a veterinarian.
Remember that it is ultimately your power as a consumer
that will determine what options are available. If you want alternative
practitioners to have more freedom to provide their forms of health care, it
is up to you to demand that their services be more readily available. It is
up to you to patronize these alternative practitioners, to write letters to
your representatives in Congress, and to object when alternative practitioners
are harassed and arrested on spurious charges. It is up to you to be a
discriminating consumer of health care. Each of us is responsible for our own
health, and we cannot give up that responsibility to others. The role of the
health professional is to work with the individual to determine the best
possible set of strategies for maintaining and restoring health in each case.
A wide range of appropriately qualified professionals may be able to provide
assistance in achieving this goal.
Finally, be very careful of what anyone tells you, no
matter how highly qualified he or she may be. If your health professional
disagrees with a form of health care that interests you, feel free to seek a
second or third opinion. Since you are completely responsible for your own
health, it is up to you to consult anyone you want, and then to make your own