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If you are like most Americans living in the 1990s, chances are that you or someone you know has had a personal experience with alternative therapies. Indeed, according to a Harvard survey conducted by David Eisenberg, M.D., and reported in The Journal of the American Medical Association, 42% of Americans used alternative therapies to improve their health and well-being in 1997.
The burgeoning interest taking place in the United States in these therapies is a continuation of what historian and philosopher Eugene Taylor calls the 'American visionary tradition,' a characteristic of our culture that reflects Americans' attraction to inner transformation. From the Shaker and Quaker communities to the 19th-century Mind-Cure Movement and Transcendentalism to the counter-cultural exploration of Eastern meditative techniques and psychedelics in the 1960s, Americans have sought ways to dive deeply inward to find meaning and purpose in life and to forge a relationship with the sacred. Out of this historical trend has evolved a consciousness movement that today ranges from alternative medicine to Zen Buddhism.
Within this movement, there are a multitude of rich and disparate healing modalities, the most popular category of which is mind-body studies. The disciplines that make up this broad field--which also encompasses alternative and complementary medicine and holistic health--include body therapies; chiropractic; homeopathy; Oriental medical systems such as acupuncture and acupressure; and subtle-energy methods such as therapeutic touch, among others. Some of these methods were derived from ancient Eastern healing traditions; others have a more modern and scientific ancestry. Some were developed over a millennia ago, while others have been 'discovered' only in the last 20 years. With such a wide variety of lineages, it is incorrect to assume that the philosophies behind these techniques are similar simply because they share an 'alternative' status. What these disciplines do share, however, is a concern for the health and well-being of the whole person, an understanding that the mind, body, and spirit not only are inseparable and interdependent, but also contribute, alone and together, to health and well-being.
This summary was adapted from The Common Boundary Graduate Education Guide, which was published in 1994. A broader, updated version, Soul Work: A Field Guide for Spiritual Seekers, authored by Anne and Charles Simpkinson was published by HarperPerennial in 1998.