Alternative Medicine: Terms and Definitions

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Alternative Medicine: Terms and Definitions


The application of very thin needles to various specific points on the body. Can include application of heat or electricity. A major part of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Alternative Medicine

Systems and methods of healing that are not established and based in the scientific method. Often based in traditional ideas, superstition, supernatural beliefs, experiential practice, or religion.

Art Therapy

Art therapy refers to either the use of art as therapy, or the creation of art as therapy in itself. Used similarly to dance or music therapy, in that it provides both mental and emotional care and can be used to help train and rehabilitate motor skills.


An alternative health system originating in India, of Hindu origins. Emphasizes balance, treatments include herbal remedies, supplements, massages using oils, and other similar techniques. Warning: Many available Ayurvedic medicines may contain unsafe levels of certain metals or minerals; be sure to use a high quality source.

Biologically Based Therapies

A broad term for therapies based in biological products, which can be used for healing, preventative care, and a number of other functions. Can include substances based in acids, oils, herbs, and other similar substances.


A “vital energy” that flows through “meridians” in the body and connects throughout various body parts, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Can also be spelled qi.

Chiropractic Medicine

A system of medicine that operates under the premise that the spine, and the nervous system in general, are tied to general health. According to chiropractic medicine, manipulation of the spine to correct curvature can provide benefits not only to the back, but the whole body. One of the largest fields of alternative medicine. Chiropractic medicine often overlaps with general physical therapy for the back, and many chiropractors come from this background.

Complementary Medicine

Alternative medicine that is used in combination with conventional medicine.

Dance/movement Therapy (DMT)

Dance therapy is used to provide both psychological care to patients and to support physical rehabilitation, much like art or music therapy.

Dietary Supplements

Substances designed to be ingested in order to have a more healthy, nutritious, and complete diet.

Faith Healing

A broad term for a variety of religious beliefs, in which prayer or rituals can be used to bring healing. Popular in a variety of religions and other faith-based systems.


An alternative medicinal system originated by Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700s. Based on the idea that “like cures like,” treatment is made using remedies containing traces of the substance causing illness. These remedies are diluted, often to the point that none of the original substance remains. Homeopathy has faced very heavy criticism from the scientific community.

Mind-body interventions

A category which includes a number of forms of alternative medicine, including music/art/dance therapy, meditation, prayer, aromatherapy, yoga, and similar techniques.

Music Therapy

The use of music in its various forms and facets to aid in therapy, similar to art or dance therapy. Music therapists use music to aid patients’ motor skills, to aid in psychological care, to provide comfort, and other similar effects to patients. One of the more widely adopted and supported varieties of alternative medicine.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)

A U.S. government agency. Tasked with scientifically researching and investigating systems of alternative medicine. Established in 1991.


A system of therapy that uses physical manipulation of muscle and bones.


A system designed to balance qi (life energy), used in Chinese medicine and martial arts. Also spelled as “Chi Kung.”


A spiritual practice developed in Japan in 1922, uses “palm healing” to transfer energy and help restore balance.

Therapeutic Touch (TT)

A practice in which placement of hands on or near a person can, according to proponents of TT, provide energy and healing.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Often abbreviated as TCM, it is one of the most popular and famous varieties of alternative medicine. Based in ancient Chinese doctrines, it emphasizes the idea that the body contains a vital energy called chi or qi that flows through “meridians.” Treatments include herbal remedies, acupuncture and acupressure, exercise systems, and similar.

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