The folk sector is an ill-defined area with its 'practitioners' aiming at holistic treatment of their patient. Such 'practitioners are faith healers, herbalists, clairvoyants, and the forms of diagnosis and healing are to be found in complementary and alternative medicine, with as many as 13% of the population seeking help from a complementary or alternative therapist every year' (Fulder, 1988). The herbal practitioner believes that disease is an imbalance of the physiological/mental/emotional well-being of the body. The Community Health Foundation considers that the definition of health is not just when there is an absence of pain and discomfort, but that wellness is a relationship between that person and his or her family, friends, environment and working life.
Before the Midwives Act of 1902, when midwifery became registerable, it was considered part of the folk sector along with faith healing and herbalism. The earliest description of the use of herbal remedies can be traced back to ad 1260 (Sharpe, 1979), although it is known that the Egyptians as far back as 1600 bc were using garlic, fennel and thyme. Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654), an English physician, started to practise astrology and physic in 1640 and in 1649 published an English translation of the College of Physicians Pharmacopoeia, A Physical Directory. In 1653 he published The English Physician Enlarged also known as the Herbal. Both books sold well, with the latter forming the basis of herbalism in the English-speaking world. Although herbs can be used to alleviate various symptoms of illness and help well-being, they can have side effects and interact with other treatments or prescribed or non-prescribed medication.
The folk sector also includes secular and spiritual healers, with spiritual healers describing their practice as laying on of hands, prayer or meditation, whether or not the patient is present. The NHS recognizes that some of their patients may request a spiritual healer and have an agreement in more than 1500 NHS hospitals for the healing member to attend if so requested (Helman, 1990).
Christian Hahnemann (1755-1843) was a German physician and founder of homeopathy; he practised medicine for 10 years. After several years experimenting with bark to understand its curative powers, he came to the conclusion that medicine produces a very similar condition in a healthy person to that which it relieves in the sick. The first homeopathic hospital in the UK was founded in London in 1849. In 1948 the homeopathic hospitals were incorporated into the NHS. Doctors qualified in the allopathic way take postgraduate education in homeopathy and staff the hospitals. Homeopathy in the UK is recognized as a safe alternative therapy as opposed to other forms of alternative medicine and healing. It spans both the folk sector and the professional sector. Other forms of alternative healing have been organized into associations with registers of accredited practitioners such as:
• Osteopathic Medical Association
• Chiropractic Medical Association
• British Acupuncture Association
• Society of Homeopaths
• National Institute of Medical Herbalists
• British Society of Medical and Dental Hypnosis.
Over recent years the interest in alternative and complementary therapies has escalated as people try to find help for illness in other areas, often as a result of their disillusionment with the NHS and long waiting lists. The Institute for Complementary Medicine maintains a register of trained practitioners and organizations affiliated to it. In 1989 the Institute estimated that there were at least 15 000 alternative practitioners in the UK, and these included spiritual healers, osteopaths, acupuncturists, massage practitioners, hypnotherapists, nutritionists, chiropracters, reflexologists and aromatherapists (Helman, 1990). It has been estimated that as many as 75% of abnormal symptoms are treated within the popular and folk sectors of health care (Wadsworth et al., 1971).
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