September, 2010 / Author:

Illustration by DILLAN BEKKERING
Make sure you go in with your eyes open  

I could be the poster tranny boy for alternative health care – either that or the guinea pig. Some of the more familiar treatment methods I’ve experienced include massage therapy, chiropractic care, physiotherapy, yoga, reflexology and reiki. There are also forms of alternative health care that have taken me time to warm up to.

I had to get rid of some of the religious baggage I carried before I was ready to learn from sweat lodges and aboriginal healing circles. More recently, I’ve also entrusted myself to shamans who use plant medicines, energy work, hypnotherapy, channelling, timeline therapy, chakra balancing, soul retrieval and other skills.

The strangest experience I’ve had with alternative health care was also one of my first. I was hooked up to a meridian stress assessment instrument that seemed capable of detecting no more than naiveté. But I felt great when I modified my diet based on the food sensitivities that the test discovered.

I have found alternative health care most helpful when it comes to illnesses that aren’t physical. You can go to a doctor’s office or hospital for an infection or a broken bone. But where do you bring the broken bits that keep surfacing from childhood?

I began with low-cost, short-term counselling. It’s a good thing I didn’t know it was called crisis counselling. My counsellor was fantastic, and gave me some basic functioning skills (including learning how to breathe) that allowed me to get by for another few years. He also recommended yoga, which has helped a lot with that rather important skill of breathing.

While talk therapy was helpful, I began looking into reiki, based on recommendations from friends who had tried it. After a couple of sessions, I began studying and practising reiki myself. Now, I’m surrounded by people and books that explore energy work and things I never would have considered before.

If you’re considering alternative health care, you might find these suggestions helpful.

Is the provider certified? No one should practise any form of health care or healing work without training. You can ask to see certificates if they aren’t already visible, and ask how many hours of training the certification required.

How much does it cost? $60/hour is a common fee for alternative healers. Rates vary from person to person, but anything significantly less or more should coincide with the practitioner’s training and experience. It’s OK to ask about fees before booking an appointment.

Am I covered? Some forms of treatment are covered by health insurance plans. Coverage is commonly extended to massage therapy, physiotherapy, reflexology and chiropractic work. But your plan may be limited, or the person may not have the necessary qualifications. Check with the practitioner and confirm with your insurance provider first.

When and how is payment required? Not every private practice is set up with debit and credit options, so ask about payment methods. Be well informed if you’re making pre-payments. You don’t want to be stuck returning to something that’s not helpful just because you paid for it already.

Do you trust the practitioner? Does the alternative health care professional make you feel at ease? Do they come with good recommendations? If you don’t trust the practitioner or feel comfortable with them, it’s not likely that you’ll benefit from whatever treatment you’re paying for.

Beware the fix-all solution. Sometimes good people with good intentions learn alternative healing methods that promise immediate, unrealistic results. Unless you believe in miracles and have a budget that allows you to afford them, don’t trust claims that don’t make sense. A healthy dose of skepticism will serve you quite well in separating the fanatics from the wise and informed.

–Bowen Smyth is a writer and apprenticing shaman who lives in Winnipeg. To comment on this or any other article in Outwords, write to

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