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Complementary therapy revived my career

Ten years into my career as a GP, I began to dread the drive into surgery each morning.

I knew I would have to face patients for whom, too often, conventional approaches simply did not work - demoralised patients with stress, depression, back pain, chronic tiredness, headaches or frequent infections. The list appeared endless.

My GP training taught me to seek out underlying problems, but not to do anything about them. Then something rather remarkable happened, which changed my life.

A local judge's wife, who was a 'healer', contacted my surgery and asked if she could practise with us. My instant answer was 'certainly not!' - but she was persistent and eventually came to my surgery. She started seeing patients on referral from myself and my partners and, worst of all, made them better.

Surprised at what I was seeing, I did a controlled trial, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, which showed that patients ill for more than six months who had not been helped by any other conventional or complementary therapy, were significantly helped with their main symptom and appeared to have a better emotional state.

I also wrote a book, The Human Effect, which examines the comprehensive effect that arises from a positive patient-therapist interaction.

Recognition of the importance of the placebo effect was just the beginning.

I started referring patients to other complementary practitioners and became convinced many of them did work, quite apart from their interpersonal effects.

Indeed, I learned a few tricks myself, including acupressure, acupuncture, massage and manipulation. I see it as medicine in colour.

In modern general practice, we have to keep our feet on the ground in areas where conventional medicine is pretty effective. In areas where it has not worked, I now have a whole armoury of possibilities to offer the patient.

The trick is to match the patient to a treatment that is appropriate for their own culture, beliefs and past; in the words of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, to access 'the best of both worlds'.

This is the aspiration of the Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health and why I am delighted to now be its medical director.

Without wishing to sound too evangelical, I believe every GP and patient should have access to the same options open to me over the past 15 years.

If you're interested in registering with the Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health, phone 020 3119 3100, visit www.fih.org.uk or email contactus@fih.org.uk.

From Dr Michael Dixon, Cullompton, Devon

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