Scientific proof of alternative medicine

Today’s lesson is about an alternative kind of pain relief. Brainstorm possible cures for pain. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each one? 

What would you do if you had the following things?

         Back pain/ Neck pain/ Shoulder pain

         Chronic headache

         Arthritis (pain in the joints – such as your hips, knees and knuckles – that is very common old people)

         Pain that your doctor can’t find a cure for

Choose one of the alternative therapies/ complementary therapies below that you know about. Explain what it is and what you think about it (e.g. what it is and isn’t useful for), then see if your partner agrees.

Acupuncture                                                 Aromatherapy                  Colonic irrigation

Colour therapy                               Folk remedies (e.g. cures for colds that run in your family)

Herbalism                                                    Homeopathy                                  Juicing/ Detoxing

Laughter therapy                                         Meditation                                      Moxibustion

Reflexology                                                  Shiatsu                             Spiritual healing, e.g. reiki

Tai chi                                                           Traditional Chinese medicine     Yoga

Useful language to talk about the alternative therapies above

Counterproductive                                                    Data/ Evidence

Naïve                                                                          Non-prescription (= over the counter)

Placebo affect                                             Prescription

Psychosomatic                                            Randomised double blind controlled medical trials

Sham (= fake)                                              Side effect        

Superstition                                                               Western medicine                                                    

 Ask your partner and then the class about any vocabulary above you don’t understand (including the useful language box).

Which of these things are true about acupuncture, do you think?

         Acupuncture doesn’t really help anyone

         There is no difference between acupuncture and a placebo

         There is an insignificant difference between acupuncture and a placebo

         There is a significant difference between acupuncture and a placebo

         What the therapist says is more important than how they place the needles

         It is impossible to design an experiment that really tests the efficacy of acupuncture

What do you predict the scientific opinions are?

Read the text ( and check. When different people have different views from above, write their names next to each line.

Do you disagree with any of the views in the text?

Would you expect similar or different results on the other alternative therapies you talked about before?

What do you think about the following things?

         Vitamin tablets for school kids

         Alternative exercises like yoga and tai chi in school PE lessons

         Doctors being able to supply placebo cures such as dummy pills to patients who they know have mainly psychological problems or in the place of anaesthesia

         Government funding for complementary therapies (= alternative medicine)

         Official licensing for alternative medicine practioners and banning of the quacks (= charlatans)

         Training for conventional doctors on how to become more warm, friendly, sympathetic and reassuring (using physical contact, aromas etc.)

If you were a doctor, how would you solve this dilemma?

– Placebos have some positive effects and usually no negative side effects but most people consider doctors prescribing things that they know are just placebos to be unethical


PDF version for easy printing: Scientific proof of alternative medicine

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