By Richard Goddard MAPS

At the 2002 Annual General Meeting, the APS accepted a proposal to establish the Psychology and Complementary and Alternative Medicine (PsyCAM) Interest Group. In this article, convenor Richard Goddard outlines some reasons why psychologists might find the subject of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) of interest and relevance to their profession.

The proposal to establish the PsyCAM interest group outlined two main reasons why some knowledge and understanding of the vast field of CAM would be of interest to psychologists.

First, it was argued that knowledge of this growing area of health service delivery would assist clinical, counselling and health psychologists undertake their professional work. During the past decade, complementary and alternative medicine has been one of the fastest growing areas within the health services industry, both in this country and overseas. Current estimates suggest that almost 50% of the Australian public consult with practitioners offering CAM services, and this figure is expected to increase during the next decade as individuals increasingly take responsibility for managing their present and projected health needs.

For psychologists working within the human services, this trend has inevitably resulted in our meeting increasing numbers of patients or clients who have either previously consulted or are concurrently consulting a complementary or alternative therapist such as an acupuncturist, herbalist, kinesiologist, reflexologist, osteopath, massage therapist, yoga therapist or naturopath (to name only a few).

Taking a thorough treatment history at an initial interview, and then interpreting the implications of this history, is now for the professional psychologist more demanding than merely understanding the mainstream medical treatment history.

Additional contact with practitioners outside mainstream medicine will become the norm rather than the exception in the foreseeable future. Knowledge of what different treatments actually entail and the underpinning philosophies associated with these treatments will be of help to the practice of psychologists with clients who have engaged with these practices and philosophies.

Perhaps it could be argued that knowledge of CAM will, in the future, come to be a core component of our professional development (PD) just as seminars describing the current understanding of the actions of various types of anti-depressant medications are an accepted PD topic for psychologists today.

The idea that some form of CAM education for psychologists, either within their training or later as PD, becomes more compelling when one considers the existing overlap between psychological health and many of the more accepted CAM approaches recognised today.

Taking homoeopathy as a single example, a brief review of the literature will find extensive writings and texts on the subject of homoeopathic treatment of psychological disorders. Indeed some of these texts are written by modern-day psychiatrists who advocate and describe their use of homoeopathy within their practices as either a complementary or alternative treatment approach to mainstream psychopharmacological treatments.

Clearly, for psychologists who are interested in this area, an interest group that will actively promote the understanding of recognised CAM modalities/professions will be of great relevance to everyday psychological practice.

An expanding horizon
The second argument used to support the proposal for establishment of a PsyCAM interest group was the obvious benefit that scientific research into CAM approaches, especially approaches that address psychological distress, could have for our understanding of both psychological theory and service delivery. Through contact and ensuing dialogue with CAM practitioners about their treatment methods and underpinning theory, psychologists interested in research will be exposed to an expanding horizon of research possibilities, both applied and theoretical.

By way of example, consider the following theory espoused by the homoeopath Herring and widely known as Herring’s Law. This theory holds that a reversal of the order of appearance of symptoms in a disease process: later symptoms disappearing and being replaced by earlier symptoms is a clear signal that the patient is healing and definitely not getting worse. Adherents to this law believe it is in the best interest of the patient that this process not be interrupted. Indeed Herring regarded the instant cessation of troublesome symptoms as a grave sign, one that did not indicate permanent cure.

A researcher might use Herrings Law to deduce hypotheses about how a series of physical symptoms that typically precede or occur subsequent to discrete psychological symptoms may be related to one another in a single disease process. Or take the dictum, attributed to Aristotle (among others), that healing can occur by the application of two different approaches, that is either through the application of treatment whose action is contrary to the presenting symptoms, or through the application of treatment that stimulates presenting symptoms.

Modern medicine is largely based on the principle of healing by the application of contrary treatments, that is applying therapeutic stimuli to act against unwanted symptoms, however psychology has been observed to use both approaches. The second approach, which is to use therapeutic stimuli known to produce symptoms like those of the very disorder being treated, is regularly described in accounts of paradoxical psychology.

The behavioural approach known as systematic desensitisation is a very potent application of the principle of ‘like curing like’, a principle that was demonstrated to be a universal law of healing more than 200 years ago. From the point of view of psychological research, the principle that disorders of health can be treated by either contrary or similar applications opens up additional lines of research for most, if not all, known psychological pathologies.

As a researcher considering the dearth of modern psychological research into systems of health that have stood the test of time for hundreds and, in the case of Patanjali’s treatise on yoga, thousands of years, one could be forgiven for believing psychologists have been overlooking a veritable treasure trove of knowledge for too long.

Both these arguments, coupled with considerable support from APS members around Australia, have resulted in the recent formation of the APS Interest Group into PsyCAM. The inaugural committee for this group has just been appointed and will meet for the first time early in 2003. Initially the group will invite APS members interested in this topic to officially join and help contribute to identifying CAM areas of interest. We also wish to encourage membership of associated professionals who want to develop links with psychologists interested in CAM.

For further information about the PsyCAM Interest Group or to join, please contact Richard Goddard via email: r.goddard@mailbox.gu.edu.au.