Alternative Medicine comes with many claims of great success. Some therapies offered are good, some do not do much and others are dangerous. How do we know if a therapy is good and really works? As we have learned, testimonials, often used to promote therapies, are really not proof of effectiveness. The fact that many problems naturally improve over time, even when no therapy is applied, and the fact that just doing something can lead to improvement even when the therapy physically has no way to improve things, can make it difficult to determine if a therapy actually brings about improvement. So, how can we know we are not being fooled by the appearance of a therapy’s effectiveness?
Alternathive Medicine comes with many claims of great success. Some therapies offered are good, some do not do much and others are dangerous. How do we know if a therapy is good and really works? How do we sort out the evidence?
There are two main types of evidence.
The first is based on the perception of those receiving the therapy. Such evidence is based on how someone thinks they are doing, or how they feel. Such evidence is called subjective. Subjective evidence depends on what the person who has received the therapy tells you. Commonly, we hear from people about how a therapy made them, or someone they know, feel better. This kind of evidence is commonly seen with testimonials referred to in the posting Alternative Medicine – Testimonials, Natural History and Secondary Gain. The second type is evidence where the change affected by a therapy can be measured independent of what the person who received the therapy tells you. This is called objective evidence. While subjective evidence often presents a compelling story that may pull at our “heart strings,” objective evidence is considered stronger, especially if the measurements can be reproduced by others.
When considering a therapy, we should be interested in whether it really does something useful. The fact that a therapy actually does something is not the only thing to consider. There are things beyond what a therapy can physically do that are important to consider. Some of these ought to be show stoppers (ought to guide us away from involvement).
You may notice, when I consider evidence that demonstrates effectiveness of therapies, that the evidence involves a variety of comparative studies that are really a part of experimental science. An interesting fact about this experimental science is that it is a product of the reformation of the church in the 1500s. Christianity seeks the truth. Seeking the truth about nature around us is what experimental science is about. The climate of Christian renewal that swept across the world in the 1500s led to experimental science studies. It is experimental science that has led to many of the amazing advances in society and in medical care. So, evidence based on good comparative studies has its roots in Christian truth.
In my blog posting titled, Alternative Medicine – Placebo Effect, I pointed out that even if a therapy really has not physical way to cause improvement, the therapy, in the hands of a therapist and a patient who believe in what they are doing, will result in reported improvement in one third of people treated. Considering a therapy where this placebo effect is the only basis of helping, is there not something good about using such a therapy? Is it not good enough that people feel better?