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Why I support alternative and complementary therapies

‘I was burnt out and miserable before I discovered the interrogated approach’ – says new Prince of Wales Foundation Medical Director Dr Michael Dixon

‘I was burnt out and miserable before I discovered the interrogated approach' – says new Prince of Wales Foundation Medical Director Dr Michael Dixon



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, patients with stress or depression, symptoms of back pain, chronic tiredness, headaches or frequent infections.

The list appeared endless.

Furthermore, my excellent training as a vocational GP had taught me to seek out those underlying problems, which patients rarely mention at first, but had not prepared me in terms of being able to do anything about them.

Then something rather remarkable happened, which changed my life.

A local judge's wife, who was also a ‘healer', contacted my surgery and asked if she could practice with us. My instant and predictable answer was ‘certainly not!'.

But she was a very persistent woman and eventually she came to my surgery, started seeing patients on referral from myself and partners and, worst of all, made them better.

Surprised at what we were seeing, I did a controlled trial (published in the Royal Society of Medicine J R Soc Med 1998;91:183-188).

It 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, appeared to have a better emotional state and were functionally more effective.

Dr Robin Fox, then editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, commented that it was clear the patients had improved, but ascribed the benefit to the placebo effect.

That led me to write a book The Human Effect, which is an examination of the extraordinary powerful, comprehensive (and too often unused in conventional medicine) effect that arises from a positive patient/therapist interaction.

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

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

Indeed, I began to learn a few tricks myself, which today include acupressure, acupuncture, massage and manipulation.

I see it as medicine in colour.

In modern general practice, especially with the QOF, we have to keep our feet on the ground in those areas of general practice where conventional medicine is pretty effective.

In other areas where conventional medicine has not worked, I now have a whole armoury of possibilities to offer the patient.

Given that what a patient chooses is influences the changes of it making them better, and given that people like being able to discuss a range of possibilities in an adult way, the approach is normally a positive experience.

The trick, and we should be the grand masters of this as GPs, is to fit the patient with a treatment that is appropriate for their own culture, beliefs and past.

In other words, to ensure maximum effectiveness by enabling a patient, in the words of HRH The Prince of Wales, to access ‘the best of both worlds'.

The approach also includes seeing the patient as a whole person rather than a symptom or disease and understanding the power of the therapeutic interaction between patient and doctor.

It is also about handing power back to the patient, encouraging self healing and help, personal health and healthy communities.

These are the aspirations behind the Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health and it is because these things have so transformed my personal and professional life that I have been delighted to be a Trustee of the Prince's Foundation and now its Medical Director.

Without sounding too evangelical, I believe every patient and GP should have the chance of having things that I have enjoyed over the past 15 years since my conversion to an integrated approach.

Belief is not necessary, simply having an open mind in these things is enough.

You can contact The Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health by phone (020 3119 3100), through its website (www.fih.org.uk) or by email (contactus@fih.org.uk).

Dr Michael Dixon, medical director of the Prince of Wales Foundation Dr Michael Dixon, medical director of the Prince of Wales Foundation

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