Understanding plural medicine : alternative and biomedical therapy use among chronic illness sufferers : a Canadian study

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Hollenberg, Daniel B.
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Using the concept of the illness narrative, this thesis examines the use of alternative and biomedical therapies by individuals experiencing chronic illness. Current research indicates that individuals experiencing chronic illness represent a large group of alternative medicine users (Kelner and Wellman 1997; Sharma 1992). The main focus was to understand, using stories of illness, how individuals experiencing chronic illness were incorporating unconventional therapies into their health care strategies, and how these therapies may have promoted healing in the context of chronic illness. The illness narrative is used as both a methodological and theoretical tool in the understanding of descriptive health-seeking behaviour, illness conceptions, and healing. Drawing on illness stories from two individuals with HIV and one individual with an internal head injury, the narratives are framed between the conceptual frameworks of the care-seeking narrative and the medical dominance thesis, thus providing both a micro- and macro-understanding towards alternative health care use. The narratives reveal such themes as iatrogenesis due to biomedicine, healing promoted by alternative therapies, and the structural elements of medical dominance. While individuals remained in the care of biomedical practitioners for certain functions, the research demonstrates that biomedicine, for various reasons, was ineffective to meet individuals' entire health care needs. Furthermore, the research demonstrates that certain alternative therapies, as perceived by individuals, were effective in resolving chronic symptoms. This thesis concludes by following current research directions in complementary medicine research, which values the individual illness account as a means to validate healing promoted by alternative therapies.