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Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) - Ethnoscience Glossary Terms and Abbreviations

"Complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM) is often used as a catch-all phrase to refer to a wide range of unrelated healing practices. Although many people understand what is meant by "complementary and alternative medicine" or CAM, it is hard to define this term because there is no real agreement about which practices should or should not be included.
Many therapies that used to be considered CAM practices are becoming more accepted in the conventional medical community. This is because scientific evidence (research) is showing some CAM therapies work, and are safe. Many mainstream practitioners are also using more holistic approaches, and putting more emphasis on prevention and health promotion.
For this reason, it is easier to define CAM by stating what it is not - CAM includes any therapy that is not generally accepted or used in mainstream medicine.
There are a number of different ways to describe and categorize CAM practices. In the simplest model, four general types or modalities of CAM practices are recognized:
  • body therapies - approaches that involve direct physical contact with the patient's body
  • mind-body therapies - practices such as hypnosis and visualization that use the power of the mind to make positive changes in the body
  • body-energy therapies - techniques for manipulating the body's energy field to positively affect health
  • body-spirit therapies - prayer, faith healing and shamanism are examples of techniques used to affect both body and soul with the goal of healing

Many CAM health systems, such as traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, use several of these modalities.

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