What to Expect When Talking to Your Doctor About CAM

You have decided try a treatment that falls under the category of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). You know that you should talk to your primary care doctor about this. Keep reading to find out what you can expect!

In Your Best Interest

Although the methods they choose may differ, conventional doctors and alternative practitioners share a common objective: improving or maintaining their patient's health. Keep this in mind when you raise the issue of CAM with your doctor.

While many CAM therapies are safe, there is a real risk of harmful interactions between CAM and conventional therapy. Doctors are in the best position to safeguard against these adverse combinations. If a doctor suggests that CAM interventions can be harmful, remind her that is precisely why you wish to discuss it.

Even more significant, your interest in alternatives of any kind speaks volumes about your world views, lifestyle, health beliefs, and therapeutic goals—all of which have tremendous bearing on your relationship with your doctor and the quality of care you receive.

Your Expectations

A clinician rarely practices two systems of medicine. Therefore, it is unreasonable to expect conventional doctors to be a competent CAM practitioner. Many alternative systems of healing are very complex and require extensive additional training. While a growing number of doctors have gone on to obtain additional credentials in CAM, most have not.

However, it is not necessary for a doctor to master an entire system of healing to competently use certain CAM therapies, such as herbs or mind-body interventions. Furthermore, some doctors may choose to adopt specific CAM philosophies without using its therapies. For example, many patients are attracted to CAM's holistic perspective and emphasis on self-healing. These two characteristics are not often associated with conventional medicine, but doctors can incorporate them into their practice.

Do not be surprised if you know more about CAM than your doctor, particularly as it applies to your specific health concerns. In fact, the responsibility may fall on you to find the appropriate CAM therapy or practitioner. This is generally not a problem, as long as your doctor is supportive and willing to to coordinate your care.


Regardless of her specific expertise and beliefs, it is unprofessional for a doctor to ignore, belittle, or dismiss your interest in CAM. Do not tolerate it. Unless you have compelling reasons to continue working with such a doctor, find another one.

Some doctors may insist that CAM has not been proven effective. You may wish to remind your doctor that CAM encompasses a wide range of therapies, some of which do appear to be effective. Also, do not forget that some conventional interventions have not been subjected to rigorous scientific testing either.

Keep the Lines Open

Improving communication between patients and doctors is a worthwhile goal, particularly when it comes to CAM. An open dialogue with your doctor will not only help protect you from harm, it will create the space for a healing relationship.


American Academy of Family doctors

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine


Canadian Family doctor

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Health Information Organization


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Sawni A, Thomas R. Pediatricians' attitudes, experience and referral patterns regarding Complementary/Alternative Medicine: a national survey.BMC Complement Altern Med. 2007;7:18.