From disappointment to holistic ideals: a qualitative study on motives and experiences of using complementary and alternative medicine in Sweden

  • Jenny-Ann Danell
    Department of Sociology, Umea University, Sweden.


Background. Recent studies indicate increased use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in western societies, to ameliorate health problems. Even if there is substantial research on general patterns of use, there is limited knowledge on individual motives. This study contributes to a qualitative understanding of experiences of choosing and using CAM.

Design and methods
. This study consists of in-depth interviews with 10 CAM users in Sweden. The participants represent different backgrounds and experiences of using CAM. The interviews have been analysed in accordance with content analysis.

. In analysing experiences of choosing and using CAM four main themes were identified: frustration and critique, values and ideology, individual responsibility, and combining treatments. In general, the participants were highly reflexive on issues concerning their health. They highlighted their own role and responsibility, combined a variety of treatments, and continuously dealt with questions on risks, even if they had relatively different approaches to if and when to use CAM. The results also show that motives may change over time. Even if initial choices were closely related to frustration and critique of conventional treatments (for example, by perceiving conventional health care as limited, not receiving proper diagnoses, or being critical to conventional drugs) was long-term use motivated by ideological characteristics of CAM (such as holistic and individualized treatments, and extensive interaction with practitioners).

. Four main themes, concerning experiences of choosing and using CAM were identified. This study also supports the idea that initial motives for choosing CAM may differ from those explaining long-term use.