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Young people & complementary therapies

a young person's perspective. by Maya

Living in Bristol, known as one of the most vibrant and "alternative" cities in England, one would expect complementary therapies to be a popular choice for all ages. And certainly, in my house, it is. When I catch a cold or develop a headache, I have never been told by my mother to "go grab a paracetamol", but I am forced to look up my symptoms in the homeopathy booklet and choose a tablet from our green homeopathy box. I have also, since the age of 12, had acupuncture, to help whenever I felt really "poorly" or "run down" and have been told I received cranial osteopathy as an infant.

To me, it seems normal, but to my peers and close friends, it's a completely different story.  Last Tuesday, I told my friend that my mum planned to take me to get acupuncture on Friday, and was asked why on earth I wanted "pointless needles" stuck in me that "obviously wouldn't help". That made me realise that maybe complementary therapies aren't as popular in Bristol as I initially thought, or maybe just not as popular with the supposedly completely "checked-in" teenagers of my generation.

After (what I judged to be) a successful trip to my acupuncturist (after two months of coughs, colds and swollen glands I was well on the way to recovery), I decided to ask a group of my friends what their thoughts and feelings were on complementary therapies: had they ever tried them, were they effective and did they know anyone who worked in the field or used them regularly?

Unfortunately, most of them had no idea what I was talking about. A few asked if complementary therapies were "like, acupuncture and stuff?" while one asked if it was "helping someone via therapeutic compliments"!  But some of my friends seemed genuinely interested, and wanted to learn more about complementary therapies, what the term actually means, how effective these therapies are and how they can get access to them. When I gave some examples (acupuncture, homeopathy, herbalism, hypnotherapy, yoga), one friend told me he may be having acupuncture soon to help with back problems and asked me if I had found it helpful. So maybe the problem was that my friends were not aware of the term "complementary therapy" or what it means, not that they don't know anything about them. You might be asking yourself, "does it actually matter that teens don't know about these things?" Well, I think it really does, and here's why.

During the teenage years the body is changing rapidly - our bodies are often very unbalanced and experience problems such as asthma, acne, anxiety, period pains and allergies.  Shouldn't teenagers know that there are complementary therapies that can help, if not cure, these common adolescent problems?  Why has our generation been left out of the growth of Eastern remedies in the Western world? A quick Google search revealed links to teenage acupuncture clinics in Sheffield, London and Manchester, but surprisingly not here in Bristol. So, if alternative therapies are so popular with Bristol's adults, why not Bristol's teenagers?

There may be a number of reasons for this: one is, the fact that many teens don't believe that these therapies work, but where are these reactions from? Their parents, or the fact that in school we are led to believe that conventional medicine is the only way forward?

Then, of course, there's the cost. For any kind of hour-long therapy session, whether it's reiki or rolfing, you're looking at paying a minimum of £25. If parents are not willing to pay for complementary therapy, an average teenager's allowance will not stretch to this. There are ways around this. When I was younger and lived in Brighton, there was a place called the Dolphin Centre, which was a registered charity that offered kids and teenagers cheaper rates.

My family's acupuncturist, Amanda Hair, who has been practising acupuncture since 2003, says she has treated 20 to 30 teenagers since then, and that acupuncture on teenagers is becoming more and more common. She also said that acupuncture is very good for treating acute conditions for all ages, particularly in teenagers and children, for example clearing fevers and colds, increasing the strength of the immune system and balancing hormones. She said that treating children with needles tends to be harder than with adults, but some acupuncturists can use acupressure techniques, cups or tui na to do the same job.

In conclusion, I have found out that complementary therapies are very successful with the teenagers that have been treated with them, but not a lot of teens are aware of them. There are many ways to make them aware. Therapists could come to schools and hold taster sessions or put their ads in different magazines or on websites specifically advertised towards teenagers. Getting people involved in complementary therapies at an early age is great for therapists; if the client finds the therapy effective they may continue to use it throughout their life.


Maya, aged 17. Spring 2011. Online exclusive


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