Fighting the woo

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When you, or especially your child, has one of those problems not well recognized or treated by modern medicine there is a strong push to retreat into woo. Woo? Woo is pseudoscience, anecdata, do it yourself remedies and non-mainstream treatments. Frustratingly some treatments and procedures that work go strongly hand in hand with woo treatments that may or may not work. When no one you initially go to for help takes you seriously, or gives you any kind of help and you hear about some thing that worked for some one, you get desperate.  You wander off the beaten path looking for anything that will help.

I’ve been there for several conditions. Related to the same issue, but two different modes of treatment, one for me and one for my kids. When I presented with my issue I was desperate and after asking for help and getting none of the professional variety, I tried whatever I could find. Some of it worked, some of it did not. I tried to be objective and not waste time and money. When I was later told that my issue might be related to something about my children I actually spent a fair amount of money getting one of them treated.  While I think it helped, it disturbs me that there is a lot of woo that goes hand in hand with the treatment. It makes me feel like what is probably a highly valid and useful procedure is some kind of scam. Mainly because of the beliefs of the people buying into it. I feel that though I think I can see some difference, that the procedure or talking about it or doing it puts me on the edge of reasonable. I don’t want to be on the edge of reasonable.

There are variations in people looking for help. There are people like me who are told there is no treatment, or are brushed off with something to ameliorate the symptoms without doing any treating or diagnosing whatsoever and are seeking help wherever it can be found, then there are people who are seeking alternative treatments because of a mistrust in mainstream treatments for whatever reason. One can see how these might come to overlap. I think what I find disturbing is the lack of other people’s critical thinking. If something is not mainstream, but effective,  then that seems to open up the door for other, less effective non-mainstream methods. Because it’s natural, or herbal, or, yikes, homeopathic. The assumption that natural means harmless or risk free is particularly galling to me.

The people who encounter the first and find something that works and then plunge uncritically into the realm of the second is something I find upsetting. That indicates a failure somewhere in the system, either in diagnosing, treating or just basic helping of the patient. I think in most cases it’s not worth it to argue with the person who chooses natural just because (assumption of risk free or harmless).

Myself, when I use an alternate remedy, I am very careful to evaluate cost, perceived effectiveness, as well as any side effects.  I hope I’m doing a good job eliminating any placebo effect. There have been things I really really wanted to work, that simply didn’t pass my cost/benefit worthiness requirements. So I no longer use them. If something is low cost, with low side effects and only works minimally to moderately well I will still use it because there is not significant contraindication to me using it. Conversely, if something is costly (in either time or finances) it needs to work more than moderately well for me to continue using it. I try to feel better about using alternative remedies simply because there are no actual remedies (or none I have access to). But then I feel like I’m just doing it to do something, and that maybe nothing is better than something and I should just stop.  Oh, it’s frustrating.

I was raised on a plethora of hippy-science because my parents were poor, non-science educated, and also of the opinion that natural was better. So part of me finds it particularly galling and yet ironic for me, science educated, sort of critical thinking, to be relying on such natural methods. Not that I’m keen to be pumping my body full of pharmaceuticals, but I would like to have something beyond anecdata and folklore to go on. Clinical trials even, if not double blind randomized. Known side effects. Rates of effectiveness. Stuff like that.

I think the biggest grump for me is that I have to do this without guidance. There’s no one I can really talk to about whether something is working or not, or about any side effects I’m having. That I have to watch out for side effects, gauge effectiveness myself, and all I’m doing is adding to a hidden pile of anecdata that anyone not in the position to need or want to try alternative treatments can write off as an unproven remedy.

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