A-Z of complementary medicine

A to Z Guide to Complementary Therapies

This is a general guide to the main complementary therapies available in Ireland. These are widely available and are becoming increasingly popular. They can be broadly categorised into five groups, which are not entirely mutually exclusive, since there is some degree of overlap between the different categories.

  • Energy Healing therapies:

This includes acupuncture, acupressure, aura soma, bio-energy, body harmony, colour therapy, crystal healing, faith-healing, floatation therapy, flower remedies, homeopathy, holistic healing, kinesiology, light therapy, Qi Gong, Reiki, Tai Chi and voice therapy.

  • Emotional Release or Psychological therapies:

This includes African reflexology, body harmony, craniosacral, dream interpretation, flower remedies, Gestalt, homeopathy, inner child work, meditation, psychodrama, Reiki, rebirthing, visualisation, and thought field therapy.

Sometimes, it is possible to come across unconscious 'blocks'. These may be issues that have happened in the past. In living our daily lives, at times it seems like we get stuck and can’t seem to get any further and rather than giving in, there is an empowering choice of therapies available. Some may have chosen to have a look at these therapies either before or after going down the conventional path.

  • Physical Therapies:

This includes acupuncture, acupressure, Alexander Technique, biofeedback, body harmony, CranioSacral, flotation therapy, Indian head massage, muscle effect therapy, Qi Gong, Rolfing, Tai Chi, thought field therapy and Trager.

These physical therapies facilitate the physical release of emotions and possible energy blocks, thereby maintaining a general state of well being.

  • Touch therapies:

This includes acupressure, acupuncture, craniosacral, crystal healing, faith healing, Indian head massage, kinesiology, reflexology, Reiki, Rolfing, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, body harmony,

  • Therapies incorporating diagnostic elements:

These include acupressure, African reflexology, biofeedback, homeopathy, iridology, kinesiology, reflexology, and Vega testing.

A to Z

Acupressure uses the pressure of fingers, thumbs or knuckles to work in much the same way as acupuncture, without the use of needles. The basic principles are the same, again to get the energy moving using the points along the meridians around the body. It is important to know how long to apply pressure along the points to be of lasting benefit and the pressure techniques are of equal importance. For instance, pressure-then-release, pressure-then-release may be applied, or a circular motion may need to be used with a certain amount of pressure with the point of a finger. Consciousness of your breathing is also an important aspect, as this sets the energy in motion. Each patient's condition is treated differently, as everyone senses pressure differently. There are some pressure points that can be used for self-treatment.

African Reflexology is a combination of reflexology and ancient African wisdom. By gently massaging the feet, the therapist can 'read' what is going on inside the body and thereby use the therapy as a diagnostic tool. It is based on the reflex zones within the feet, and harmonises the metaphysical links between the mind and body. The practitioner is able to give you an insight to your natural strength and weaknesses, not only from a physical point of view, but also from the psychological side. Explaining where your physical symptoms may come from, like for instance from certain behaviour patterns, the practitioner can help you dispel past limitations.

Biofeedback has been referred to as the Teaching Mirror, as it reflects back what is going on in our bodies regarding stress. The causes are identified, whether they may be environmental or physical. The temperature of the skin is measured by placing small sensors on the surface of the body. When we are relaxed, our blood vessels are dilated, under stress they are constricted, so the skin temperature is lowered. With the use of a monitor the therapist can point out where the stress factors lie. It has been successfully applied in the treatment of over 50 major medical and psychological conditions.

CranioSacral is a very subtle, non-invasive form of holistic healing. The therapist aids the client’s body into self-healing, by helping him to recognise his mental state and feel his emotions. This in turn helps the client to become aware of his body, which in turn raises his vitality and can aid in maintaining a state of well being. An American Osteopath, Dr William Sutherland saw that the little movements of the bones in the back of the skull had a large effect in keeping body and mind balanced and harmonised. The range of uses for craniosacral therapy is quite extensive, covering anything from anxiety, headaches, to joint and muscular problems, tonsillitis, falls or injuries etc.….

Dream Interpretation is based on the premise that the dreams we experience at night are very relevant to what goes on in our daily lives. It is the conscious working its way into the subconscious and vice versa. Sometimes we have very vivid dreams, sometimes it seems like we are dreaming all night long and at times it seems like we just go to bed and wake up again with no dreaming at all. Yet the experts know that we do dream at certain sleep phases throughout the whole night. This happens during the REM phase (Rapid Eye Movement). It is possible to train yourself to remember your dreams. An interpreter is able to interpret what the dreams mean, whether they come from an unresolved trauma that happened or even what changes are needed in order to live a happier and more fulfilling life. It plays a very large part in our 'intuitive' side. Normally, this therapy is offered alongside other therapies in the holistic field. Otherwise, it’s an already established part of counselling, psychology and psychotherapy.

Energy Healing is practised in many cultures and is known by various names. The Chinese call it Qi or chi, the Japanese call it ki and the Indians call it prana. In the West it used to be called vis medicatrix naturae, meaning 'natural healing force', now generally referred to as just 'life force'. It is the fundamental basis to many complimentary therapies. It is believed that anyone can activate his or her life force through the help of a practitioner. Certainly with the invention of Kirlian Photography some 40 years ago, it has been demonstrated that there is an energy field around the body. It has been suggested that illnesses can present themselves within the 'aura' (the life force or energy field around the body) before they manifest themselves physically. Some therapies use the energy field around the body as a diagnostic tool and then activate it to initiate the healing process, which needs the expertise of a qualified practitioner.

Floatation Therapy is for relaxing and ridding all sorts of stresses and tensions. It promotes calmness, as 1 hour in the tank is equal to 8 hours of sleep. It takes place in an enclosed tank, with a depth of approximately 18 inches of water containing 300lbs of Epsom salts, which enables you to float as if you were in the Dead Sea. Flotation takes place in absolute darkness and silence. It has been used in alleviating depression, fear and anxiety. It also improves motivation, confidence and performance. It facilitates rehabilitation from alcoholism, drug addiction and eating disorders. While releasing endorphins, it also relieves pain in arthritis, migraines, backaches, injuries, and muscle strain and over exertion. It also increases circulation, reducing blood pressure, pulse and heart rate. It has been used to help with claustrophobia.

Gestalt therapy has been around since the 60s. The therapist facilitates the client in recognising their own ability and competence, how to access it and harness it. People use this therapy because of low self-esteem or because there is lot of pent up anger from past issues. The therapy focuses in on the moment and how present emotions are felt, through breathing exercises they are then released. There is a lot of counselling involved with this therapy and the client can build up great supportive rapport with the therapist. It is a powerful therapy for anyone who finds it hard to face their feelings, for those who over-analyse or over intellectualise.

Homeopathy is derived from the Greek words, Homo meaning man and pathos meaning suffering. The principle of homeopathy is: to take the existing disease that has manifested itself within the body and introduce the most similar disease artificially, thereby activating the body’s immune system into healing itself. Even though this is an extremely simplistic way of explaining homeopathy, as there is quite a lot more involved, it does explain the most basic principle. The consultation is very extensive, as the practitioner takes a full medical history, including family history and all circumstances and symptoms are taken into account. Only when he has a clear picture will he prescribe a remedy.

Iridology is used as a diagnostic tool. The general state of a person's health is determined through the patterns and colours within the iris of the eye. Hardening of the arteries, jaundice, diabetes, brain tumours can be diagnosed through the eyes. An iridologist goes further and uses more information within the eye to identify particular weaknesses and underlying health problems, which may lead to illnesses. Usually an Iridologist refers a patient if he finds more serious problems.

Kinesiology applies the same principles as acupuncture, in that it is based on balancing energies and releasing energy blocks. Working on the energy points along the body, it gently tests muscles to see if they react weakly or strongly to other energies introduced. It can be used for determining whether there are food intolerances, chemical reactions, emotional problems and hormonal or structural imbalances. It has been used to help children with learning difficulties, as it can determine if a lack of energy or concentration comes from an imbalance of any of the above. It is not used to focus on specific symptoms but tests and treats the found imbalances. The causes are treated using lymphatic massage, nutrition and the reflex points. It is also used in at least 50 other ailments, ranging from mood swings, skin disorders, neuralgia, irritable bowel syndrome, addictions to indecisiveness.

Lymphatic Irrigation is usually used in conjunction with massage. Accumulated fluid can cause swelling and block the tissue system, leading to toxins, which can clog the system leading to tiredness and a lack of energy. So the lymphatic system is cleansed and the tissue system is protected and a state of well being is maintained.

Muscle Effect Therapy - the principle here is that the muscles 'remember' subconsciously attitudes, shocks, traumas, injuries, etc and sometimes these can be retained within the muscular structure. This can leave a patient subconsciously stuck in certain behaviour patterns. It is a combination therapy using Rolfing, deep-tissue massage and co-counselling. In the treatment, emotions that have been blocked out are slowly released, so that pain, anger and resentment that have subconsciously been held on to are released.

Neuro Linguistic Programming or NLP originated in California. In 1975 two Americans, Richard Bandler and John Grinder, studied three world leading therapists. What they studied was how these practitioners achieved rapport with their clients, what skills they used to guide their clients rather than just facilitate them. Bandler and Grinder realised that these therapists 'mirror' posture and language to make the patient feel at ease, as well as listening to what is the main sensory device that each person uses, whether it’s visual, auditory or emotional. In combining these insights the therapist is provided with a clarification tool to enable the client’s process of achieving goals. Obviously the client is thereby gaining awareness within himself. For instance the client may stammer in certain situations, but it may not be the stammering that is the problem, but how the client can get comfortable in talking and by acknowledging the underlying frustration the stammer may go. There is also specific learning involved in how we talk to ourselves, is our inner voice a positive one? Rather than saying 'why not', saying 'what if…' which is far more empowering.

Osteopathy uses the principle that the body’s functions are all inter-related, depending on each other and working as a whole. It is concerned with the whole skeletal framework, combined with the healthy function of the nervous system, soft tissues and a healthy blood supply, so that the whole body can work to its optimum best. Though the main emphasis is on the spine, the care encompasses the whole person. Dr Still, an American Physician (1828-1917) wanted to understand the profound link between the structure of the body and its functioning ways. He found that he could diagnose various health conditions by feeling the changes and movements of the skeleton. He noticed in particular that the spine and the nervous system are closely related. He found that if he manipulated the musculo-skeletal framework he could relieve dysfunctions and give the body a chance to heal itself. He founded the College of Osteopathy in the 1890s.

Psychodrama uses the principle of watching a child at play and how the child integrates things that happen to them and around them as they play. A Viennese Psychiatrist, Jacob Levi Marino (1889-1974), who is the founder of psychodrama watched children and saw how they used integrative play to more or less self-heal. Later on he worked with actors and this expanded the therapy. The core concepts of psychodrama are spontaneity and creativity. There are three phases in a session of psychodrama. First there is the warm up, then the action and finally sharing. These are done through a playful manner, involving games that the therapist directs with a group. Though it is a group therapy, it is the individual that benefits. The person enacts something at the core of their lives, involving others within the group. Everyone benefits, as it calls into the group everyone’s experience of the same or similar problems. With that there is an expanding of how to deal with the situation, there is also a release of emotions, and an expanding awareness in how to deal with issues.

Qi Gong belongs to Traditional Chinese Medicine, and is a form of repetitive simple exercises. The idea is to get the energy moving throughout the body. Its success depends on mental attitude, correct posture and breathing and perseverance. It is believed to eliminate disease within the body, and regular practice is also believed to prolong life. It can sometimes take up to four hours a day to do the exercises.

Rolfing is a therapy that came into being in the 1930s. Biochemist, Dr Ida Rolf discovered that through bad posture the body becomes misaligned and the tissues around the muscles shrink. It is a massage therapy that goes very deeply into the tissues and can be somewhat painful. People have found it extremely useful in the relief of back pain, anxiety, period pains and constipation. It comprises 10 sessions, where each session is focussed on a different area of the body.

Shiatsu is a holistic form of touch therapy. The word shiatsu literally means finger pressure. It mainly involves using the pressure of the thumb, sometimes the palms, elbows, feet or knees. It has been evolving in Japan for about 5000 years. The pressure is firmly and deeply applied, yet it leaves the patient deeply relaxed. It is based on the meridians and energy points along the body just like acupuncture and reflexology, and releases blockages anywhere along these points.

Swedish Massage is based on the body and muscular structure. Therefore it is usually used in sports, health and fitness centres. It concentrates solely on improving circulation, to tone muscles and smooth knots within the muscles. The word massage comes from the Greek massein, meaning to knead. The idea behind it is to attain physical and mental relaxation. There are many different massages that have evolved over the centuries, ranging from the traditional Swedish massage, to the Oriental massages. Reiki is a form of massage; it is what’s referred to a holistic massage, as it combines mind, body and spirit. Not only does massage relax, it can release emotions and unlock energies stored in muscles, tissues, organs etc. It is completely non invasive, extremely gentle and yet very energising and powerful.

Trager is another approach to massage. The therapist flexes stretches and rocks the muscles, limbs and the whole body. Again it relieves energy blocks, as well as being really soothing, relaxing and strengthening the body. The therapy has been helpful in treating neuromuscular problems such as in Polio, MS, Cerebral Palsy and Parkinson’s Disease. Other areas of benefit are sports injuries, repetitive strain injuries, sciatica, back pain and poor posture, general aches and pains as well as headaches. The therapist 'hooks' up with the client that is he is already in a meditative state as he receives his client. He transports this calmness to the client, leaving him deeply relaxed, and allows for the practitioner to feel where the problem areas are to be unblocked.

Vega Testing has been in Ireland for the best part of 25 years. A German doctor, Dr Reinholdt Voll, invented it in the early 50s. It is a process used to diagnose food intolerances, sensitivities or allergies. When these are known, they are then left out of the diet for a certain length of time, which allows the immune system to strengthen and you start feeling more energised. It involves using electrodes that measure along the acupuncture meridian points to see the energy display of various substances introduced into the energy system of the person. The test can last 2 hours and it is usually used in conjunction with homeopathy.

Reflexology has been practised by both the ancient Egyptians and Chinese. Various disorders within the body can be diagnosed as well as treated by following and massaging points along the meridians within the feet. Certain points correlate to specific organs, muscles and bones and as these points are massaged the therapist can evaluate which parts are working well and which may need treatment. It offers patients a chance to talk and establish a rapport with the practitioner. The treatments offered after diagnosing can range from more reflexology sessions, homeopathy, aromatherapy, crystal healing, flower remedies, herbalism, nutritional healing to Reiki.

Yoga has been practised in India for thousands of years. Its benefits are far-reaching. It uses posture, movement, breathing, relaxation and meditation to harmonise mind, body and spirit. Yoga means unity or oneness. It gives you a chance to escape to a space of calm within, which can be held inside and provides an inner sense of calmness. The benefits are: it relaxes mind and body, it stretches and tones, improves breathing disorders, and heart conditions, soothes the nervous system, relieves tiredness, strengthens the skeletal and muscular system, improves flexibility and joint mobility, stimulates the endocrine system and improves digestive disorders.

Zero Balancing focuses on a specific group of joints, which are used to keep the skeletal structure moving fluidly. It is a hands on healing therapy, that enhances the way skeletal and joint structure relate to each other and allows a natural alignment and improved flexibility and posture. Energy that has been stored within the body is released through finger pressure and stretching and thereby the accumulated stress is expelled. The energy can then move freely within the system, which leads to healing of physical symptoms and freedom from pain. It has been used in the treatment of a wide variety of physical injuries.

Written by Vicky Jocher.

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