If you plan to use alternative medicine to treat a specific problem, you are best off seeking the guidance of an experienced professional. Finding a reputable alternative practitioner can be daunting.

What should consumers avoid? Dr. David Edelberg, founder and former chairman of the integrated medicine clinic, WholeHealth in Chicago, says, "My usual caveat to people is that if they go to an alternative practitioner who tells them to give up their conventional medicine while his particular therapy is working, he's someone to avoid. So if you're seeing a nutritionist who says to give up your insulin, or an herbalist who says to give up your antibiotic, or somebody who basically is out to bad-mouth conventional medicine, that's somewhere you want to walk out of."

Check Licensing, Affiliations or Certifications

Once you've found a practitioner, check to see if he or she is licensed or certified. Doctors of Chiropractic (DCs), for example, are licensed by the Federation of Chiropractic Licensing Board.

For massage therapists, the primary national credential is the designation Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, indicated with the initials NCTMB.

Homeopaths, may hold a CCH (Certificate in Classical Homeopathy); if they are already a medical doctor or osteopathic physician, they can obtain a doctorate in homeotherapeutics (DHt) from the American Board of Homeotherapeutics. Keep these things in mind:

  • Maintain Healthy Skepticism Is the individual selling a product? The practitioner's information may be useful, but be aware of a hidden agenda.
  • Is the individual touting an instant cure, breakthrough or miracle? No cure is instant, medical breakthroughs are unusual, and miracles are rarer still.
  • Read between the lines of testimonials Watch out for these: Often the patient didn't have the disorder that was "cured."

And, if you're in doubt about a therapy, one place to check is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.