The rise of ‘airy-fairy’ medicine

Dissatisfied patients are turning away from traditional Western medicine and towards alternatives that are yet to be proven safe, successful or reliable, reports Tarnay Sass.

Amoxicillin. Fluoxetine. Paracetamol. Lorazepam. Ibuprofen. Progestin… All could be found in the average bathroom medicine cabinet without too much surprise. A little antibiotic for a sore throat here, a little Buscopan for a stomach ache there.

Some Australians are finding themselves so overmedicated that they are moving away from traditional medical pills, tablets and capsules in the hopes of finding more permanent, spiritual and holistic solution to their physical and mental, aches and pains.

The Complimentary Medicines of Australia (CMA) published a survey this year saying that the alternative medicine industry has grown by almost $2 billion in the last two years. This is despite some popular therapies, such as Reiki or Homeopathy, being largely untested and their success unproven.

“It’s a lot of what I would call ‘airy fairy stuff,’” said Sue Hatzimachalis, a Melbourne practitioner of Hypnotherapy, Reiki, Time Line Therapy and NLP – Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a practice often used alongside hypnotism which is supposed to re-program your internal thoughts. Ms Hatzimichalis considers herself an NLP master and has the qualification to prove it.

“I’m not interested in what you think consciously, it’s all about what your unconscious mind does.”

Some psychological treatments started off in NLP’s “airy fairy” domain, such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) but have now come to be recognised as legitimate methods of helping patients.

“There are some things that EMDR is very good for: single-origin trauma, PTSD, anxiety… there’s even an app for it now,” said Dr Stuart Emmerson, a Melbourne GP.

During EMDR, a practitioner asks the patient to think of a specific memory associated with their distress, and then asks the patient to follow their hand as they move it back and forth in the patient’s line of sight.

“A while ago, it would’ve been like witchcraft, and now it’s still like ‘whoa, what’s that?’ but in 10 years time, it’ll be incredibly common.”

Dr Emmerson has a handful of alternative therapies that he has tried himself and is therefore willing to suggest to his patients. “I have no qualms in sending patients off to alternative and natural therapies… Western medicine doesn’t have the answers to everything. When I reach the limits of Western medicines, I say, ‘perhaps see a naturopath, acupuncturist, chiropractor, osteopath, physio’. I like to try anything I’m going to send my patients to.”

Dr Emmerson is quick to point out something which airy-fairy-Sue is also adamant about – “I think [alternative medicine] is complimentary to my field of expertise” he said.

Ms Hatzimichalis thinks there needs to be more of a partnership between the often-opposing sides.

“I think there’s a place for traditional medicine, and there’s a place for hairy fairy stuff. And they should both work together.  If you’ve only ever seen doctors, I wouldn’t recommend you now only go and do hypnosis. For something like anxiety it would work really well but if you don’t want to do it, it won’t work.”

Massage therapist and barista Sylvie Giles, 29, is a trained homeopath. When Giles was a baby, her parents chose not to have her immunised and to treat any illnesses with homeopathic remedies. She was born with a cold, which her homeopath believes was caused by emotional stress surrounding her in the womb. Her Dad’s brother committed suicide while she was in utero. Ms Giles has been a firm believer in homeopathic treatments ever since she can remember.

“Homeopathy is based on the philosophy that like cures like. In its crude form, a substance causes a specific set of symptoms or illness in you, but in its Homeopathic form it should cure your symptoms.”

The “homeopathic form” of a substance that Ms Giles talks about is the severe dilution of whatever it is that your Homeopath believes is causing your sickness.

“If you are specifically allergic to cat hair, you might get the hair from that cat… breaking it down in a mortar and pestle, crushing it up really fine. Putting one tiny little bit in a litre of water and then shaking it a bajillion gazillion [sic] times… depending on how potent you want the remedy to be. Then taking a drop of that water and putting it in another litre of water, and again maybe 20, maybe 100 times. Them you put one drop into some sugar pills for the patient to take.”

While a bajillion certainly isn’t a scientific measurement, Dr Emmerson has other issues with this practice of using a ‘Mother tincture’ (in this case the watered down cat hair) to heal a patient.

“There’s no evidence based study to back it up. I mean you give someone a super dilute of whatever, that’s supposed to mimic the disease … I find it bollocks. With Naturopathy quite a lot of it is quite sensible. There’s just a lack of evidence for Homeopathic practice. And you’re taking money off people…”

Ms Giles believes her super dilute concoction isn’t the only thing that heals her patients. “With Homeopathy you don’t just treat the symptom, you treat the whole person, so it’s their mental and emotional state, their physical state… their entire life of health. When you see a Homeopath you generally spend an hour with them in the first consultation and we go through day zero to the day that you are now.”

Dr Emmerson does admit that the quickly in-n-out process of visiting your time-poor GP might not be conducive to recovery for some patients, and that the hour-long consultation with your Homeopath might be of some benefit. But he still prefers Naturopathy or even Hypnotism.

Ms Hatzimichalis says that a majority of her hypnosis patients come for help to quit smoking or lose weight. “I create a virtual gastric band, the size of a golf ball in the stomach, which hypnotises them to feel fuller.” She pulls out a hot pink golf ball to demonstrate the size.

Although you would be forgiven for thinking a woman who charges hundreds of dollars to merely suggest to her patients that they have a pink golf ball in their stomach is a bit nuts, Hatzimachalis shrugs this off.

“You don’t have to be ‘out there’ to practice alternative therapy. I just do it, it’s just who I am.

The body knows what to do, the body will heal itself.”