Broadly conceptualized, the term “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) refers to treatments not considered to be standard to the current practice of Western medicine. “Complementary” refers to the use of these techniques in combination with conventional approaches, whereas “alternative” refers to their use in lieu of conventional practices. Of course, many treatments and techniques (e.g., acupuncture) that are considered CAM within U.S. borders are elemental to conventional medicinal practices in other parts of the world. As Western practitioners and consumers increasingly adopt these approaches, the boundaries between conventional medicine and CAM continue to shift. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has proposed a five-category classification system for CAM therapies: 1) natural products (e.g., herbal dietary supplements); 2) mind-body medicine (e.g., meditation, acupuncture, yoga); 3) manipulative and body-based practices (e.g., massage, spinal manipulation); 4) other alternative practices (e.g., movement therapies, energy therapies); and 5) whole medicine systems (e.g., traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine).
CAM is widely requested and used by consumers for a variety of complaints and conditions, and the relevant research base is rapidly evolving. The umbrella of CAM modalities includes a broad range of approaches, not all of which may hold the same level of promise for the treatment of PTSD. Preliminary findings, albeit mixed, suggest that CAM treatments merit consideration. At this point, there is very limited empirical evidence of their effectiveness, so they may be best applied as an adjunct to other PTSD treatments or as a gateway to additional services for patients who initially refuse other approaches. Overall, the current evidence base does not support the use of CAM interventions as an alternative to current empirically-established approaches for PTSD, or as first-line interventions recommended within evidence-based clinical guidelines.