Terminology and definition of CAM methods – CAMbrella Work Package 1

The overall aim of this work package is to develop a Europe-wide acceptable and pragmatic definition of ‘Complementary and Alternative Medicine’ (CAM) which can be used to systematically research the prevalence and legal status of CAM in Europe, as well as to investigate the citizens’ demands and providers’ perspectives related to CAM in general and within the CAMbrella coordinating activities.

Terminology in CAM is a very tricky thing. Due to different traditions and cultures there is a vast heterogeneity between CAM disciplines and methods used in various regions of the world as well as in Europe. There are so many local and regional specific treatments, methods and interventions that it is hardly fair to gather all of them under one roof that is called CAM, without any further specification of what CAM means in Europe.The definition of CAM commonly used in the United States is a recent and very pragmatic concept, but it might ignore the long and fascinating history of this area in Europe.

For instance in the United States you usually include Prayer when you talk about CAM, since it is - in the view of the distinguished NCCAM (http://nccam.nih.gov) – a self-healing practice and thus part of an alternative and complementary medical approach.
In Europe, prayer is regarded as belonging to religion and therefore to another dimension exceeding healing and medicine, and there are also historical reasons for not mixing medicine and religion. So the US American notion can hardly be expected to go unchallenged - from many different angles and reasons, not only religious ones.

Integrative Medicine, Alternative Medicine, Holistic Medicine, Medicine douce, Ganzheitsmedizin, Naturheilkunde (Naturopathy), Traditional European Medicine (TEM), Erfahrungsheilkunde (experience based medicine) - these are just a few of the general expressions for the whole field, and each of them of course comes along with further definitions as to what it consists of and what it excludes, and also as to what associations, expectations, explanations and view of healing it involves. Even the understanding and translation of these expressions themselves could differ from country to country.

Same term – different meaning

When looking at the main disciplines, the situation might be even more complicated: would it be accurate to summarise all relevant relaxation techniques and also certain psychotherapeutic procedures under a term like ‘mind and body therapy’, or should it be the old German term ‘Ordnungstherapie’? Even if there is some overlap between the two terms (and many other in that field), they do not express exactly the same, and their meaning might differ from country to country and depending on whether they are used by medical doctors, healers, or the general population.

One of the first goals of CAMbrella will therefore be to establish a consensus-based list of CAM terminology for the European context. This is not as easy as it sounds, and the working group has to meet various challenges to achieve this goal that will eventually result in a European CAM glossary.

The most challenging questions right from the start are:

How to gather the relevant information on the use of CAM terms (headline and most important disciplines) in the member countries?

How to make sure that no relevant information is omitted?

How to make sure that the terms’ local and regional meanings are translated correctly and brought into context with the other regional and local definitions and practices?

Actually, the CAM terminology will already be established by the middle of CAMbrella’s running time – i.e. by the summer of 2011, thus providing the other working groups with a tool they can rely on.

The members of the work package represent those EU countries in which CAM methods have strong historical roots, and they will be supported by further members of the CAMbrella group and external experts with respect to other countries.

Six countries are represented in WP1:
UK, Switzerland, Sweden, Italy, France, Spain.

The work package leader is Bernhard Uehleke, Universität Zürich, Switzerland.

Text: Jesper Odde Madsen, Bernhard Uehleke, Bettina Reiter