Gaslighting & “Complementary” Therapies

Language is important: it frames the way we think.

When I studied Ayurvedic Medicine at Middlesex University, it was one of a number of so-called “complementary” therapies. The term succinctly defines a therapy that is secondary to a (non-specified) main therapy. It “compliments” the main therapy by aligning with it and supporting it, rather than counteracting it or undermining it. So, we were told that our herbal protocols needed to compliment the prescriptions that clients were taking. For example, garlic and ginko biloba are both blood thinners and should not be given to clients on Warfarin.

it has taken me years to wake up to the fact that this is nothing less than gaslighting

But surely clients on Warfarin are exactly the ones that need to be given these herbs so that they can come off the Warfarin? I mean Warfarin is rat poison, right? Would you really want to keep that in your body for any longer than necessary?

I could give similar examples for medication to manage high blood pressure or diabetes: the herbal medicines that are “contraindicated” are frequently the ones that do the same job (but without the “side effects”).

“Complementary therapy” also implies hierarchy. It is lesser than; therefore, by implication – less important, less effective, less valuable. And it has taken me years to wake up to the fact that this is nothing less than gaslighting. I will explain why in a roundabout way…

Firstly, the statistics speak for themselves: Have you come across the term “iatrogenic disease?” It is defined as, ‘a disease caused by or arising as a complication of a medical or surgical intervention.’ Death at the hands of doctors: Iatrogenic death is the third leading cause of death [1] So think twice before you visit your GP! I may say that in jest, but my own lived experience suggests that should also be taken seriously…..

In my twenties I had a job as a researcher on a project looking at dementia in the over sixties. Collecting the data involved hour-long interviews with a huge range of questions, including a list of medications taken. A few of the subjects were not on any medications at all (they were the ones who were most active socially, physically and mentally and they were happy!); but for the majority there was a sad and familiar roll call: “This is the one for my blood pressure, this is the other one for my blood pressure, this is my diabetes medication, this is the one for the side-effects of that one ….and this one…….…? I forget what this one is for….. and so on, and so on, the litany of pills, slowly but surely – nails in the coffin. The more medication they were on, the worse their health and wellbeing. It seemed to spiral out of control.

But hang on a minute! Surely the doctors are trying to help? And don’t they need the medications?

Yes, and yes and, and……………… What about the underlying cause? Isn’t that what we are avoiding to look at? What was it that made their blood pressure rise? What was the ‘tension’ in their hypertension? And their blood sugar spikes? What was the missing sweetness in their lives that made the sugar a poor substitute? And so on, and so on – underneath many of our chronic illnesses lies a cry for help, a forgotten part, a neglect of some deeper aspect of ourselves as we struggle to adapt to a very broken and contrary world. A world where money counts, while people go hungry or suffer in countless other ways.

But now we are at a tipping point; and it starts here: It starts with the recognition of the gaslighting and the lies. It starts with recognising how dysfunctional our institutions have become.

I look forward to the day when we discard the word complimentary as no longer fit for purpose; and instead talk of “real” therapies….. as opposed to….?

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