One of the things that irritates me is the way the media considers the words ‘complementary’ and ‘alternative’ as interchangeable when it comes to the work that I, and thousands like me, do every day.  In fact even NHS Choices groups them together without indicating there’s much in the way of discernible difference.  It’s not that I think that one is better than the other, it’s just that they are entirely different in their approach and ethos.  It’s like confusing cats and dogs because they’re both pets.  To those of us who have cats, it’s glaringly obvious that they are not dogs.

Complementary therapy

Complementary therapy (a category within which I would include the therapies I practise, such as Reflexology, Reiki and Indian Head Massage) is something that aims to work alongside conventional medicine, and indeed complement it.  We are trained to work with our clients taking into account any medication they may be taking and any ongoing treatment they may be having under the care of their GP or consultant.  We don’t claim to diagnose or cure; merely to do our best to help people feel better, predominantly through the health-enhancing benefits of improved energy flow and deep relaxation.

Alternative therapy

Alternative therapy (or medicine) such as chiropractic, homeopathy and herbalism considers itself to be an alternative to conventional medicine.  Instead of going to your GP with a bad back, you might visit your chiropractor.  Instead of taking prescribed or over the counter medicine for your chest infection, you might see a herbalist or homeopath for an alternative solution.

The main similarity between the two is that they tend to take into account the “whole person” during the treatment, rather than focusing predominantly on the symptoms.


Of course there are always going to be therapies or treatments that don’t fit easily into either category, or straddle both, but to me the distinction is largely very simple and the words used reasonably self-explanatory.  This is why I struggle so much to understand why there’s still so much confusion.

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