What’s the Link between CAM Therapies and Spirituality?

Do you sense there is a link between complementary and alternative (CAM) therapies and spirituality but don’t quite understand why?

According to my research, people who self identify as spiritual but not religious (SBNR) are much more likely to use these therapies. For example, the 268 Canadian SBNRs I surveyed had tried the following:

    • acupuncture (57%)
    • aromatherapy (56%,
    • energy healing (71%) Wow!
    • reflexology (55%)
    • vitamins (80%)

But does that make CAM spiritual? In a recent article in Psychology Today, Dr. Candy Gunther Brown speculates on the (spiritual but not) religious dimensions of complementary and alternative medical (CAM) therapies. Brown thinks that CAM use has religious overtones that are not well understood, and I agree with her that part of the problem here is refusing to analyze SBNR as a form of religion. If you frame SBNR as a fundamentally coherent religious position (what Brown calls practice/experience ways of being religious), it becomes quite clear that CAM use is integral to the spiritual but not religious outlook. In short, there are some very logical reasons SBNRs are drawn to CAM.

Here’s what I mean by that.

First of all, SBNRs have a holistic worldview that is consistent with the rationale of many CAM therapies, which typically offer pathways for aligning and harmonizing the body mind and spirit, as opposed to treating symptoms with pills and surgery as with standard conventional medicine.

Second, SBNRs are anti-institutional creatures. They resent the “disease care” model promulgated by the pharmaceutical companies.  The fact that 75% of my SBNR respondents said they use CAM therapies “to preserve good health” compared with only 18% who used them because “conventional medicine had no cure for their condition” suggests they use these modalities to minimize their reliance on conventional healthcare practices, many of which do not align with their values (Chandler 2011, 308-311).

For those SBNRs who see body, mind and spirit as an interconnected whole, healthiness is next to godliness.

What are some of your favorite complementary therapies and why do you use them? Leave me a comment below.