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Ideas and Opinions |

The Persuasive Appeal of Alternative Medicine

Ted J. Kaptchuk, OMD; and David M. Eisenberg, MD
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From Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts. Acknowledgments: The authors thank Robert Scholten and Maria Van Rompay for research assistance and Marcia Rich, Janet Walzer, and Debora Lane for editorial suggestions. Grant Support: In part by the National Institutes of Health (U24 AR43441), the John E. Fetzer Institute, the Waletzky Charitable Trust, the Friends of Beth Israel Hospital, the J.E. and Z.B. Butler Foundation, and the Kenneth J. Germeshausen Foundation. Requests for Reprints: Ted J. Kaptchuk, OMD, Center for Alternative Medicine Research, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, 330 Brookline Avenue, LW-600, Boston, MA 02215. Current Author Addresses: Drs. Kaptchuk and Eisenberg: Center for Alternative Medicine Research, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, 330 Brookline Avenue, LW-600, Boston, MA 02215.


Copyright ©2004 by the American College of Physicians


Ann Intern Med. 1998;129(12):1061-1065. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-129-12-199812150-00011
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Alternative medicine has a major presence and persuasive attraction in the industrialized western world.The extent to which these practices have clinical efficacy according to biomedical criteria is a matter of ongoing research and debate. It may be that independent of any such efficacy, the attraction of alternative medicine is related to the power of its underlying shared beliefs and cultural assumptions. The fundamental premises are an advocacy of nature, vitalism, “science,” and spirituality. These themes offer patients a participatory experience of empowerment, authenticity, and enlarged self-identity when illness threatens their sense of intactness and connection to the world. A discussion of these themes may enable conventionally trained clinicians to better understand their patients' attraction to and acceptance of alternative medical therapies.

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