"These folks are very careful to make the distinction between what is based on evidence and what is based on anecdotes," says John Munce, a 53-year-old management consultant from Charlotte, N.C., who is receiving reiki and acupuncture at the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine following surgery for neck cancer in October. "But I don't care. If it's a placebo, give me the damn placebo." The reiki sessions have restored much of the mobility in his shoulder after a nerve had to be cut during surgery, he says, and he values the psychic benefits equally. "I feel as if the reiki is aligning me to heal," says Munce.
CAM frequently gets undeserved credit because of the natural course of illness, say experts. Most of those who seek out CAM, says Bausell, have chronic problems, perhaps arthritic knee pain or frequent headaches, that follow a predictable cycle: build, peak, and recede. Sufferers tend to seek help when their pain is building, and when the pain, as if by magic, begins to recede after they are treated, it is natural to connect the improvement with the therapy.
Won over. Cycles and disputes over illusory cures don't grab Tracy Gaudet. If a treatment works and isn't harmful, says the Durham, N.C., obstetrician-gynecologist, be thankful. Before having a golf-ball-size mass removed from her neck about three years ago, Gaudet prepped with acupuncture, art therapy, and hypnosis to relieve her symptoms and mentally prepare for the operation. She awoke pain free and never took so much as a Tylenol afterward.
As executive director of Duke Integrative Medicine, Gaudet was especially receptive to CAM. "She was incredibly relaxed," says Duke otolaryngologist David Witsell, Gaudet's surgeon. "It took very little anesthetic to get her to sleep." And while it can take six months after this procedure to relearn how to swallow and speak, "she was smiling and talking and drinking and laughing the day after surgery," says the surgeon. He and Gaudet recently discussed making the program's CAM services available to all preoperative patients. "That experience with her turned me on to integrative medicine," says Witsell.
"From where I sit," says Gaudet in the center's light-filled lobby, "if we could figure out a way to elicit a full therapeutic response to a placebo, that's not a bad thing—that's a good thing." She considers briefly, then smiles. "I'd call it an 'activated healing response,'" she says.