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September 2022

Soc Sci Med. 1988 ; 26(7): 685-9.

Choosing alternative medicine: a comparison of the beliefs of patients visiting a general practitioner and a homoeopath.

Furnham A, Smith C.

Department of Psychology, University College London, England.

This study was concerned with the different health and illness beliefs of patients choosing traditional vs alternative medicine. Two groups of patients, one visiting a GP and the other a homoeopath, were not significantly different in terms of sex, age, education, marital status, religion and income. They were asked to complete a questionnaire measuring such things as their perceived susceptibility to disease and illness; their beliefs concerning their own control over their health; measures of their own mental health; preventive measures in staying healthy; and the perceived efficacy of traditional vs alternative treatment. The major differences between the two groups were the fact that the homoeopathic group were much more critical and sceptical about the efficacy of traditional medicine; they believe that their general health could be improved; and that they tended to have higher psychiatric morbidity. By and large, the two groups did not differ on their beliefs about illness susceptibility or preventive measures. The results suggested that people who choose alternative medicine may do so from disenchantment with, and bad experiences of, traditional medical practitioners, rather than believing that traditional medicine is itself ineffective. Limitations of this particular study are also considered.

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