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Complementary Medicine’s role in Healthcare

By Tania O’Neill McGowan
from O'Neill Kinesiology College

A common misconception about complementary therapies is that they are somehow in competition with Western medicine. Some of this may be due to confusion about the role both play within the healthcare system. Complementary medicines, including Kinesiology, fit together with Western medicine like puzzle pieces. One is a preventative and is focused on maintaining wellness (complementary therapies), whereas the other intervenes when you’re overtly sick (Western medicine).

Western medical doctors are trained to identify diseases and disorders because it is a disease-based model. Their number one priority is keeping patients alive, on the other hand a complementary therapist is trained in preventative practices and wellness. This means a doctor may only be looking at one piece of the puzzle when in reality, all the pieces affect each other. In saying this, there are times when a medical doctor is the best option. Such as when you’re seeking a disease diagnosis or in need of urgent medical intervention. You wouldn’t see a complementary therapist for a broken leg or for treatment of a stroke, for example.

Complementary therapies are concerned with the whole puzzle and will intervene in the early stages when you’re just starting to feel less-than-great. The purpose is to move the person towards an optimal state of health and wellbeing, while maintaining this long-term so you won’t necessarily need as much medical intervention down the track.

It is important to stress that it isn’t a case of Western medicine versus complementary therapies. It is not a battle, rather it should be a respectful, supportive, and interactive therapeutic relationship.

The secret is balance

Kinesiology is focused on restoring homeostasis. This word is derived from two Greek words: homeo meaning ‘similar’ and stasis meaning ‘equilibrium’ or ‘no change’. So homeostasis means keeping the body’s systems balanced and maintaining a constant internal environment. We don’t stay unwaveringly stable all the time, because the body is continually reacting to different stressors and taking steps to hold this equilibrium.

You might recognise some of the systems that depend on balance:

  • Body temperature
    Our temperature must be kept at approximately 37 degrees Celsius and the body has several mechanisms to do so (e.g., sweat or shiver, surface capillaries construct or dilate, and metabolism increases or decreases).
  • Digestive acids
    There is just the right amount of acid in the stomach to digest food but not enough to harm the stomach lining.
  • Glucose (blood sugar)
    The body balances insulin and glucagon to keep blood sugar stable. Diabetes is the result of when blood sugar levels are constantly too high.
  • Fluid
    When water levels are high (say, you’re drinking a lot), you’ll find yourself visiting the toilet more and urine will be more diluted. However, when water levels are low (e.g., if you’ve been exercising), more water is reabsorbed and you’ll visit the toilet less and urine will be more concentrated.

The three stages of health

The body’s number one priority is to stay alive so it doesn’t immediately fall in a heap when things are off balance, rather it compensates. Even though you might still feel and look great because the body is doing its job to keep you functioning. The body is so efficient at compensating, sometimes you don’t even realise your health has been going downhill gradually. We see this all the time in our clinic and, sadly, this is the stage that most of the Western world lives in. You’re not overtly sick but you don’t feel great. This state isn’t good enough but it’s something people somehow accept as normal.

There are several common ways we get ourselves into this state:

  • Lack of (or poor) sleep
  • Little exercise
  • Poor food choices
  • Stress

Have you ever noticed when you’re eating well and taking care of yourself, you feel wonderful? But then you have a few days – maybe after Christmas or holidays – where you eat bad food continually and you feel horrendous? The difference is incredible. The trouble is, if you keep eating awful food your body will eventually compensate and you will simply get used to feeling this way and carry on unaware. But the problem hasn’t gone away. We are slowly walking ourselves toward an unhealthy, unhappy life and even an early grave.

Most of us don’t realise that there are three stages of health. The ideal time to see a complementary therapist is in the first and second stages.

Stage 1: Stage of Alarm

This is the stage where you move from feeling good, to the body being in distress from various physiological functions that have been driven outside normal homeostatic limits. We are all subjected to this and it’s a normal part of life.

Stage 2: Stage of Resistance

If the stressors from Stage 1 persist, the body adapts and develops a resistance. This is not to say all is well. In fact, compensation requires additional energy expenditure and efficiency is reduced.

Stage 3: Stage of Exhaustion

This is when you hear people complain they’re ‘suddenly’ unwell. But as you can see, this is just the final stage. The body has been compromised for so long, it can’t take much more. One small event may be all it takes to tip yourself into Stage 3.

It is important to recognise, that at Stage 1 and Stage 3 stress you have overt symptoms, which makes diagnosis easier to undertake effectively. Whereas at Stage 2, the body’s compensations cause the symptoms to virtually disappear, therefore the diagnostic process needs to be more nuanced and incorporate the patient’s observations together with physiological diagnostic tests. If a patient’s concerns are ignored when they are in Stage 2 stress, they are more likely to need extensive Western medicine treatment in the future when they reach the Stage of Exhaustion. This unfortunately is becoming more common and sometimes it’s too late to reverse the damage when the issue is left until Stage 3. Plus, it is far easier to treat problems in Stage 1 and 2. This is where complementary therapists play an important role in the healthcare system, because they are effective at assisting patients in the Stage 2 phase, helping reverse the physiological deterioration before it reaches Stage 3.

I honestly believe we need to empower people to make the best choices for their own ongoing health. Complementary therapists, especially Kinesiologists, are trained to provide this information to patients and assist in the clearing of stresses that people may or may not be aware they are experiencing. This will have knock-on effects in the healthcare system by lessening the burden on hospitals and medical doctors and saving billions of dollars. I think that’s a win-win for all.

If you’re curious about Kinesiology, please visit To make an appointment with a practitioner, call O’Neill Kinesiology College on (08) 9330 7443.

More about the author

Tania O'Neill
Tania O’Neill McGowan
– O'Neill Kinesiology College

Tania O’Neill McGowan is the co-author of the textbook Energetic Kinesiology. Tania has been studying the science of healing for 25 years and has over 20 years’ experience working in professional Kinesiology training, primarily at O’Neill Kinesiology College. Tania is currently completing her PhD in Integral Health, hoping to create more research opportunities in the alternative healing industry and bring greater understanding of the benefits of Complementary Medicine to the public.