CAMLAW: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog

Complementary and Alternative Treatments in Mental Health Care

A review of books on complementary and alternative medicine therapies in mental health care appeared in a Swedish journal. The abstract of "Complementary and Alternative Treatments in Mental Health Care" by Ursula Werneke, Vrinnevi Hospital, Department of Psychiatry, 60182 Norrköping, Sweden, appeared as follows:
Two recently published books on family work are reviewed below, both providing guidance on working with families of those with serious mental health problems. Even though one is published in the USA and one in the UK, there are similarities, with both discussing the literature, techniques (such as the use of genograms), and what to do in family sessions. Both are primarily guidebooks dealing with the practicalities of delivering family work.

Complementary and Alternative Treatments in Mental Health Care. Edited by James H. Lake & David Spiegel. American Psychiatric Publishing. 2007. 478pp. US$56.00 (pb). ISBN 1585622028

Complementary or alternative therapies are becoming increasingly popular with patients, yet doctors and other conventional healthcare practitioners may be slow to catch up with this trend. Lake & Spiegel have edited this fascinating book which tries to narrow the philosophical gap between the disease- and symptom-oriented Western medical approach and a holistic approach to mental health rooted mainly, but not exclusively, in Eastern tradition. The combination of an evidence-based approach with a philosophical and historical perspective conveys an argument for truly integrative mental healthcare that may even convince the toughest conventional and alternative hardliners. For instance, if homoeopathy and its resort to particle physics remains counter-intuitive and unacceptable to most scientific minds, it is important to remember that it was born from the observation that many then contemporary conventional treatments were not only ineffective but often unkind and at times draconian. This not only strikes a chord with psychiatry's turbulent history but also with the increasing realisation in modern psychiatric practice that side-effect reduction and physical well-being must be an integral part of mental healthcare.

For me, the section on spirituality, meditation and mind-body practices was particularly impressive. As pointed out in the book, some of these techniques have already been successfully integrated into conventional psychiatric treatments such as dialectical behaviour therapy. In everyday life, experience of religion and spirituality remain powerful motivating forces for human perception and behaviour so that treatment approaches that ignore this fundamental determinant of the human condition may be obviously limited. Also, this section is relevant for those clinicians who practise psychiatry in transcultural settings.

Most importantly, the authors do not endorse clinical risk-taking and throughout the book there are ample warnings about unproven and potentially unsafe practices. These warnings are put into an appropriate medico-legal context and may help clinicians to reflect about their own regulatory frameworks when practising integrative medicine. As shown in this book, evidence for the effectiveness and safety of complementary treatments must be meticulously collated. However, relying on empirical evidence of 'what is known' in the face of a frequent lack of proof of principle 'of what is understood',1 means that the evidence presented in this book must be complemented by updated evidence from reliable internet sources such as Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database ( in view of the rapidly expanding research in this field.

This book gives an expertly written and concise introduction to a range of complementary and alternative treatments in mental health and may serve as a truly inspirational guide to anybody wishing to expand the boundaries of conventional psychiatric practice.


1 Deutsch D. The Fabric of Reality. Penguin, 1997.

The British Journal of Psychiatry (2008) 192: 75-76
James Lake, MD, who authored the Textbook of Integrative Mental Health Care, is a friend as well as colleague.
The Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen offers corporate legal services, litigation consultation, and expertise in health law with a unique focus on holistic, alternative, complementary, and integrative medical therapies. The law firm represents medical doctors, allied health professionals (from psychologists to nurses and dentists) and other clinicians (from chiropractors to naturopathic physicians, massage therapists, and acupuncturists), entrepreneurs, hospitals, and educational organizations, health care institutions, and individuals and corporations.

Michael H. Cohen is Principal in Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen and also President of a nonprofit organization exploring legal, regulatory, ethical, and health policy issues in the judicious integration of complementary and alternative medical therapies (such as acupuncture and traditional oriental medicine, chiropractic, naturopathic medicine, homeopathy, massage therapy, energy healing, and herbal medicine) and conventional clinical care. Michael H. Cohen is author of books on health care law, regulation, ethics and policy dealing with complementary, alternative and integrative medicine, including Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion, Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Legal Boundaries and Regulatory Perspectives (1998), Beyond Complementary Medicine: Legal and Ethical Perspectives on Health Care and Human Evolution (2000), and Future Medicine: Ethical Dilemmas, Regulatory Challenges, and Therapeutic Pathways to Health Care and Healing in Human Transformation (2003).
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Health care and corporate lawyer Michael H. Cohen has been admitted to the Bar of California, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington D.C. In addition to qualifying as a U.S. attorney, he has been admitted and to the Bar of England and Wales as a Solicitor (non-practicing). For more information regarding the law practice of attorney Michael H. Cohen, see the FAQs for the Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen. Thank you for visiting the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog.
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