There are welcome signs of a softening in attitude from UK Government towards the complementary health industry and recognition of its potential as a contributor to the wellness of the nation. As conventional healthcare in the UK faces unprecedented challenges, there is growing understanding that encouraging citizens to be proactive about their own wellbeing can form part of a wider strategy to alleviate pressure on stretched resources.

Public and NHS attitudes towards complementary therapies have varied over the years and between specialisms. Much of this is related to the understandable evidence-based approach to providing publicly funded treatments. For example, the NHS accepts that there is good evidence that osteopathy, chiropractic and acupuncture are effective treatments for certain conditions and treatments may be prescribed at the discretion of GPs. Similarly, among the general public, there has historically been greater awareness of the applications and potential of the more well-known specialisms than of the wider complementary alternative therapy landscape.

Changing awareness, changing priorities

However, this is changing. As we recently discussed on TOM Talks, the wellness industry is booming, fuelled by increasing awareness of the variety and benefits that therapies to support mind, body and soul can offer. This is supported by studies that have shown public belief in the effectiveness of alternative therapies. As a potentially significant contributor to the UK economy, the government is supportive of growth in the industry, encouraging new entrants across disciplines from fitness and nutrition to mindfulness and meditation to come up with new ways to enter the market. This is great news for wellness practitioners and a very positive step for the industry as a whole.

An attitude shift in society towards taking greater ownership of our physical and mental wellbeing is another driver for government interest. A population that is getting turned on to the benefits that holistic health and wellness can offer is one that is heading in the right direction, and it is important for government to support that shift.

Wellness in the workplace

Similarly, there is a growing drive behind wellness in the workplace. The government recognises that work in itself has benefits for the employed, giving purpose and structure to people’s lives, boosting self-esteem and reducing loneliness. With citizens now expected to work into their seventies, keeping them fit to do so is becoming a priority for businesses. Workplace wellness programmes are becoming a feature of larger organisations and have a dual benefit for those companies: they support the workforce and are also attractive in recruiting younger workers who are already exploring their own personal wellness journey.

The government is supporting workplace wellness by providing tools such as the “workplace wellbeing tool” that help organisations make business cases for workplace wellbeing initiatives. For practitioners, being alive to the opportunities of providing wellness treatments in workplace settings is a potentially valuable source of business growth.

A role for complementary therapies in supporting mental health

Complementary health also has a part to play in improving the mental health of the nation, a key target for the government.

Recent years have seen a welcome lessening of the taboos surrounding mental health and an opening up of conversations about alternatives and complements to medication. Mental health is an incredibly individual journey and greater awareness is prompting more people to recognise earlier the importance of devoting time to managing mental health in a positive way. From traditional psychology, to meditation, mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling and coaching – more people are connecting in a conscious way and exploring the different approaches to supporting their mental wellbeing.

Challenges remain for the complementary health sector

It’s important to recognise that there are still significant challenges associated with complementary and alternative medicine. Many specialisms are unregulated, leading to concerns over quality and safety, while a lack of robust peer-reviewed evidence will always stand in the way of public funding for general availability through public health channels. That said, there is increasing research into the benefits of complementary practices and supportive therapies being used alongside conventional therapies in the field of cancer support and other areas.

The field of complementary and alternative medicine is currently under review by government to determine whether organisations in the sector should continue to hold charitable status. The consultation has provoked intelligent debate over the position of complementary therapies in the health and wellbeing ecosystem of the UK and it is hoped that greater understanding of their potential will ultimately lead to positive outcomes for the industry.

As the nation continues to grow more invested in its own wellness, the government is starting to recognise the contribution that the complementary health and wellness sector can make in supporting the long-term wellbeing of its citizens. This has got to be positive for practitioners who have so much to offer in guiding clients through their wellness journey.