Complementary therapies or alternative therapies are terms that people use to cover a wide range of non-biomedical interventions to treat sickness and illness. Both patients and healthcare practitioners have preconceived ideas about patterns of illness and how illness should be interpreted and treated. Kleinman (1980) describes the core points that people use to understand and explain their episode of sickness and these core points are known as explanatory models, which help people make decisions in relation to their care and treatment:
• Culturally construct illness as a psychosocial experience
• Establish general criteria to guide the health-seeking process and to evaluate the treatment approach
• Manage particular illness episodes by communication, labelling and explaining
• Engage in healthy activities and therapeutic interventions, medicine, surgery, healing rituals and counselling
• Manage the therapeutic outcome and appropriate treatments for the condition.
The clinical process is one way for the patient to adapt to certain worrying circumstances such as the formation of a stoma, and the cultural construction of an illness can often be a personal and social adaptive response. Illness is the shaping of disease into behaviour and experience that is created by personal, social and cultural reactions to the disease. By asserting the complementary nature of mind and body, healing and curing, Kleinman and his associates reject the crude Cartesianism of the biomedical model of sickness (Young, 1982).
Explanatory models of illness are not new to western biomedicine and practitioners of healing have existed as long as professional functions have been specialized in human society, with medical lore being integral to every existing human culture (Leslie, 1976). Comparisons of the healer or medicine man within a culture have to be understood in a cultural context. Healers have often been called to the role by personal experience; they have acquired arcane knowledge and are deemed to have great powers. Their principal social function is to diagnose and prescribe ritual actions to overcome illness or form a prognosis. As all beliefs are culture bound, little sense can be made of them out of context. They will also change as the society in which they exist changes and newer beliefs displace, merge or coexist with the society's older beliefs. The lay explanatory model is put together in response to a particular episode of illness and is not the same as the individual's general beliefs about illness that his or her society may hold. By contrast, the physician's explanatory model is based on scientific logic and deals with a single cause. Doctor and patient, each using his or her explanatory model, must agree about the interpretation of the model, the individual's subjective view of the illness and the doctor's view of the disease process. Any problems must be resolved by negotiation so that the patient will comply with the prescribed treatment.
Was this article helpful?