Watch Out for Alternative Medicine Charlatans!


Forget those Crystals

As an integrative medical practitioner, I keep an open mind to new modalities of evaluating illness and treating disease. My interest and pursuit of complementary or alternative medical therapies has led me to selectively incorporate some of what I have come across. For example, in my practice, I embrace acupuncture for the diagnosis and treatment of certain disease states. Also, Traditional Chinese Herbal medicine and western herbs have been quite helpful and marked with successful outcomes for many of our patients. However, there are many who claim to be practitioners of "alternative medicine" who pray on the gullible and ignorant. This fact hit home as never before when I attended and participated in a "Holistic Expo" in Atlanta in mid September this year. I was a guest speaker on the topic of super nutrients in health and longevity and had a presence on the Expo floor to promote my dietary supplement line and integrative practice in Savannah. After viewing over 160 vendor booths and reviewing the list of topics being lectured I was appalled and horrified at what I saw.

To my amazement the bulk of the "practitioners" present at this supposed health (Mind-Body-Spirit) Expo appeared to be charlatans, fakes and quacks. They offered no credentials and held no certification. There was no governing body that oversaw what they offered or preached. What amazed me more were the number of visitors to the expo who were duped into believing there was actually "healing" going on. I view these people as entertainers, but certainly not healers. Many of the vendors offered their services or wares for sale on the spot. A typical "Divine Psychic reading" could cost up to $35. A Channeling session with crystals was $5 per minute. And people were lining up for this. I was very uncomfortable and very out to place amongst this group. The vendor to my immediate left was comprised of three "healers", a fellow who would sketch your spiritual drawing, and two females, one a psychic, the other a tarot card reader. Across from me was a vendor for a distance learning "institution" that offered "degrees" in nutrition, herbology, spiritual healing and Reiki. To my right was a "massage therapist/channeler/healer" who on several occasions had his victim on a table where he would rub them rather aggressively and wave rocks and crystals over their heads and chest. Yet another booth offered spontaneous healing where practitioners pranced around their victim chanting and waving their hands in an effort to expel the evil forces causing disease. They also showed a videotape repeatedly of a non-surgical way of extracting tumors from bodies seemingly through their skin with instantaneous healing.

Those at the booths (and in the lecture hall) purported to be able to deliver unbelievable health advice from celebrities on the other side (Celebrity Channelers). Many were divine psychics, and one booth offer "aromatherapy" for people & pets. One Native American fellow in Indian garb spoke of "Meeting your Totem Animal." What's more, others talked about "Sonic Angel music" and "Turbo Tantra." A couple had people buying crystal balls set in a wooden box that could diagnose illness under the name of "Chakra Life." While others offered means of "Accessing the Akashic Records."

Astonished to see such a large number of people interested in such "alternative" healing claims lead me to ask the questions. Where did modern medicine go wrong to force people to accept or believe in the irrational? What have we done as physicians to push people to embrace such silly notions and odd alternative therapies? Why is the traditional physician despised by these people? Yes, there is genuine dislike of allopathic medicine and its practitioners. The rhetoric one overhears at these booths is ridiculous. Many complaints about medical doctors are based on misguided or casual observations, anecdotal horror stories with a lot of "spin", and those with an axe-to-grind. Some complaints have legitimate grounds, I must admit, but never bad enough to consider the alternative.

Have we sold or souls to the pharmaceutical companies as we have been charged? Have we been caught up in pressures placed upon us by the current atmosphere of managed care? Have we been embittered by our feelings toward governmental and private insurance reimbursements and the medical malpractice litigation? I am still hopeful in our ability to turn this trend around and salvage our reputations with these people and dissuade those seeking health from wasting their time, money and energy on such quacks and charlatans. Should we chose to ignore our patients, we will only worsen this movement away from what we as physicians know to be effective medical care and push them toward the circus of sometimes harmful "caregivers."

As one who subscribes to substantiated complementary medical therapeutics, while not turning my back on traditional allopathic medicine, I believe I have a license to be a critic and to write this article. I only embrace what has been shown, after careful scrutiny, to be effective and helpful as a treatment. Charles T. Sprading once said, "Knowledge consists in understanding the evidence that establishes the fact, not in the belief that it is a fact."

Therefore, this is a call to those out there seeking healing and wellness. Don't give up on the medical establishment just yet, despite a lot of negative press, we still offer the best health/patient-care around with a proven track record. And despite the disseminated misinformation many of us do subscribe to and uphold our Hippocratic Oath. Even a few of us are open minded enough to realize our Allopathic education does not give us all the answers and we continuously seek new and better ways to take care of our patients.

JP Saleeby, MD is an Integrative Physician and Medical Director of LCNHC in Savannah, GA. He also co-directs the Emergency Department at LRMC in Hinesville, GA.


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