An Introduction To The Sociology Of Health & Illness

Learn about different types of healing.

When researching healing methods, some people may be drawn to alternative medicines, yet wonder if they are relevant and useful, because they are not conventional. The sociology of health and illness studies different types of health, illness and healing methods, providing an understanding of the different types of medicines and the difference between conventional Western medicine (allopathy) and alternative medicines.


Allopathic medicine began to be widely used in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It is the primary medicine used in the Western World. It separates healing the mind and body from the spiritual aspect of health. It does not emphasize that the health of the mind has an impact on the health of the body. Medical doctors search for physical causes of ailments and treat acute situations. There is less emphasis on preventative care; rather, they deal with problems as they arise.


Homeopathy is a medical system that has been practiced in America since the nineteenth century. It deals with the wellness of patients by discussing preventative measures. Practitioners determine treatments by the principle of similars, also referred to as “like cures like.” It means that a person’s condition can improve using a substance that creates similar symptoms in people with no illnesses. Another main principle is that the lower the dose of a medicine, the greater its effect. Although homeopathic doctors claim their procedures are effective, Quack Watch article “Homeopathy” claims that homeopathic remedies are actually placebos. However, a study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that these procedures may be slightly more effective than placebos. The NCBI also notes that few records exist of the safety of procedures because the medicines do not go through the same safety tests that prescription medicines do in the US. The tests are generally not legally required because the drugs typically do not have active ingredients.

READ  Alternative Medicine For Cushing'S Disease In Dogs


Naturopathic medicine emerged as a safe alternative to invasive medical procedures around 1980. Naturopathic physicians believe that the body has an innate ability to heal itself. They encourage preventative measures including diet, exercise, stress reduction and natural therapies to discourage illness from appearing. Treatment of illnesses combine modern medicine and alternative medicine to give the best healing plan to the patient. Naturopathy is becoming more prevalent; the number of naturopathic physicians in the United States was 1500 in 2000 and nearly doubled by 2006. The benefit of using naturopathic medicine is that treatment plans attempt to avoid side effects and treat the cause of the illness instead of the symptoms.

Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine is very different from Western medicine. The focus is on holistic healing as discussed in Daoism. Diagnosis begins with an evaluation of the whole system of tissues, organs, channels and blood vessels. Treatment is based on the law of unity of the opposites (yin-yang) and the five elements theory of wood, fire, earth, metal and water.


Osteopathic doctors are licensed to practice in a variety of fields including surgery. Some of them have dual osteopathic and allopathic degrees, which broadens the types of procedures they can perform. The main difference between osteopathy and allopathy is that osteopathic doctors have a holistic approach to healing, including preventative medicine, while allopathic doctors focus on acute care. They also receive additional training in the musculoskeletal system, the nerves, muscles and bones of the human body.