When to refer

‘I’m not going to the doctor. I don’t want drugs or surgery, so there’s no point. And I don’t trust them anyway.’ Complementary therapists hear this quite often.
It’s not always a logical position, but then much of our thinking about our health is not particularly logical. We buy supplements online, beguiled by stories of amazing cures. We’ll trust healers and therapists offering all sorts of treatments – and pay good money for it – without checking their qualifications or track record at all. Yes, orthodox treatment quite often doesn’t help, and sometimes actually harms a patient, but it’s a lot more visible when that happens, partly because there are audits and systems for dealing with malpractice, and partly because the NHS is the major healthcare provider in the UK.
What it comes down to is that you need to choose a therapist, whatever their area of expertise may be, who will refer you to someone else if they can’t help you themselves. And that means two things: someone who has enough training to be able to recognise serious illness when they see it, and someone who has the self-knowledge to stand aside when faced with a problem they can’t deal with.
The first thing is easier. You can check what their medical training was. There are in-depth courses lasting three to four years, with examinations, clinical practice and mentoring, for herbalists, acupuncturists, homoeopaths, osteopaths and chiropractors. These are seen as the major therapies, with the competence to recognise and treat a wide range of conditions and people. It doesn’t mean there’s no value in the rest of them, just that they may not be enough by themselves.
The second thing has more to do with the wisdom and maturity of the practitioner than with the knowledge they carry. No health worker, whether orthodox or otherwise, is always wise enough to admit their own limitations. Equally, no-one should claim to be able to cure everything, or that their particular method is the only one that will help you. Beware of anyone who promises too much.

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