Alternate healing and medicine : the roles of naturopathy, homeopathy, osteopathy, chiropractic and medical practice in the health system

Sheehan, Mary C. (1983) Alternate healing and medicine : the roles of naturopathy, homeopathy, osteopathy, chiropractic and medical practice in the health system. PhD thesis, University of Queensland.


This thesis is concerned with understanding the roles of four alternate healing systems and medical practice in the community's health behaviour. The four alternate systems are naturopathy, homoeopathy, osteopathy and chiropractic. The research reported developed from work supported by the Committee of Inquiry into Chiropractic, Osteopathy, Homoeopathy and Naturopathy conducted under the chairmanship of Professor E. C. Webb set up by the Australian Government in 1975.

The study concentrates on the factors which influence individual clients in their decisions to consult healers for treatment. An underlying assumption is that an analysis of the processes that effect such decisions will lead to further knowledge of the community's attitudes towards the functions of alternate healing and medicine.

A review of the historical backgrounds and current status of the four alternate healing systems leads to the conclusion that they differ in a variety of areas. These areas include treatment modalities, historical backgrounds, occupational development and rapprochement with medicine. Homoeopathy, osteopathy and chiropractic emerged as distinct approaches to healing late in the nineteenth century. Naturopathy tends to be a philosophy or style of life as much as a health system in its own right. Their relationships with medicine also vary; osteopathy and naturopathy receive some acceptance, some homoeopaths are tolerated, whilst chiropractic is ostracised and vilified.

A common paradigm of treatment underlies all four alternate approaches to healing. They all eschew the use of synthetic pharmaceuticals and invasive treatments and accept an indigenous theory of disease and a belief in the vis medicatrix naturae or the healing power of nature. An inevitable concomitant of this paradigm is that they believe that healing and health must be self-engendered. They rest within the client and his or her actions, not within the hands, skills or power of the healer.

It is these characteristics combined with the alternate healers ' claims to espouse a similar scientific rationale for their approaches, and their functioning as parallel healers to medicine, that establishes their special relationship with medicine. This relationship become s more problematic in the face of medicine's hegemony and claim to unique legitimacy as the community's sole healing system.

The interaction between these systems and medical practice can be gauged through articles related to the four alternate healing systems that have appeared in the medical literature. Interest has been cyclical but appears to have markedly increased in the past two decades. In this period it has included exploratory and descriptive writing; concern with controlling and/or eradicating the healers; desire to protect an ignorant and vulnerable public and. finally understanding and exploration of what the alternate healers might have to offer.

At the same time, the public or institutionalized role has been one of denial and suppression through ostracism and legal constraints.

In spite of medicine's position the alternate healing systems have found growing community acceptance so that it is problematical and probably unacceptable now to consider their use as a 'deviant ' health action. Increasing interest in the characteristics of clients has provided a consensus that they are similar to the adult population and are more likely to suffer from musculoskeletal and chronic illnesses. They are no more likely to be neurotic or gullible than the general community, but probably more practical and more oriented towards an active involvement in the healing process.

The impact of these issues is explored, through comparing the strategies taken into account when choosing a treatment. These include attending one of the alternate healers exclusively for a condition; attending an alternate healer and a medical practitioner for the same problem; attending a medical practitioner solely or not consulting any healer. Respondents from surveys of alternate healer clients and the general community were classified according to their use of these four strategies, and the influences on their decisions at different stages of the treatment decision making process were compared.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 71554
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Refereed: No
Additional URLs:
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety - Qld (CARRS-Q)
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Current > Schools > School of Psychology & Counselling
Institution: University of Queensland
Deposited On: 14 May 2014 22:58
Last Modified: 15 May 2014 00:16

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