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Glossary of CAM Terms

 Glossary of CAM terms


Based on the principles of acupuncture, this ancient Chinese technique involves using finger pressure on specific points along the body to treat ailments.


A family of procedures involving the stimulation of anatomical points on the body by a variety of techniques. American practices of acupuncture incorporate medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries. The acupuncture technique that has been most scientifically studied involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation. This therapy is used to relieve pain, improve well-being, and treat acute, chronic, and degenerative conditions in children and adults. In Asian medicine, acupuncture needles are inserted at specific points to stimulate, disperse, and regulate the flow of chi, or vital energy, and restore a healthy energy balance.

Alexander technique: This therapeutic technique aims to use efficient movement and posture to improve health and reduce pain.

Anthroposophic Medicine: 

Developed by philosopher and mystic Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), this medical system takes into account the spiritual and physical components of illness. A treatment regimen may include herbal and homeopathic medicines and dietary recommendations, art therapy, movement therapy, massage, and specially prepared baths.



This therapy uses essential oils (the volatile oils distilled from plants) to treat emotional disorders such as stress and anxiety and a wide range of other ailments. Oils are massaged into the skin, inhaled, or placed in baths. Aromatherapy often is used with massage therapy, acupuncture, reflexology, herbology, chiropractic, and other holistic treatments.


Ayurvedic Medicine:

A medical system that originated in India several thousand years ago. Ayurveda is based on theories of health and illness, and on ways to prevent, manage, or treat health problems. Ayurveda aims to integrate and balance the body, mind, and spirit (thus, some view it as “holistic”). This balance is believed to lead to contentment and health and to help prevent illness. A chief aim of Ayurvedic practices is to cleanse the body of substances that can cause disease, and this is believed to help reestablish harmony and balance. Practiced in India for more than 5000 years, Ayurvedic tradition holds that illness is a state of imbalance among body systems that can be detected through diagnostic procedures such as reading the pulse and observing the tongue. Nutrition counseling, massage, natural medications, meditation, and other modalities are used to address a broad spectrum of diseases.


This philosophy holds that repressed emotions and desires affect the body and psyche by creating chronic muscular tension and diminished vitality and energy. Through physical exercises, breathing techniques, verbal psychotherapy, or other forms of emotional-release work, the therapist attempts to loosen the "character armor" and restore natural well-being.



A technique that uses simple electronic devices to teach clients how to consciously regulate bodily functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure, to improve overall health. Biofeedback is used to reduce stress, eliminate headaches, recondition injured muscles, control asthma attacks, and relieve pain. The technique is used especially for stress-related conditions, such as asthma, migraines, insomnia, and high blood pressure, biofeedback is a way of monitoring minute metabolic changes in one's own body (for example, temperature changes, heart rate, and muscle tension) with the aid of sensitive machines. By consciously visualizing, relaxing, or imagining while observing light, sound, or metered feedback, the client learns to make subtle adjustments to move toward a more balanced internal state.


This general term describes a variety of techniques that use patterned breathing to promote physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Some techniques use the breath in a calm, peaceful way to induce relaxation or manage pain, whereas others use stronger breathing to stimulate emotions and emotional release. It’s an active process that involves conscious control over breathing in and out. This may involve controlling the way in which air is drawn in (for example, through the mouth or nostrils), the rate (for example, quickly or over a length of time), the depth (for example, shallow or deep), and the control of other body parts (for example, relaxation of the stomach).

Chelation Therapy: 

Typically administered in an osteopathic or medical doctor's office, chelation therapy is a series of intravenous injections of the synthetic amino acid ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, designed to detoxify the body. The treatment often is used to treat arteriosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.

Chinese (Asian) Medicine: 

Asian medical practitioners are trained to use a variety of ancient and modern therapeutic methods-including acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage, moxibustion (heat therapy), and nutritional and lifestyle counseling to treat a broad range of chronic and acute illnesses.


A form of health care that focuses on the relationship between the body’s structure, primarily the spine, and its function.The chiropractic system is based on the premise that the spine is literally the backbone of human health: misalignments of the vertebrae caused by poor posture or trauma result in pressure on the spinal cord, which may lead to diminished function and illness. The chiropractor seeks to analyze and correct these misalignments through spinal manipulation or adjustment.

Craniosacral Therapy: 

A manual therapeutic procedure used to remedy distortions in the structure and function of the craniosacral mechanism: the brain and spinal cord, the bones of the skull, the sacrum, and interconnected membranes. The procedure is used to treat chronic pain, migraine headaches, temporomandibular joint disease, and a range of other conditions and is performed by a range of licensed health practitioners.

Dance/Movement Therapies: 

This therapy uses expressive movement as a therapeutic tool for personal expression and psychological or emotional healing. Practitioners work with individuals with physical disabilities, addictions, histories of sexual abuse, eating disorders, and other concerns.

Deep Tissue Bodywork: 

This general term describes a range of therapies for unsticking the connective tissues and muscles to encourage them to function properly again. Among the conditions deep tissue bodywork treats are whiplash, low back and neck pain, and degenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

Dentistry, Holistic: 

Holistic dentists are licensed dentists who bring an interdisciplinary approach to their practices, often incorporating methods such as homeopathy, nutrition, and acupuncture into their treatment plans. Most holistic dentists emphasize wellness and preventive care and avoid (and often recommend the removal of) silver-mercury fillings.


Energy Healing Therapy: A technique that involves channeling healing energy through the hands of a practitioner into the client’s body to restore a normal energy balance and, therefore, health. Energy healing therapy has been used to treat a wide variety of ailments and health problems, and it is often used with other alternative and conventional medical treatments. Practitioners of this range of therapies look for weaknesses in the person's energy field in and around the body and seek to restore its proper circulation and balance. Energy channeled through the practitioner is directed to strengthen the natural defenses of the body and help the person's physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual state. Sessions may or may not involve the physical laying-on of hands.


This therapy combines movement training, gentle touch, and verbal dialogue to help create more efficient movement. In individual hands-on sessions, the practitioner's touch is used to address the student's breathing and body alignment along with a series of slow, nonaerobic motions.


Pronounced "fungshway," this is the ancient Chinese practice of configuring home or work environments to promote health, happiness, and prosperity. Fengshui consultants may advise clients to make adjustments in their surroundings from color selection to furniture placement-to promote a healthy flow of chi, or vital energy.


Flower essences: 

Popularized by Edward Bach, M.D., flower essences are intended to alleviate negative emotional states that may contribute to illness or hinder personal growth. Drops of a solution infused with the captured essence of a flower are placed under the tongue or in a beverage. The practitioner helps the client choose appropriate essences, focusing on the client's emotional state rather than on a particular physical condition.

Folk medicine:

Systems of healing (such as Curanderismo and Native American healing) that have persisted since the beginning of human culture and flourished long before the development of conventional medicine. Folk healers usually participate in a training regimen of observation and imitation, with healing often considered a gift passed down through several family generations. Folk healers may employ a range of remedies, including prayer, healing touch or laying on of hands, charms, herbal teas or tinctures, and magic rituals, among other techniques. Folk healers are found in all cultures and operate under a variety of names and labels.

Gestalt Therapy: 

This psychotherapy aims to help the client achieve wholeness (gestalt is the German word for whole) by becoming fully aware of his or her feelings, perceptions, and behavior. The emphasis is on immediate experience rather than on the past. Gestalt therapy often is conducted in group settings such as weekend workshops.

Guided Imagery: 

A practice used for healing or health maintenance that involves a series of relaxation techniques followed by the visualization of detailed images, usually calm and peaceful in nature. If used for treatment, persons will visualize their bodies free of the specific problem or condition. Sessions are typically 20 to 30 minutes in length and may be practiced several times a week. This therapy involves using mental images to promote physical healing or changes in attitudes or behavior. Practitioners may lead clients through specific visualization exercises or offer instruction in using imagery as a self-help tool. Guided imagery often is used to alleviate stress and to treat stress-related conditions such as insomnia and high blood pressure. The therapy also is used by persons with cancer, AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other disorders with the aim of boosting the immune system.


Healing Touch:

Registered nurses and others practice this therapy to accelerate wound healing, relieve pain, promote relaxation, prevent illness, and ease the dying process. The practitioner uses light touch or works with his or her hands near the client's body in an effort to restore balance to the client's energy system.


An ancient form of healing still widely used in much of the world, herbalism uses natural plants or plant-based substances to treat a range of illnesses and to enhance the functioning of body systems. Though herbalism is not a licensed professional modality in the United States, herbs are "prescribed" by a range of practitioners, from holistic medical doctors to acupuncturists and naturopaths.

Holistic Medicine:

This broadly descriptive term describes a healing philosophy that views a patient as a whole person, not as just a disease or a collection of symptoms. In the course of treatment, holistic medical practitioners may address a client's emotional and spiritual dimensions and the nutritional, environmental, and lifestyle factors that may contribute to an illness.



A system of medical practices based on the theory that any substance that can produce symptoms of disease or illness in a healthy person can cure those symptoms in a sick person. This medical system uses minute doses of natural substances- called remedies-to stimulate a person's immune and defense system. A remedy is chosen individually for a sick person based on its capacity to cause, if given in overdose, physical and psychological symptoms similar to those a patient is experiencing.



An altered state of consciousness characterized by increased responsiveness to suggestion. This hypnotic state is attained by first relaxing the body, then shifting attention toward a narrow range of objects or ideas as suggested by the hypnotist or hypnotherapist. The procedure is used to effect positive changes and to treat numerous health conditions including ulcers, chronic pain, respiratory ailments, stress, and headaches. The term describes a range of techniques that allow practitioners to bypass the conscious mind and access the subconscious, where suppressed memories, repressed emotions, and forgotten events may remain recorded. Hypnosis may facilitate behavioral, emotional, or attitudinal change.



This diagnostic system is based on the premise that every organ has a corresponding location within the iris of the eye, which can serve as an indicator of the individual health or disease of an organ. Iridology is used by naturopaths and other practitioners, particularly when diagnosis achieved through standard methods is unclear.

Kinesiology/Applied Kinesiology:

Kinesiology is the study of muscles and their movements. Applied kinesiology is a system that uses muscle testing procedures, with standard methods of diagnosis, to gain information about a patient's overall state of health. Practitioners analyze muscle function, posture, gait, and other structural factors in addition to inquiring about lifestyle factors that may be contributing to a health-related problem.

Macrobiotic Diet:

This diet consists of whole grains, vegetables, sea vegetables, and seeds. These natural foods, cooked in accordance with macrobiotic principles designed to synchronize eating habits with the cycles of nature, are used to promote health and minimize disease.

Magnets/Magnetic therapy: (also known as magnetic field therapy or biomagnetic therapy) involves using magnets, magnetic devices, or magnetic fields to treat a variety of physical and emotional conditions, including circulatory problems, certain forms of arthritis, chronic pain, sleep disorders, and stress. Treatments may be applied by a practitioner or as part of a self-care program.


Massage Therapy:

This general term describes a range of therapeutic approaches with roots in Eastern and Western cultures. Massage therapy involves the practice of kneading or otherwise manipulating a person's muscles and other soft tissue with the intent of improving a person's well-being or health.



A group of techniques, most of which started in Eastern religious or spiritual traditions. In meditation, individuals learn to focus their attention and suspend the stream of thoughts that normally occupy the mind. This practice is believed to result in a state of greater physical relaxation, mental calmness, and psychological balance. Practicing meditation can change how a person relates to the flow of emotions and thoughts in the mind. This general term describes a wide range of practices that involve training one's attention or awareness so that body and mind can be brought into greater harmony. Although some meditators may seek a mystical sense of oneness with a higher power or with the universe, others may seek to reduce stress or alleviate stress-related ailments such as anxiety and high blood pressure.

Mindfulness Meditation:

A type of meditation based on the concept of being mindful, or having increased awareness, of the present. It uses breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress. It is also known as mindfulness relaxation and mindfulness-based stress reduction.

Myofascial release:

This hands-on technique seeks to free the body from the grip of tight fascia, or connective tissue, thus restoring normal alignment and function and reducing pain. Using their hands, therapists gently apply mild, sustained pressure to stretch and soften the fascia. Myofascial release is used to treat conditions such as neck and back pain, headaches, recurring sports injuries, and scoliosis.

Naturopathic Medicine:

An alternative medical approach based on the belief that there is a healing power in the body that establishes, maintains and restores health. Practitioners work with the patient with a goal of supporting this power through treatments such as nutrition and lifestyle counseling, dietary supplements, medicinal plants, exercise, homeopathy, and treatments from traditional Chinese medicine. This primary health care system emphasizes the curative power of nature and treats acute and chronic illnesses in all age groups. Naturopathic physicians work to restore and support the body's own healing ability using a variety of modalities including nutrition, herbal medicine, homeopathic medicine, and Asian medicine.


Neuromuscular Therapy: This therapy emphasizes the role of the brain, spine, and nerves in muscular pain. One goal of the therapy is to relieve tender, congested spots in muscle tissue and compressed nerves that may radiate pain to other areas of the body.


Nonvitamin, nonmineral, dietary supplements:

Herbs or other nonvitamin supplements such as pills, capsules, tablets, or liquids that have been labeled as dietary supplements. This category did not include vitamin or mineral supplements, homeopathic treatments, or drinking herbal or green teas.


More a philosophy than a series of practices, holistic nursing is embraced by registered or licensed nurses who seek to care for the body, mind, and spirit of the patient. Some holistic nurses work in independent practices, offering primary and chronic care that incorporates a variety of alternative methods, from homeopathy to Therapeutic Touch.


Osteopathic Medicine:

A full-body system of hands-on techniques to alleviate pain, restore function, and promote health and well-being. Like medical doctors, osteopathic physicians provide comprehensive medical care, including preventive medicine, diagnosis, surgery, prescription medications, and hospital referrals. In diagnosis and treatment, they pay particular attention to the joints, bones, muscles, and nerves and are trained specially in osteopathic manipulative treatment-using their hands to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness.

Progressive Relaxation:

A technique used to relieve tension and stress by systematically tensing and relaxing successive muscle groups.

Qi Gong (Chi-Kung):

An ancient Chinese discipline combining the use of gentle physical movements, mental focus, and deep breathing directed toward specific parts of the body. Performed in repetitions, the exercises are normally performed two times or more a week for 30 minutes at a time. This ancient Chinese exercise system aims to stimulate and balance the flow of qi (chi), or vital energy, along the acupuncture meridians, or energy pathways. Qi gong is used to reduce stress, improve blood circulation, enhance immune function, and treat a variety of health conditions. Reflexology: This philosophy is based on the idea that specific points on the feet and hands correspond with organs and tissues throughout the body. With fingers and thumbs, the practitioner applies pressure to these points to treat a wide range of stress-related illnesses and ailments.



Practitioners of this ancient Tibetan healing system use light hand placements to channel healing energies to the recipient. Although practitioners may vary widely in technique and philosophy, reiki commonly is used to treat emotional and mental distress and chronic and acute physical problems and to assist the recipient in achieving spiritual focus and clarity.



The most widely known form of acupressure, shiatsu has been used in Japan for more than 1000 years to treat pain and illness and for general health maintenance. Using a series of techniques, practitioners apply rhythmic finger pressure at specific points on the body to stimulate chi, or vital energy.

Spiritual Meditation: 

Meditation techniques performed according to the practices of one of the major religions or within a spiritual tradition. The techniques used may be the same as in other types of meditation (for example, Transcendental Meditation), but the focus is on spirituality (such as repeating a spiritual, meditative phrase).

Spiritual/Shamanic Healing:

Practitioners of spiritual healing and shamanic healing often regard themselves as conductors of healing energy or sources from the spiritual realm. Both may call on spiritual helpers such as power animals (characteristic of the shaman), angels, inner teachers, the client's higher self, or other spiritual forces. Both forms of healing can be used as part of treatment for a range of emotional and physical illnesses.

Structural Integration:

A systematic approach to relieving patterns of stress and impaired functioning, structural integration seeks to correct misalignments in the body created by gravity and physical and psychological trauma. As in Rolting, in ten sessions the practitioner uses hands, arms, and elbows to apply pressure to the fascia, or connective tissue, while the client participates through directed breathing.

Tai Chi/Martial Arts:

A mind-body practice that originated in China as a martial art. Individuals doing tai chi move their bodies slowly and gently, while breathing deeply and meditating (tai chi is sometimes called moving meditation). Many practitioners believe that tai chi helps the flow throughout the body of a proposed vital energy called “qi.” Individuals practicing tai chi move their bodies in a slow, relaxed, and graceful series of movements. One can practice alone or in a group. The movements make up what are called forms (or routines). The martial arts are perhaps best known as means of self-defense, but they also are used to improve physical fitness and promote mental and spiritual development. The highly disciplined movements and forms are thought to unite body and mind and to bring balance to the individual's life. External methods (such as karate and judo) stress endurance and muscular strength, whereas internal methods (such as tai chi and aikido) stress relaxation and control. Tai chi has been used as part of treatment for back problems, ulcers, and stress.

Therapeutic Touch:

Popularized by nursing professor Dolores Krieger, Therapeutic Touch is practiced by registered nurses and others to relieve pain and stress. The practitioner assesses where the person's energy field is weak or congested and then uses his or her hands to direct energy into the field to balance it.

Traditional Healer:

Someone who employs any one of a number of ancient medical practices that are based on indigenous theories, beliefs, and experiences handed down from generation to generation, often orally. The methods employed by each type of traditional healer have evolved to reflect the different philosophical backgrounds and cultural origins of the healer.

Trigger Point Myotherapy:

Practitioners of this technique apply pressure to specific points on the body to relieve tension. Trigger points are tender, congested spots on muscle tissue that may radiate pain to other areas. Though the technique is similar to shiatsu or acupressure, this therapy uses Western anatomy and physiology as its basis.

Yoga Therapy:

A combination of breathing exercises, physical postures, and meditation used to calm the nervous system and balance the body, mind, and spirit. This emerging field of practice uses yoga to address mental and physical problems while integrating body and mind. Practitioners work one-on-one or in group settings, assisting clients with yoga postures, sometimes combined with therapeutic verbal dialogue.

Zero Balancing:

This is a method for aligning body structure and body energy. Through touch akin to acupressure, the practitioner seeks to overcome imbalances in the structure/energetic interface of the body, which is said to exist beneath the level of conscious awareness. Zero balancing is often used for stress reduction

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