Looking for alternatives : risk, reflexivity and complementary therapies
This thesis explores individuals' motivations for using complementary and alternative medicines (CAM). More specifically, the thesis explores the relationship between the use of CAM and wider social and cultural changes which have altered individuals’ expectations about their health and their understanding of risk and embodiment. The thesis draws on data from 24 in-depth interviews with individuals using a range of complementary and alternative health practices. Building on previous literature in this field this thesis not only explores individuals' initial motivations for using CAM, but also the reasons why they remain engaged with such practices and how their motives change over the course of time. I argue that the use of complementary and alternative medicines should be understood in terms of a career. As individuals progress along the CAM career trajectory their motives for using any given therapy not only change, but they also acquire further justifications and rationalizations for using CAM. One of the main motivations for using complementary therapies, amongst the participants of this study, was because of concerns over the safety of Western medicines, which were associated with potential risks to the health of the body. In contrast, so-called 'natural' remedies or other types of complementary therapies were seen to represent a relatively 'risk-free’ alternative. In this sense I argue that complementary therapies are adopted as part of a strategy of risk avoidance and as a means of coping with the anxieties associated with caring for health and body within late modem society. The thesis also explores individuals' use of complementary and alternative medicines for self-care purposes. I argue that such practices should be viewed as a form of resistance to medical control and an attempt to regain control over the self. The thesis not only adds to our current understanding of complementary therapies within contemporary society, but also makes a significant contribution to key sociological debates.