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J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Feb;16(2):175-82. doi: 10.1089/acm.2009.0292.

Why consumers maintain complementary and alternative medicine use: a qualitative study.

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School of Medicine, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK.



Although research evidence exists to suggest why consumers use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), there remains a need to distinguish between factors and processes involved in the initial uptake of therapies and those involved in their subsequent maintenance. We therefore conducted a qualitative study to explore and describe consumers' reasons for maintaining or stopping CAM use.


This was a qualitative study. We interviewed 46 CAM consumers and 9 CAM practitioners, in two high-street CAM clinics in the UK. The interviews were analyzed thematically using techniques from grounded theory.


Consumers described and evaluated their CAM experiences along four dimensions: interpersonal (e.g., interactions with practitioners), physical (e.g., sensations such as touch or pain during treatment), affective (e.g., empowerment), and cognitive (e.g., beliefs about treatment). They evaluated their experiences in relation to their individual needs and expectations; financial considerations could limit maintenance of CAM use. Practitioners emphasized the effectiveness of treatment and themselves as contributing to consumers maintaining treatment, and recognized the role of financial considerations in decisions to stop CAM use.


This study suggests that experiences of conventional medicine are of limited importance after the decision to initiate CAM. Experiences of CAM were foremost in our consumers' decisions to maintain or stop specific CAM therapies. Maintenance of CAM could occur even if consumers' experiences were not entirely positive. Our findings provide novel, systematic insights that will be of particular interest to practitioners who want to support consumers as they decide whether to maintain CAM use.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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